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The Return of Feminist Liberalism

Ruth Abbey
Copyright Date: 2011
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    The Return of Feminist Liberalism
    Book Description:

    In The Return of Feminist Liberalism, Ruth Abbey examines the positions of three contemporary feminists - Martha Nussbaum, Susan Moller Okin, and Jean Hampton - who, notwithstanding decades of feminist critique, are unwilling to give up on liberalism. Abbey examines why, and in what ways, each of these theorists believes that liberalism offers the normative and political resources for the improvement of women's lives. Going beyond their shared allegiance to liberalism, Abbey explains and evaluates their theoretical differences, and in so doing, goes to the heart of recent debates in feminist and political theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9485-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-9)

    Modern Western feminism grew up as a sister doctrine to liberalism. Early feminist liberals include Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Taylor, John Stuart Mill, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others.¹ There is nothing especially controversial in this claim about the liberal roots of feminism: even the radical feminist Zillah Eisenstein agrees that feminism has its source in liberalism, and in particular the liberal critique of patriarchalism dating back to John Locke (Eisenstein 1981: 4–13; cf. Jaggar 1983: 47). These pioneers of feminist theory² were basically applying liberal commitments to women. This required them to extend Locke’s critique of...

    (pp. 10-20)

    Although it played a pivotal role in the development of Western feminism, liberalism fell out of favour among many, and probably most, feminist theorists in the English-speaking world in the second half of the twentieth century. Hirschmann (1999: 28) sees the feminist critique of liberalism as emerging from second wave feminism in the 1970s, while many track it to Alison Jaggar’s 1983 workFeminist Politics and Human Nature.¹ Eisenstein’s 1981The Radical Future of Liberal Feminismoffers a slightly earlier starting-point,² while Simone de Beauvoir’sThe Second Sex, first published in English in the early 1950s, is an even earlier...

  7. I The feminist liberalism of Susan Moller Okin
      (pp. 22-41)

      This chapter introduces Susan Moller Okin’s feminist liberalism by looking at the key arguments of her two books:Women in Western Political Thought(WWPT) andJustice,Gender,and the Family(JGF). Rather than discussing in detail her analyses of canonical political thinkers, the focus is on the current concerns informing WWPT. The problematic public–private separation that Okin finds to persist in political theory is raised, and I reflect on her desire to reform rather than abolish the family. Okin insists, however, that the family cannot be reformed in isolation: other institutions will need to change too before women’s full...

      (pp. 42-60)

      In WWPT and in JGF, Okin finds that it is a liberal thinker – Mill and Rawls, respectively – whose work, whatever its shortcomings, holds the most promise for feminist thinking about justice.¹ She believes, more generally, that a fuller and more consistent application of liberal values to women’s lives will help to rectify many of the injustices she identifies. Yet, as Kymlicka observes, “Okin never really defines her liberalism” (1991: 92).² Through a combination of exposition, inference, reconstruction and critical analysis, this chapter explicates the key features of Okin’s feminist liberalism. It proposes that the best way of understanding...

      (pp. 61-82)

      One of the ways in which Okin’s liberalism becomes more explicit in JGF is via her endorsement of the Rawlsian theory of justice. This chapter maps the main contours of the exchange between Okin and Rawls initiated by JGF. It begins by outlining Okin’s critical but ultimately enthusiastic reception of Rawls’s first major work, TJ. It moves on to her less enthusiastic reaction to its successor, PL. In writings published after PL, Rawls spells out for the first time how justice as fairness deals with questions of women and the family in a way that, it shall be argued, ultimately...

      (pp. 83-102)

      Chapter 3 proposed that Okin’s liberalism is best understood as a liberalism of shared meanings. Her endorsement of liberal values for women is tied to the existence of a liberal society and appeals to an existing discourse about justice. This chapter surveys some of Okin’s encounters with situations where liberal meanings might not be shared, starting with her most controversial writing, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” Because this short work received much critical attention, several of the major objections to Okin’s position are canvassed and appraised. Following the discussion of MBW comes an account of Okin’s worries about what I...

      (pp. 103-118)

      In 1994 Okin began to project her feminist liberalism onto the international plane. Many of the themes from her work on women in Western societies resonate when she does this: the functional view of women and its threat to women’s equal moral personhood; the danger of treating families as a unit, when individual members might have some divergent interests and needs; the importance of extending considerations of justice to the domestic realm; the emphasis on gender formation within the family. Because Okin’s initial conclusion that the injustices faced by women in less developed countries replicate in some important ways those...

  8. II The feminist liberalism of Jean Hampton
      (pp. 120-133)

      When she died in 1996 at the age of forty–two, Jean Hampton left behind a substantial body of work, comprising two monographs, one co–authored book, an unfinished manuscript that would be published posthumously¹ and many articles. Not all of her oeuvre concerned feminism however, so these chapters confine themselves to those components that do. The separate, but interesting, question of how Hampton’s feminist liberalism informs, is informed by or comports with the positions outlined in her other writings on topics such as jurisprudence is not examined here.² This chapter begins with Hampton’s best–known feminist writing, “Feminist Contractarianism” (FC)....

      (pp. 134-150)

      The previous chapter argued that the crucial feature of Hampton’s feminist liberalism is not a view of human interactions as contracts but her commitment to the Kantian belief in the equal intrinsic worth of all individuals. In Hampton’s estimation, feminism’s basic thrust has been to demand acknowledgement of women’s equal intrinsic worth (FC: 29). This chapter applies Hampton’s Kantian standpoint to a number of long–standing feminist concerns. It also considers what the abstraction and individualism of her liberalism mean for her feminism. It explores whether Hampton pays any attention to the problem of generalizing about women in the face...

  9. III The feminist liberalism of Martha Nussbaum
      (pp. 152-164)

      Martha Nussbaum is a remarkably broad and prolific philosopher (cf. Harpham 2002). As is the case with Hampton, not all of her oeuvre directly concerns feminism.¹ Because these chapters confine themselves to those of her works that do, their review of Nussbaum’s writings does not reach back before the 1990s, for most of her publications prior to that were devoted to ancient philosophy, with special reference to Aristotle. Her first book,The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, was published in 1986. She made forays in the 1970s and 1980s into the nexus between literature...

      (pp. 165-187)

      One of the claims pervading this book is that a revived feminist liberalism must engage the challenge of intersectionality. Can this school of feminism generalize about women while remaining attentive to salient differences among them? Can feminist liberalism make room for the self–interpretations of diverse women? This chapter begins by posing these questions to Nussbaum’s HCA. It then examines the problem that adaptive preferences pose for her feminist liberalism and considers her attempts to resolve this. This issue receives extended treatment because it has been argued that adaptive preferences pose an insuperable obstacle to any reconciliation of liberalism and...

      (pp. 188-206)

      One of the things to emerge from this book’s account of the feminist liberalism of Okin and Hampton is how seriously they engage some of the issues associated with the critique of liberalism mounted in the literature on the ethic and practice of care. This chapter examines some of the ways in which Nussbaum’s feminist liberalism handles these issues. Section 1, “Family resemblances”, outlines her views on the place of family in the HCA, showing how these dovetail with Okin and Hampton’s views on the family.¹ Section 2 reveals how Nussbaum’s engagement with the ethic of care goes beyond that...

  10. IV Contemporary feminist liberalism
      (pp. 208-225)

      This chapter synthesizes the feminist liberal responses to feminist critiques of liberalism. Returning to each major strand of critique identified in Chapter 1, it considers to what extent Okin, Hampton and Nussbaum are cognizant of, and receptive to, these concerns.¹ It demonstrates that as feminist proponents of liberalism they are not blind to the many and powerful criticisms of the liberal tradition emanating from feminist scholars over the past three decades. Indeed, in many cases they share them. For the feminist liberals, however, the issue is whether liberalism contains the theoretical and normative resources to redress these blind spots. They...

      (pp. 226-247)

      In stipulating how his approach deals with justice issues for women and for families, Rawls presents himself as remaining within the confines of a purely political liberalism:

      [T]he freedom and equality of women, the equality of children as future citizens, the freedom of religion and … the value of the family in securing the orderly production and reproduction of society and of its culture from one generation to the next … provide public reasons for all citizens.

      (IPPR: 163–4; cf. 156–7; JFR: 168)

      If Rawls can generate justice for women within a purely political form of liberalism,¹ this...

      (pp. 248-265)

      This chapter begins by exploring what sort of liberalism Okin and Hampton adduce from the standpoint of the Rawlsian political–comprehensive distinction. It argues that both thinkers develop partially comprehensive forms of liberalism, although the reasons for classifying them in this way differ slightly in each case. Their partially comprehensive doctrines could strike concern into the hearts of Rawlsian liberals, given Rawls’s conclusion that political liberalism is most hospitable to pluralism. However, while advancing partially comprehensive doctrines, Okin and Hampton remain unwilling to use the state to impose their doctrines on all citizens. In this regard they offer reasonable forms...

    (pp. 266-276)

    This book has argued that contemporary feminist liberalism warrants serious consideration by feminist and liberal theorists alike. Its approach has been sympathetic but not uncritical. It has shown that three major contemporary proponents of feminist liberalism – Okin, Hampton and Nussbaum – attempt thoughtful, albeit not identical, syntheses of feminism and liberalism. The “caricature then critique” treatment of feminist liberalism so prevalent in the literature has been eschewed. Yet while sympathetic, the approach has not been indulgent: I have detected problems, questions and lacunae in the work of all three, as well as pointing to areas of concern to emerge...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 277-306)
    (pp. 307-320)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 321-326)