Global Gender Seminar featuring Serene Khader: "Liberalism and Feminist Ethnocentrism"

Friday, September 21, 2012 - 1:00pm - 2:30pm


Please join us in Cohen Hall Room 436 for a Faculty Global Gender Seminar featuring Serene Khader from Stony Brook University's Philosophy Department. Prof. Khader will be discussing her working paper, "Liberalism and Feminist Ethnocentrism."


Faculty Respondents: Nancy Hirschmann (Penn, Political Science) and Suzanne Gauch (Temple, English)


"Liberalism and Feminist Ethnocentrism"
Is it ethnocentric to believe that women from non-Western cultures want to resist patriarchy? Some postcolonial feminist theorists, most notably Saba Mahmood, answer this question in the affirmative. They allege that Westerners act ethnocentrically when they look for feminist consciousness in “other” women. The underlying argument seems to be that feminism requires the desire to be free from cultural constraints and that this desire is inextricable from the metaphysics of Western liberalism. These postcolonial feminists seem motivated by the desire to criticize feminist ethnocentrists—ie, those who believe that promoting feminism justifies the spread of Western culture. I show that their argument, despite its anti-imperialist intentions, actually yields ethnocentric and antifeminist conclusions. Its premises support either the unacceptable (to postcolonialists) conclusion that women who invest ultimate authority in religious/traditional dictates cannot be feminists, or the unacceptable (to feminists) conclusion that feminism does not require a moral critique of patriarchal religious/traditional practices.

Luckily for anti-imperialist feminists, however, these premises also happen to be false. In this paper, I explain why the premises are flawed and argue that--if we accept a couple of key distinctions from twentieth-century liberal thought-- we can come up with an understanding of feminism that responds to the concerns motivating the ethnocentrism allegation. Specifically, I argue that if we see feminism as a political (rather than comprehensive) doctrine and accept an endorsement (rather than self-creation) account of autonomy, we retain grounds for rejecting the view that promoting feminism requires spreading Western culture. But we retain grounds for this anti-imperialist critique without denying that religious/traditional women can have feminist consciousness or denying that feminism requires moral condemnation of sexist oppression.



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