It might seem, then, that cultural defense was biased toward the male in the first case, and the female in the second. But no such asymmetry exists. In both cases, the cultural message is similarly gender-biased: women and children, in the second case are ancillary to men, and should bear the blame and the shame for any departure from monogamy. Whoever is guilty of the infidelity, the wife suffers: in the first case, by being brutally killed on account of her husband's rage at her shameful infidelity; in the second, by being so shamed and branded a failure by his infidelity that she is driven to kill herself and her children.
Again, the idea that girls and women are first and foremost sexual servants of men whose virginity before marriage and fidelity within it are their preeminent virtues emerges in many of the statements made in defense of cultural practices. Western majority cultures, largely at the urging of feminists, have recently made substantial efforts to avoid or limit excuses for brutalizing women.
Well within living memory, American men were routinely held less accountable for killing their wives if they explained their conduct as a crime of passion, driven by jealousy on account of the wife's infidelity. Also not long ago, women who did not have completely celibate pasts or who did not struggle—even so as to endanger themselves—were routinely blamed when raped.
Things have now changed to some extent, and doubts about the turn toward cultural defenses undoubtedly come in part from a concern to preserve recent advances. Another concern is that such defenses can distort perceptions of minority cultures by drawing excessive attention to negative aspects of them.
But perhaps the primary concern is that, by failing to protect women and sometimes children of minority cultures from male and sometimes maternal violence, cultural defenses violate their rights to the equal protection of the laws. Many women from minority cultures have protested the double standard that is being applied to their aggressors. Despite all this evidence of cultural practices that control and subordinate women, none of the prominent defenders of multicultural group rights has adequately or even directly addressed the troubling connections between gender and culture, or the conflicts that arise so commonly between multiculturalism and feminism.
Will Kymlicka's discussion is, in this respect, representative. Kymlicka's arguments for group rights are based on the rights of individuals, and confine such privileges and protection to cultural groups that are internally liberal. Following John Rawls, Kymlicka emphasizes the fundamental importance of self-respect in a person's life. He argues that membership in a "rich and secure cultural structure," 25 with its language and history, is essential both for the development of self-respect and for giving persons a context in which they can develop the capacity to make choices about how to lead their lives.
Cultural minorities need special rights, then, because their culture may otherwise be threatened with extinction, and cultural extinction would likely undermine the self-respect and freedom of group members. Special rights, in short, put minorities on a footing of equality with the majority. The value of freedom plays an important role in Kymlicka's argument. As a result, except in rare circumstances of cultural vulnerability, a group that claims special rights must govern itself by recognizably liberal principles, neither infringing on the basic liberties of its own members by placing internal restrictions on them, nor discriminating among them on grounds of sex, race, or sexual preference.
As Kymlicka says: "To inhibit people from questioning their inherited social roles can condemn them to unsatisfying, even oppressive lives. As Kymlicka acknowledges, this requirement of internal liberalism rules out the justification of group rights for the "many fundamentalists of all political and religious stripes who think that the best community is one in which all but their preferred religious, sexual, or aesthetic practices are outlawed. Though they may not impose their beliefs or practices on others, and though they may appear to respect the basic civil and political liberties of women and girls, many cultures do not, especially in the private sphere, treat them with anything like the same concern and respect as men and boys, or allow them to enjoy the same freedoms.
Discrimination against and control of the freedom of females is practiced, to a greater or lesser extent, by virtually all cultures, past and present, but especially religious ones and those that look to the past—to ancient texts or revered traditions—for guidelines or rules about how to live in the contemporary world. Sometimes more patriarchal minority cultures exist in the context of less patriarchal majority cultures; sometimes the reverse is true. In either case, the degree to which each culture is patriarchal and its willingness to become less so should be crucial factors in considering justifications for group rights—once we take women's equality seriously.
Clearly, Kymlicka regards cultures that discriminate overtly and formally against women—by denying them education, or the right to vote or to hold office—as not deserving special rights. In many cultures, strict control of women is enforced in the private sphere by the authority of either actual or symbolic fathers, often acting through, or with the complicity of, the older women of the culture.
In many cultures in which women's basic civil rights and liberties are formally assured, discrimination practiced against women and girls within the household not only severely constrains their choices, but seriously threatens their well-being and even their lives.
Although Kymlicka rightly objects to the granting of group rights to minority cultures that practice overt sex discrimination, then, his arguments for multiculturalism fail to register what he acknowledges elsewhere: that the subordination of women is often informal and private, and that virtually no culture in the world today, minority or majority, could pass his "no sex discrimination" test if it were applied in the private sphere.
For surely self-respect and self-esteem require more than simple membership in a viable culture.
Surely it is not enough, for one to be able to "question one's inherited social roles" and to have the capacity to make choices about the life one wants to lead, that one's culture be protected. At least as important to the development of self-respect and self-esteem is our place within our culture. And at least as important to our capacity to question our social roles is whether our culture instills in and enforces particular social roles on us. To the extent that their culture is patriarchal, in both these respects the healthy development of girls is endangered.
It is by no means clear, then, from a feminist point of view, that minority group rights are "part of the solution. In the case of a more patriarchal minority culture in the context of a less patriarchal majority culture, no argument can be made on the basis of self-respect or freedom that the female members of the culture have a clear interest in its preservation. Indeed, they may be much better off if the culture into which they were born were either to become extinct so that its members would become integrated into the less sexist surrounding culture or, preferably, to be encouraged to alter itself so as to reinforce the equality of women—at least to the degree to which this is upheld in the majority culture.
Other considerations would, of course, need to be taken into account, such as whether the minority group speaks a different language that requires protection, and whether the group suffers from prejudices such as racial discrimination. But it would take significant factors weighing in the other direction to counterbalance evidence that a culture severely constrained women's choices or otherwise undermined their well-being. What some of the examples discussed above show us is how culturally endorsed practices that are oppressive to women can often remain hidden in the private or domestic sphere.
In the Iraqi child marriage case mentioned above, if the father himself had not called in agents of the state, his daughters' plight might well not have become public. And when Congress in passed a law criminalizing clitoridectomy, a number of US doctors objected to the law as unjustified, since it concerned a private matter which, as one said, "should be decided by a physician, the family, and the child. Thus it is clear that many instances of private sphere discrimination against women on cultural grounds are never likely to emerge in public, where courts can enforce their rights and political theorists can label such practices as illiberal and therefore unjustified violations of women's physical or mental integrity.
Establishing group rights to enable some minority cultures to preserve themselves may not be in the best interests of the girls and women of the culture, even if it benefits the men. When liberal arguments are made for the rights of groups, then, special care must be taken to look at within-group inequalities. It is especially important to consider inequalities between the sexes, since they are likely to be less public, and less easily discernible.
Moreover, policies aiming to respond to the needs and claims of cultural minority groups must take seriously the need for adequate representation of less powerful members of such groups. Since attention to the rights of minority cultural groups, if it is to be consistent with the fundamentals of liberalism, must be ultimately aimed at furthering the well-being of the members of these groups, there can be no justification for assuming that the groups' self-proclaimed leaders—invariably mainly composed of their older and their male members—represent the interests of all of the groups' members.
Unless women—and, more specifically, young women, since older women often become co-opted into reinforcing gender inequality—are fully represented in negotiations about group rights, their interests may be harmed rather than promoted by the granting of such rights. It should be noted that Kymlicka himself does not argue for extensive or permanent group rights for those who have voluntarily immigrated.
Kymlicka does not apply his requirement that groups be internally liberal to those he terms "national minorities," but I will not address this aspect of his theory here. Rebecca J. Cook Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, , pp. It is also clearly related to the uncertainty of paternity, which technology has now changed.
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