Disgraced former New York governor Andrew Cuomo tried to dismiss allegations of sexual harassment by arguing that his unwelcomed advances on women were misinterpreted. These are simply “cultural behavioral differences”, and apparently, in Italian culture groping women is fine.
So, here we go again. Yet another creep tries to evade responsibility by appealing to the-Devil-made-me-do-it excuses. This time, it’s culture-made-me-do-it.
Unsurprisingly, Italian Americans have taken offense at Cuomo’s cheap shot, as his pathetic act brings shame to their culture, when in fact, Italian culture is very respectful towards women.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that, indeed, Cuomo’s sexual creepiness is part of Italian culture. So what? Does that make it any less harmful? Liberal philosopher Brian Barry famously objected to using culture as an excuse for immoral behavior, articulating a powerful critique of multiculturalism:
“if there are sound reasons against doing something, these cannot be trumped by saying – even if it is true – that doing it is a part of your culture. The fact that you (or your ancestors) have been doing something for a long time does nothing in itself to justify your continuing to do it.”
This is especially true when it comes to treatment of women.
In an epoch in which there is a frenzy to decolonize everything, Western countries are encouraged to accommodate laws so that immigrants are able to preserve their culture, and consequently feel more welcome.
This all seems very nice, until you begin to consider how the women in those communities feel about being abused, all under the protective cloak of culture. Indeed, with penetrating foresight, as early as 1999 feminist philosopher Susan Moller Okin issued a warning to well-meaning but misguided multiculturalists. In her seminal essay, “Is Multiculturalism Bad For Women?” Okin argued that:
“culturally endorsed practices that are oppressive to women can often remain hidden in the private or domestic sphere… Establishing group rights to enable some minority cultures to preserve themselves may not be in the best interests of the girls and women of the culture, even if it benefits the men.”
Fortunately, even left-wing politicians are beginning to come to terms with the fact that, indeed, multiculturalism is bad for women. The elite of the Democratic Party in the United States is not giving Cuomo a free pass on account of “cultural behavior differences”.
But then again, much work still needs to be done. Leftists are happy to go after Cuomo because, at the end of the day, his multiculturalist excuse appeals to a culture that is Western at its core; after all, Italians are descendants of what Edgar Allan Poe called “the grandeur that was Rome.” In our day and age, toppling statues of white males is quite easy. But leftists are far more hesitant to go after abusers if their skin colour is darker and their multiculturalist arguments appeal to non-Western cultures.
Canada has still not decided whether sharia law (which is, to put it kindly, less than amicable towards women) should be rejected in some jurisdictions; other Western countries still leave the gate open for the so-called “cultural defense” when it comes to cases of honour killings.
If the Left truly wants to be taken seriously in its defense of women, it must be consistent.
Rejecting the pathetic “cultural defense” of an elitist governor is a good start. The Left is beginning to understand that multiculturalism is bad for women.
But, let’s not kid ourselves: the bulk of harm done to women in Western societies does not come from third-generation Italian Americans, but from first-generation immigrants coming from the Middle East and Asia. Now that the Left has begun to realize that culture is not an excuse for immoral behavior, it must go after all abusers regardless of skin colour, religion or culture. Time will tell if they meet challenge.