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.
Multiculturalism has been blamed for encouraging the oppression of women--forced marriages, female genital cutting, school girls wearing the hijab. Many critics opportunistically deploy gender equality to justify the retreat from multiculturalism, hijacking the equality agenda to perpetuate cultural stereotypes. Phillips informs her argument with the feminist insistence on recognizing women as agents, and defends her position using an unusually broad range of literature, including political theory, philosophy, feminist theory, law, and anthropology. She argues that critics and proponents alike exaggerate the unity, distinctness, and intractability of cultures, thereby encouraging a perception of men and women as dupes constrained by cultural dictates.
Opponents of multiculturalism may think the argument against accommodating cultural difference is over and won, but they are wrong. Phillips believes multiculturalism still has an important role to play in achieving greater social equality. In this book, she offers a new way of addressing dilemmas of justice and equality in multiethnic, multicultural societies, intervening at this critical moment when so many Western countries are poised to abandon multiculturalism.