Global Gender Seminar featuring Serene Khader: "Liberalism and Feminist Ethnocentrism"
Friday, September 21, 2012 - 10:30am

 

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)

Abstract:

"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.

 

 

To receive a copy of the paper and reserve a lunch, please RSVP.