Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This collection offers succinct, compelling and intelligent arguments on both sides, notably from a diverse group of respondents' to Okin's views. . . ."Publisher's Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A buzzword for political correctness, multiculturalism--with its implications of ethnocentrism and group rights--has, 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 cultures--majority and minority--although 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 views--among 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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
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.--Rose M. Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691004327
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/1999
  • Pages: 146
  • Sales rank: 907,136
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Feminism, Multiculturalism, and Human Equality Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum 3
PART 2: RESPONSES Whose Culture? Katha Pollitt 27
Liberal Complacencies Will Kymlicka 31
"My Culture Made Me Do It" Bonnie Honig 35
Is Western Patriarchal Feminism Good for Third World / Minority Women? Azizah Y. al-Hibri 41
Siding With the Underdogs Yael Tamir 47
"Barbaric" Rituals? Sander L. Gilman 53
Promises We should All Keep in Common Cause Abdullahi An-Na'im 59
Between Norms and Choices Robert Post 65
A Varied Moral World Bhikhu Parekh 69
Culture beyond Gender Saskia Sassen 76
Liberalism's Sacred Cow Homi K. Bhabha 79
Should Sex Equality Law Apply to Religious Institutions? Cass R. Sunstein 85
How Perfect Should One Be? And Whose Culture Is? Joseph Raz 95
Culture Constrains Janet E. Halley 100
A Plea for Difficulty Martha C. Nussbaum 105
PART 3: REPLY Susan Moller Okin 115

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2000

    Book Review made by Sandra

    BOOK REVIEW Arguments are made about the tensions between feminism and multiculturalism. The author addresses from a feminist approach in the book, Is multiculturalism bad for women?, the ideas of practice within culture and religion that do not offer men and woman an equal stand next to each other socially, morally and politically. She is then challenged by other standpoints that agree or disagree with to the central question of how the understanding of the commitment to equality can be directed in a world of multiple human differences, grim hierarchies of power and cruel divisions of life circumstances. The book is divided into three parts, first, of Okin's direct statements, secondly, the claims and opinions made by specific advocates on the issue and thirdly, her reply to these advocates. Through this book review there will be a focus on five points and then a conclusion. The first point is the initial defining of feminism and multiculturalism to make for a better understanding of what is to be talked about, the second is the relation between culture and gender, the third are issues that are facing society today, the fourth is the specific advocates that challenge and critique what the author has to say, the fifth is the results made by the author of the critics, and lastly the conclusion for choosing the book and additional recommendations. The first point is where Okin defines the two issues at hand, feminism and multiculturalism from her own point of view which is then considered when looked at from other views. Feminism is defined as to how women should not be at a disadvantage based on their sex, having human dignity equal to men and the opportunity to live as fulfilling and freely as a man should be recognized (10). Multiculturalism is concerned with the context of basic liberal democracy by the practice of liberal members and their rights that should be protected through special group rights and practices (11). Issues in particularly look upon the misunderstanding of how special rights can be endorsed to cultural minorities and not consider female rights. Second, the author discusses gender and culture and how there is not equal treatment of men and women that can be reflected within our culture that can date back. Through group rights most cases are antifeminist. Male members are given the position to determine group beliefs. Culture is reflected upon the personal, sexual and reproductive functions of life that can clearly be directed towards the woman. In the home is where much of culture is learned however the more a culture requires a woman to work domestically, the less the opportunity to achieve an equal space next to the man is made. The principal which men control woman can be made an issue based on historical fact by example. A deeper understanding can be conducted when considering the Bible. Such that Adam was created first, a male God created Adam, and Adam's bone was created to make Eve, who was second to the male and also held under male through creation. The third point is issues that are facing society today. Some customs of today that cause much controversy are clitoridectomy, polygamy, marriage of children, marriage of rape victims even to their own rapist. The author addresses the fact that culture or tradition can be so closely in control of woman that they are often thought of as being the same thing, meaning that is what should be done and what has always been done. Distinct patriarchal pasts, which have not been departed from, create the problems of equality within the world. Women are still seen as having their place as being the simple function to men domestically and sexually. Minority group rights are far from being part of a solution to help women in society. Okin stated that it would be in the best interest of girls and women if they separated themselves from a dangerous culture by making it extinct to live a less sexist culture. Group right advocates do not recogn

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