Cover image for Is multiculturalism bad for women?
Is multiculturalism bad for women?
Okin, Susan Moller.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
vi, 146 pages ; 24 cm
Is multiculturalism bad for women? / Whose culture? / Liberal complacencies / My culture made me do it / Is western patriarchal feminism good for third world / minority women? / Siding with the underdogs / Barbaric rituals? / Promises we should all keep in common cause / Between norms and choices / Varied moral world / Culture beyond gender / Liberalism's sacred cow / Should sex equality law apply to religious institutions? / How perfect should one be? And whose culture is? / Culture constrains / Plea for difficulty / Reply

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HQ1161 .O45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A buzzword for political correctness, multiculturalismÄwith its implications of ethnocentrism and group rightsÄhas, inevitably, become a shibboleth. 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. She argues that women are subjected to derogatory treatment in all culturesÄmajority and minorityÄalthough majority liberal thought often presumes a level of equality and egalitarianism between the sexes that is frequently absent in minority cultures. Proponents of cultural integrity (including in religious practice) ignore this fact, Okin asserts, elevating group rights over individual rights, to the detriment of women. This collection offers succinct, compelling and intelligent arguments on both sides, notably from a diverse group of "respondents" to Okin's viewsÄamong them Katha Pollitt, columnist for the Nation; Azizah Y. al-Hibri, professor of law, founder of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and expert on Islamic jurisprudence; and multicultural theorist and philosophy professor Will Kymlicka. "A Plea for Difficulty," an essay by Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, sums up the complexity of the issues. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the opening salvo of this philosophical debate, Stanford University professor Okin questions the effects on a liberal society's commitment to gender equality when it gives legal and political recognition to other cultures that discriminate against or abuse their female members. Of particular concern to Okin are patriarchal cultures with a theocentric structure. In response, 15 academics and writers, including Will Kymlicka, Yael Tamir, and Katha Pollitt, present essays defending the inherent rights of cultures to exist on their own terms. In addition, they accuse Okin of misunderstanding the position of women within these societies. In her concluding rebuttal, Okin restates her initial argument in less combative rhetoric but without compromising its intent. There is an air of pomposity and occasional defensiveness on all sides here. Few of the arguments offer concrete examples or address the diversity of social norms within any culture. This is geared primarily to academics and should be considered by public libraries only if demand warrants.ÄRose M. Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Joshua Cohen and Matthew Howard and Martha C. NussbaumSusan Moller OkinKatha PollittWill KymlickaBonnie HonigAzizah Y. al-HibriYael TamirSander L. GilmanAbdullahi An-Na'imRobert PostBhikhu ParekhSaskia SassenHomi K. BhabhaCass R. SunsteinJoseph RazJanet E. HalleyMartha C. NussbaumSusan Moller Okin
Introduction: Feminism, Multiculturalism, and Human Equalityp. 3
Part 1 Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?p. 7
Part 2 Responses Whose Culture?p. 27
Liberal Complacenciesp. 31
"My Culture Made Me Do It"p. 35
Is Western Patriarchal Feminism Good for Third World / Minority Women?p. 41
Siding With the Underdogsp. 47
"Barbaric" Rituals?p. 53
Promises We should All Keep in Common Causep. 59
Between Norms and Choicesp. 65
A Varied Moral Worldp. 69
Culture beyond Genderp. 76
Liberalism's Sacred Cowp. 79
Should Sex Equality Law Apply to Religious Institutions?p. 85
How Perfect Should One Be? And Whose Culture Is?p. 95
Culture Constrainsp. 100
A Plea for Difficultyp. 105
Part 3 Replyp. 115
Notesp. 133
Contributorsp. 145