Feminist Ethics, Autonomy and the Politics of Multiculturalism

Feminist Theory 4 (2):199-215 (2003)

Abstract

Should the liberal state accommodate the cultural traditions of minority groups even if these traditions infringe upon the rights of women? This article discusses two empirical cases that pose just this problem for public policy in the Netherlands: requests for surgical reconstruction of the hymen and gender-selective abortion. While hymen reconstruction is linked to a cultural norm that young women, but not young men, remain virgins until marriage, sex-selective abortion is linked to a cultural preference for sons. The autonomy of women is at issue in these cases in two ways: the traditions limit their autonomy, yet it is the women who demand the medical intervention. The cases illustrate the complexities of women's agency under oppressive social conditions. The author develops a moral argument concerning these two cases that understands the women in question as moral agents, while taking into account these complexities. The article does not pit multicultural and feminist concerns against each other. Instead, it is argued that good feminism may well require acts of multiculturalism. It is not desirable, so it is argued, to restrict access to abortion or to ban hymen repair.

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