The Debate Over Allowing Culture

            Is Multicultralism Bad for Women by Susan Okin; with a title like this you would think that embracing different cultures and having different cultures exposed to us is bad for our society, especially its women. But Okin argues the opposite and counter argues Will Kymlicka's work that argues for a limited restriction on cultural rights. Okin states that, "because societal cultures play so pervasive and fundamental a role in lives of members and because such cultures are threatened with extinction, minority cultures should be protected by special rights, that in essence, is the case for group rights." She  believes that though some cultural practices are extreme and go against some of the values that we have grew so accustomed to today, so who are we to take that away from people. I can say from experience that if I was not allowed to practice my own culture, I would quickly loose this connection to my native land and this special connection i have with my own family. Even though my parents are from another country and I was born here, they came to American from Poland to make it a must that my brothers and I did not forget the culture and the language. We start taking away minorities rights to express their culture, which in turn would take away this melting pot that we have in America, subduing people to a certain norm.
             Okin brings up a few controversies where the government has questioned whether to allow religious practices to continue. For example, in France during the 1980's there was a controversial discussion whether to allow Magrbin girls to wear traditional headscarves in public schools, questioning if it was proper attire to wear to school. these types of controversies even go on today, where people are harassed and ridiculed for practicing their religion and if not forced to stop practicing, they begin to abandon it in fear of getting hurt. Many public schools,though not specifically stating it, try to eliminate religious practices, many claiming its a violation of church in state.  For example, this recent controversial debate that went to trial over biblical versus on school banners. With freedom of religion and freedom of speech, we should be allowed to exercises our religious rights and not have people try to stop it.

         Another and important controversy Okin brought up was polygamy. In France during the 1980’s the French government permitted immigrant meant to bring multiple wives into the country. About 200,00 families were living in Paris as polygamist. This eventually led to overcrowded apartments and violence among wives and against each others children. Eventually the government recently only decided to recognize one wife and have the other marriages annulled. So what happens to the other wives and children? Though a dangerous thing to practice, where men have total control of the women and children showing a certain dominance in all their relationships, I think these minorities should have the right to practice polygamy without having to identify only one wife. Okin states that, “individuals need a culture of their own, it gives them self-esteem or self respect or decided whether this kind of life is good.” So who are we to try to take away a choice from somebody. We should allow these people to express their religious rights, even though it goes against gender equality and other factors, everyone like I stated before should have their right and freedom and choice to stay practicing their religion. 

          If we take away minorities culture and their rights to exercise them, then we are taking away a part of themselves. We are pushing them into forgetting their culture and not giving the opportunity to spread their culture and knowledge onto other people. By doing this people start forgetting their language, their native country and a chance to be themselves and exercise where and what they came from. According to Okin some proponents of groups rights argue that even cultures that “flout the rights of [their individual members] in a liberal society should be accorded group rights or privileges if their minority status endangers the cultured continues existence.” Like Okin, I agree with this statement because having your own culture and being able to practice it, allows you to stay true with who you are and give you the opportunity to spread this knowledge. Though there is some practices, like polygamy, that may be dangerous to other people, minorities should still have their right and their choice to practice it freely without any restraints. 


  1. I found this post to be interesting but I also have to disagree because I do believe that polygamy should be allowed to be practiced because there has been a history that many of these men and families force under age girls to marry. Also, there is a gender inequality issue here because these men seem to have complete control over these women who are financially dependent of them and this all roots out from from the families where these children are raised because from a very young age girls are taught to be dependent of a husband.

  2. It is absolutely true that everyone should have the freedom to practice their religion. However, the whole concept of separation of Church and State must be taken into consideration when it comes to public issues. For example, the cheerleaders should not be displaying their religious beliefs during a game. It reflects poorly on the school, as if the school endorses only Christianity. It is actually a public school, so those who practice other religions, or no religions at all, are excluded from the spirituality being expressed by the cheerleaders. In regards to polygamy, I personally disagree with the tenets, but why is it anyones place to challenge it? If the polygamist lifestyle is voluntary, those involved have the choice to deviate from the expectations of the religion if they truly wanted to.

  3. Maybe it was just me, but I interpreted Okin's article differently than you did. I do agree with you that people should be allowed to practice their own cultures however I think its important to ask, where do we draw the line? Is it okay for a woman to be forced to marry the man that has raped her because in her culture she is believed to be no longer marriageable, therefore it is only common sense for her rapist to take her in? Is it okay to force 14 and 13 year olds to marry much older men because their father decides it? Is a forced clitoridectomy ever okay? I believe Okin was arguing against multiculturalism or at least proving that most cultures practiced around the world today justify the abuse (physically and mentally), discrimination and oppression of women. Therefore, is it okay to give rights or permission to minority groups and cultures to perform those things?

  4. @Jezirey and Jayla- I agree with your interpretation of the article. I did read it from two different standpoints, and you make a good argument. Its the same with anything in this world- for example, women's rights. Some people deeply believe that contraception and abortion should be illegal. However, most of those who make these arguments are male politicians, who have no idea what it is like to be a woman. So its like, how can an outsider really pass judgment of those on the inside of a culture? But then seeing it the way you see it, how is it okay for such heinous activities to go on within a lifestyle before the law is inclined to intervene? We really cannot control what goes on in cultures outside of the U.S., such as clitoridectomy, but we can try to raise awareness so that change can be made within these oppressive structures.

  5. @lysspo and @Jezirey and Jayla you're comments are hitting at the heart of Okin's article as well as the Abu-Lughod article. How do we reconcile women's rights with support for "cultural rights" if some cultural rights actually violate the rights/personhood of women? @Jezirey and Jayla interpretation of the Okin article is correct in that Okin is fundamentally arguing against multiculturalism when support for such cultural rights violates and oppresses women.

    So where do we go from there? How do we reconcile such positions without trampling all over cultural rights? After all, we don't want to repeat the historical abuses and mistakes of colonialism where wester men and women often felt that their's was the only valid and valuable position. Abu-Lughod starts to answer these tough question.

  6. This post is very interesting. In my humble opinion it is not fine for 13 and 14 year old girls to be forced into marrying someone older than them. Girls should not have to go through that. In my humble opinion girls of this age do not have understanding of what marriage is. This decision is being made for them and their lives are being controlled because they are dependent of their parents. I know sometimes parents want what is best for their kids. They want to marry their children to someone that can respond financially to their children's need. Is money all? I don't think so. It is not okay at all to put those girls through this.


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