all posts on culture and religion
Should the state recognise gender? Can a liberal state discourage traditional family structures? Is women’s sport compatible with equality of opportunity? Should feminists defend women’s freedom to choose cosmetic surgery? Is genital cutting always wrong, or is it only wrong for girls?
Freedom & Equality: Essays on Liberalism and Feminism investigates the contours of feminist liberalism: a philosophical approach that is appealing but elusive. Its hallmark is a liberalism that prioritises equality and individual autonomy, while offering a rigorous critique of using individuals’ choices as the measure of justice. Liberalism without feminism prioritises individual choice, a strategy that has played a crucial role in the liberal defence of freedom against authoritarianism and conformity. However, as feminism shows, relying on individual choice is insufficient to render an outcome just, because people often choose things that harm or disadvantage themselves. From beauty norms to the gendered division of labour, from marriage to religion, women and men choose to arrange their lives in ways that perpetuate inequality. Often, these choices are made in response to social norms, including unjust, unequal, or harmful norms. It follows that relying on individual choice as a measure of justice actually leaves unjust social structures intact. Any defender of autonomy and equality must be prepared to criticise individuals’ choices while prioritising individual choosers.
The essays in this collection cover a wide range of issues fundamental to liberalism, to feminism, and to their intersection. They explore the foundational philosophical concepts of choice, equality of opportunity, ideology, and the state, and they engage directly with key political controversies, including women’s sport, the state recognition of gender, the regulation of cosmetic and cultural surgeries, and state action to secure equality in the family. Clare Chambers argues that feminist liberalism is both possible and necessary. It is possible because the two doctrines of feminism and liberalism are compatible, their fundamental values of freedom and equality aligned. But feminism is necessary because liberalism has shown that it is simply not up to the task of securing gender equality and women’s liberation alone.
Freedom & Equality will be published by Oxford University Press in 2024.
Introduction: A Feminist Liberalism
PART I: FEMINISM & LIBERALISM
2: Feminism on Liberalism
3: Respect, Religion, and Feminism: Political Liberalism as Feminist Liberalism?
PART II: THE FAMILY
4: ʻThe Family as a Basic Institutionʼ: A Feminist Analysis of the Basic Structure as Subject
5: Liberalism, Feminism, and the Gendered Division of Labour
6: The Marriage-Free State
PART III: THE LIMITS OF LIBERALISM
7: Should the Liberal State Recognise Gender?
8: Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma: Abortion and Circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence
PART IV: EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY
9: Each Outcome Is Another Opportunity: Problems with the Moment of Equal Opportunity
10: Equality of Opportunity and Three Justifications for Women’s Sport: Fair Competition, Anti-Sexism, and Identity
PART V: CHOICE
11: Choice and Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery
12: Judging Women: 25 Years Further Toward a Feminist Theory of the State
13: Ideology and Normativity
Respect, Religion, and Feminism: Comments on Lori Watson and Christie Hartley, Equal Citizenship and Public Reason: A Feminist Political Liberalism is published in Journal of Applied Philosophy September 2020. You can read the paper here.
Abstract: There is significant disagreement among feminists and liberals about the compatibility between the two doctrines. Political liberalism has come under particular criticism from feminists, who argue that its restricted form of equality is insufficient. In contrast, Lori Watson and Christie Hartley argue that political liberalism can and must be feminist. This article raises three areas of disagreement with Watson and Hartley’s incisive account of feminist political liberalism. First, it argues that an appeal to a comprehensive doctrine can be compatible with respecting others, if that appeal is to the value of equality. Second, it takes issue with Watson and Hartley’s defence of religious exemptions to equality law. Third, it argues that political liberalism can be compatible with feminism but that it is not itself adequately feminist. It concludes that political liberalism is not enough for feminists.
In American Journal of Bioethics Vol. 19 (2019).
Keeping our focus exclusively on a Western context for the purposes of this article, we argue as follows: Under most conditions, cutting any person’s genitals without their informed consent is a serious violation of their right to bodily integrity. As such, it is morally impermissible unless the person is nonautonomous (incapable of consent) and the cutting is medically necessary.
This paper is authored by the Brussels Collaboration on Bodily Integrity (2019).
This work grew out of informal discussions among participants in the G3 International Experts Meeting on FGM/C in Brussels, Belgium, May 20-22, 2019, along with other scholarly collaborators. We are physicians, ethicists, nurse-midwives, public health professionals, legal scholars, political scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and feminists from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas with interdisciplinary expertise in child genital cutting practices across a wide range of cultural contexts.
You can read the paper here.
Corresponding author: Brian D. Earp, Associate Director, Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy, Yale University and The Hastings Center, 2 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT, 06511, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read the paper here.
Abstract: This paper starts by investigating the idea of reasonable disagreement. It then considers Matthew Kramer’s argument that there is no neutral solution available to the disagreement over abortion. The paper argues that Kramer’s account has wider application, and identifies a neutralist dilemma. The neutralist dilemma applies when, of two policy options available to the state, one is unreasonable. It follows that the state should enact only the reasonable policy. However, in a neutralist dilemma the fact of reasonable disagreement due to the burdens of judgment means that it is not possible for the state to act at all, whether legislating or not, without deviating from neutrality. The paper develops the concept of the neutralist dilemma and then applies it to another case discussed by Kramer: infant circumcision. The paper argues that the debate over infant circumcision can be framed as a neutralist dilemma, but that the most plausible resolution of the dilemma results in an argument in favor of the legal prohibition of the practice. This is a surprising result, since most liberal states do not restrict circumcision and since prohibition of circumcision might initially appear to be non-neutral or even illiberal; however it is consistent with the tenets of neutralist liberalism.
I presented my paper “Reasonable disagreement and the neutralist dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” at the University of Edinburgh in March 2018. You can read their account of the session on the Just World Institute blog here.
The University of Edinburgh Just World Institute blogged about my paper “Reasonable disagreement and the neutralist dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence”. You can read the blog here.
In Political Emotions: Toward a Decent Public Sphere, edited by Thom Brooks (Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming).
In The New Religious Intolerance Martha Nussbaum sets out an impassioned plea against that intolerance, which she sees as a pressing but almost entirely European problem. Although there are differences between European nations, Nussbaum argues, Europeans in general have a variety of problematic attitudes to religious diversity that are not found in the USA. These include “fear and mistrust,” inconsistency, “a concern for homogeneity that leads them to commit some errors in public argument that are troubling,” the desire that immigrants “fit in,” greater anti-Semitism than is found in the USA, and a refusal to debate, let alone embrace, “the free exercise of religion”. In place of this European foolishness “the American solution is urgently needed.” The New Religious Intolerance is thus at once a critique of the ‘European’ way of dealing with religion and a defence of the superior American way. Events since Nussbaum published NRI suggest that both Europeans and Americans have grounds for deep soul-searching and self-criticism concerning attitudes to immigration and diversity. In this paper I offer a critique not of the political implications of Nussbaum’s account, but rather of its philosophical underpinnings. My argument proceeds through analysis of her critique of a legal ban on the burqa which has been implemented in various ways in France, Belgium, and Italy
I am one of Women for Refugee Women’s 99 Women speaking out against detention for refugee women. You can see the other women here.
We asked 99 inspiring women to write a message in support of refugee women, to reflect the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in 2014. These women include Charlotte Church, Romola Garai, Malorie Blackman, Yasmin Kadi, Noma Dumezweni, Nimco Ali, Caitlin Moran, Bridget Christie, Baroness Valerie Amos, Yvette Cooper MP, Juliet Stevenson, Mary Beard, Sophie Walker, Anoushka Shankar, Caroline Spelman MP, Oona King, Bryony Hannah, and Caroline Lucas MP.
I chaired a session of the Religion and Political Theory Conference at UCL in June 2015, organised by Prof Cecile Laborde. Details are here.
An interview with me, focusing on my work in Sex, Culture, and Justice. Read the interview here.
Clare Chambers chews over the core philosophical issues of sex, culture and justice for liberal feminists, brooding on practices of physical modification, social construction’s role in negotiating claims of universalism and tolerance, Foucault and the panopticon, Bourdieu and habitus, Mackinnon’s critique of liberal feminism, taking violence against women seriously, Benhabib’s discourse ethics, how not to be a relativist, of what kind of universality is worth defending and of the state of academic philosophy and feminism. This is a voice from a war zone. Listen up!
My piece “Liberal views” discusses different models of separation of church and state, as they are conceptualised philosophically and as they apply to actual polities. The article is here.
My Philosophy Bites podcast on “Liberalism and Intervention”, an interview with Nigel Warburton produced by David Edmonds, is part of the special series “Multiculturalism Bites”, available here.
This paper claims that a focus on gender as a source of controversy, and on feminism as a theoretical and practical approach, prompts a rethinking of the role of dialogue away from the liberal constitutionalist focus of deliberative democracy and towards a more fluid, reflexive approach.
Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice was published in hardback and paperback by Penn State University Press in 2008. An e-book is also available. You can buy all versions here.
Autonomy is fundamental to liberalism. But autonomous individuals often choose to do things that harm themselves or undermine their equality. In particular, women often choose to participate in practices of sexual inequality-cosmetic surgery, gendered patterns of work and childcare, makeup, restrictive clothing, or the sexual subordination required by membership in certain religious groups. In this book, Clare Chambers argues that this predicament poses a fundamental challenge to many existing liberal and multicultural theories that dominate contemporary political philosophy. Chambers argues that a theory of justice cannot ignore the influence of culture and the role it plays in shaping choices. If cultures shape choices, it is problematic to use those choices as the measure of the justice of the culture. Drawing upon feminist critiques of gender inequality and poststructuralist theories of social construction, she argues that we should accept some of the multicultural claims about the importance of culture in shaping our actions and identities, but that we should reach the opposite normative conclusion to that of multiculturalists and many liberals. Rather than using the idea of social construction to justify cultural respect or protection, we should use it to ground a critical stance toward cultural norms. The book presents radical proposals for state action to promote sexual and cultural justice.
“[A]n interesting, important, wide-ranging and well-argued book that contains a controversial proposal that will, no doubt, be widely debated.”
—Times Higher Education
“[A]n important book. … Very few first-rate analytical thinkers … engage with social theorists: Chambers is a notable exception, and if only for that reason, her contribution should serve as a model for any endeavour of this kind. … Moreover, its strength lies not merely in the author’s mastery of two disparate intellectual traditions, but also in its cogent and provocative defence of a number of proposals.“
“[E]xtremely successful. … Testament to her scholarly rigour, Chambers skilfully avoids alienating either side of the academic divide [between analytical and continental philosophy]; achieving her stated aim, she undermines the foundations upon which such divides are rooted. … This opportune and tightly argued work reveals the extent to which equality and justice cannot be guaranteed by a political liberalism which venerates autonomy to the exclusion of other important values. Setting itself apart from other work in its field, this book forms, albeit on its own terms, part of the solution.”
“Chambers’ work makes a highly valuable contribution to contemporary philosophical debates. … Chambers’ work represents a great advance in attempting to forge a path between two positions which are so often considered to be diametrically opposed. The project … is a vital one. … [T]he value of the theoretical contribution, both to liberal and feminist philosophy, is indisputable.”
“Her interwoven arguments … are complex, meticulous and inventive. … [T]here is real potential here for this book to alter mainstream liberal thinking.”
“An incisive, well-written book with a sustained, original argument.”
—Ruth Abbey, University of Notre Dame
“The book contributes significantly to the literature of liberalism, autonomy, and feminism.”
—Ann Cudd, University of Kansas
“Chambers’ refreshing approach has the potential to expand the scope of conventional liberal theory by showing how liberals can (and should) directly meet the challenge of postmodern approaches and by demonstrating that feminist contributions are the well from which most innovations in liberalism are drawn.”
—Avigail Eisenberg, University of Victoria
This paper criticises Sawitri Saharso’s argument that hymen repair surgery and sex-selective abortion can be both multiculturalist and feminist policies.
You can read the paper here.
This paper outlines two forms of autonomy, and argues that political liberals such as Martha Nussbaum wrongly prioritise second-order autonomy. As a result, they cannot provide adequate criticism of unjust social norms. The two cases of breast implants and female genital mutilation are compared to illustrate this point.
This paper takes issue with Will Kymlicka’s arguments on ethnocultural justice. It argues that liberal nation-building is not the same thing as minority nation-building, and that the former need not cause injustice to minority ethnocultural groups.
You can read the paper here.
This paper highlights a rare aspect of Brian Barry’s Culture and Equality that is not liberal enough: his assertion that unequal outcomes are unproblematic if they have been chosen. The paper argues instead that an ‘equality tribunal’ should be empowered to rule against certain forms of discrimination within groups.