The question “Is multiculturalism bad for women? ” looks confusing at first glance, as both multiculturalism and feminism concern and attempt to protect minorities suffering in the society. However, there actually is a huge tension between multiculturalism claims and those who attempt to assure women’s rights. This paper will argue that not multiculturalism but certain claims of multiculturalists are contradicted to defenders of women. Multiculturalism Will Kymlicka (2007), the liberal multiculturalist, explained the wide acceptance of multiculturalism today as one of the form of social and political liberalization.
Group Rights Multiculturalists typically support group rights, which are the rights entitled to groups collectively, not the members who belong to such groups individually, and therefore are precisely distinguished from individual rights (Glazer, 1978; Jones, 1999). Group rights, which provides a special protection to minority cultural and religious groups within majority society, are important. From some liberal points of view, such as Kymlicka, its significance is explained by that “cultural membership as an important primary good which underlies our choices” (Kymlicka, 1989, p. 99).
Culture is indeed the basis of people’s identity, and for Kymlicka, cultural membership is the source of’self-respect, which is a core concept of his argument that he succeeded from John Rawls. Thus, unlike most of the liberals, Kymlicka argued that if liberals accept that culture and cultural membership is a primary good of individuals who they concern, they must give a special protection to cultural minority groups for assuring people’s self-respect and the context of choice about their life (Kymlicka 1989; Okin 1999).
The notion of group rights, however, contains an inevitable problem: group versus individual. Peter Jones (1999, p. 167-168) simply stated that “group rights are often articulated as demands for group freedom, but they are also feared as vehicles for group oppression”. Jones proposed the concept, group rights as the corporate conception, as an alternative of what he calls the collective conception, which was argued by Joseph Raz and Denise Reaume.
The latter, the collective conception, seeks the source of group rights to a collective interest of individuals, and therefore, admits group rights to not only cultural and religious groups, but also a mere collective of individuals that share interests strong enough to make a majority society to take a duty to assure their interest. The corporate conception, on the other hand, requires the group to own not only a joint interest but also a shared moral standing. On this conception, group rights are limitedly available to groups, such as cultural, ethnical and d religious groups.
As noted before, the corporate conception often contains a contradiction between the group and its members. In this sense, the collective concept is less likely to be oppress its individual members, since individuals belong to “a right-holding group only if he or she shares in the interest that grounds the right” (Jones, 1999, p. 179). In the case of the corporate conception, however, groups can exercise its rights against individuals within the group, since its criterion to achieve group rights, namely group’s moral standing, could contradicted to those of individual members.
As Jones pointed out, cultural, ethnical, religious groups or the nation, those given to the individuals “naturally or socially” (ibid, p. 182), and in most cases nearly impossible to exit from, tend to be such groups. Thus, while group rights are admitted widely in contemporary society as an important mean to protect minority people from external oppression and discrimination by larger, majority society, group rights could potentially, inevitably and often actually an internal threat to its individual members. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?
This tension between group rights and individual rights applies to the tension between cultural/ religious groups and women as minority individuals within those groups. Susan Okin, as a liberal feminist, expressed her strong concern over feminism and multiculturalism in her book Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (1999). The author defined feminism as “the belief that women should not be disadvantaged by their, that they should be recognized as having human dignity equal to that of men, and that they should have the opportunity to live as fulfilling and as freely chosen lives as men can” (ibid, p. 0), and insisted that the multiculturalist claims which admit group rights contradict to this feminism idea. Cultures and religions occupy the large proportions of individuals’ life. Cultural and religious practices and ideologies are deeply embedded in daily life, both in public and private. Those practices are normally inherited in families, communities and nations. Multiculturalists as group rights defenders have noticed the importance of cultures and religions of minority groups in majority society more than enough.
However, they have overlooked those significant influence on individuals who belong to those minority groups. Okin (ibid) correctly premised that most cultures are more or less gendered, and sharply pointed out that multiculturalists who defend group rights have been ignorant to the existence of minority suffering from gendered practices and ideologies within minority groups, and those practices are mostly and implicitly excised and those ideologies are especially strong in private sphere.
The minority within minority groups are not protected enough from oppression and discrimination of majority in the same group, just like minority groups existing in majority society, and from the feminist point of view, those suffering minority is undoubtedly and primarily, women. Indeed, it is typically observed that while laws and policies assure equal rights and opportunities both for males and females, egalitarian is far from established in practice, even in Western or westernized countries.
The important thing is, “the real change… n people’s consciousness”, as Kymlicka (2007, p. 91) ironically stated about minority group rights. Brian Barry, on the other hand, criticised the argument of some liberalism, such as Michael Walzer and Kymlicka, from not a feminist, but a ‘true’ liberal point of view. For Barry, liberalism fundamentally and equally concerns people, and therefore “equal respect for people cannot… entail respect for their cultures when these cultures systematically give priority to, say, the interests of men over the interests of women” (Barry, 2001, p. 127).
Hence, certain multiculturalist claims for group rights have attracted criticism from not only feminists, but also liberals who regard liberalism as a respect for all human beings regardless of sex, culture. religion, and so on. However, it is important to note that not the multiculturalism itself but such their claims are contradicted to those who concerns women as minority within minority culture. Conclusion In sum, multiculturalism closely ties to liberalism typically insist group rights for minority cultural and religious groups, which are discriminated, disadvantaged and not protected enough in majority society.
This is because culture is the basis of individuals, which enables their decision-making, judgement about good or bad, and deed in everyday life. Therefore, from some liberals perspective, liberal must protect minority groups that might extinct without special and privileged group rights. Group rights, however, entail conflicts between groups and individuals as its member. This is especially explicit in a relation of cultural/ religious groups and women. Therefore, multiculturalism group rights defenders inevitably attract criticism from feminists, and also certain liberals who.
For eminists, group rights are potential threats for women as a minority inside the minority group, since most cultures are gendered, and cultural practices that the groups claim as a right typically concern gender, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, honour killing, and polygamy. From liberal point of view, group rights are unacceptable simply because they could justify the oppression to individual members, including women, within minority group. Thus, it is multiculturalism claims for minority group rights, rather than multiculturalism itself, detrimental to women as a minority in cultural and religious groups.