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Abstract

The concept of autonomy has a long history, not only in psychology, but also in philosophy. In this article, the concept is discussed in relation to gender and mental health. The criticisms of several authors with regard to the classical psychological concept of autonomy are reviewed. Also, some recent theoretical developments which start from a psychoanalytical perspective are discussed. Then the reader is introduced to the construction of a new Autonomy scale that takes the criticism mentioned into account and connects with new insights into gender identity. Two studies are presented in which the structure of the scale, as well as it validity and reliability, is investigated. The Autonomy scale appears to measure consistently three aspects: Self-awareness, Sensitivity to Others, and Capacity for Managing New Situations. Reliability and validity are satisfactory. Furthermore, in a third study the factor structure found in Studies 1 and 2 was cross-validated in a more heterogeneous, adult sample. This cross-validation was also done across the sexes. It is concluded that the Autonomy scale is a valid and reliable instrument for measuring the new autonomy concept in various populations. Secondly, the scale seems to fill the gap that is left open by more classically oriented autonomy (and dependence) scales by measuring Sensitivity to Others, an important aspect of femininity and thus for female identity.