Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? by Susan Moller Okin

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Polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, punishing women for being raped, differential access for men and women to health care and education, unequal rights of ownership, assembly, and political participation, unequal vulnerability to violence. These practices and conditions are standard in some parts of the world. Do demands for multiculturalism--and certain minority group rights in particular--make them more likely to continue and to spread to liberal democracies? Are there fundamental conflicts between our commitment to gender equity and our increasing desire to respect the customs of minority cultures or religions? In this book, the eminent feminist Susan Moller Okin and fifteen of the world's leading thinkers about feminism and multiculturalism explore these unsettling questions in a provocative, passionate, and illuminating debate.

Okin opens by arguing that some group rights can, in fact, endanger women. She points, for example, to the French government's giving thousands of male immigrants special permission to bring multiple wives into the country, despite French laws against polygamy and the wives' own bitter opposition to the practice. Okin argues that if we agree that women should not be disadvantaged because of their sex, we should not accept group rights that permit oppressive practices on the grounds that they are fundamental to minority cultures whose existence may otherwise be threatened.

In reply, some respondents reject Okin's position outright, contending that her views are rooted in a moral universalism that is blind to cultural difference. Others quarrel with Okin's focus on gender, or argue that we should be careful about which group rights we permit, but not reject the category of group rights altogether. Okin concludes with a rebuttal, clarifying, adjusting, and extending her original position. These incisive and accessible essays--expanded from their original publication in Boston Review and including four new contributions--are indispensable reading for anyone interested in one of the most contentious social and political issues today.

The diverse contributors, in addition to Okin, are Azizah al-Hibri, Abdullahi An-Na'im, Homi Bhabha, Sander Gilman, Janet Halley, Bonnie Honig, Will Kymlicka, Martha Nussbaum, Bhikhu Parekh, Katha Pollitt, Robert Post, Joseph Raz, Saskia Sassen, Cass Sunstein, and Yael Tamir.

 

About Susan Moller Okin

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Susan Moller Okin is Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is the author of "Women in Western Political Thought" (Princeton) and "Justice, Gender, and the Family "(Basic Books). Joshua Cohen is Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is Editor in Chief of "Boston Review". Matthew Howard is an editor and writer living in New York, and a contributing editor to" Boston Review". Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.
 
Published August 9, 1999 by Princeton University Press. 153 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?

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Feminist theorist and Stanford political science professor Okin assesses what adhering to sanctioned cultural practices (such as female genital mutilation, polygamy, child marriage and forced illiteracy) can and does mean for women.

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She summarized his position as the claim that, "[b]ecause societal cultures play so pervasive and fundamental a role in the lives of their members, and because such cultures are threatened with extinction, minority cultures should be protected by special rights" (1999, 11).

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Boston Review

In Multicultural Citizenship, Kymlicka somewhat revises his support of group rights and acknowledges the fact that liberals "should reject internal restrictions which limit the right of group members to question and revise traditional authorities and practices."5 And yet he ignores th...

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Boston Review

Susan Okin's case against group rights hinges on the fact that group rights tend to be cultural rights and that the norm in most cultures is inequality between men and women to the overwhelming disadvantage of women.

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Boston Review

For COURSE PACK and other PERMISSIONS, send e-mail to Princeton University Press.] Moving quickly from veiling to polygamy to efforts to control female sexuality to the denial of maternal rights over children to the (paradoxically contradictory) enforcement of maternalism as women's...

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Boston Review

Okin strongly implies that she would not support according such cultural protections to the culture of Orthodox Ashkenazi Judaism, because it would be "in the best interest of the girls and women" if such a culture were "to become extinct," so that girls and women could integrate them...

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Boston Review

But just as we do not cast doubt about the legitimacy of acting for the preservation of "our" culture simply because it is unjust to women, and to many others, so we should not hold the injustices perpetrated by other cultures as a reason for striving to eliminate them.

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Boston Review

(Although cultural evolution is an important element of feminist models of political change.) There is a problem, as Okin's examples and discussion make vivid, when "public deliberation and action" is left to bureaucratic governmental decision making--whether in a democracy or ...

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Boston Review

Group rights are permissible if they help promote justice between ethnocultural groups, but are impermissible if they create or exacerbate gender inequalities within the group.

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Boston Review

She argues that defenders of "group rights" or "cultural rights" for minority cultures have failed to notice that there are considerable differences of power within those cultures, and that those differences are gendered, with men having power over women.

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Boston Review

It first turns a set of general and necessarily open-ended liberal principles into a tightly-knit ideology called liberalism, and then views the latter as a kind of secular religion, leading to a theological debate about what its "fundamentals" are and who is a true (fundament...

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Boston Review

Her narrative begins by pitting multiculturalism against feminism, but then grows seamlessly into a comparative and evaluative judgment on minority cultures (largely represented by cultural defense cases) delivered from the point of view of Western liberal cultures (represente...

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Boston Review

These groups, it is argued, have their own "societal cultures" which—as Will Kymlicka, the foremost contemporary defender of cultural group rights, says—provide "members with meaningful ways of life across the full range of human...

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She summarized his position as the claim that, "[b]ecause societal cultures play so pervasive and fundamental a role in the lives of their members, and because such cultures are threatened with extinction, minority cultures should be protected by special rights" (1999, 11).

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