Volume 23, 2007
International Law and Justice
Lisa H. Schwartzman
Can Liberalism Account for Women’s “Adaptive Preferences”?
Feminist philosophers have questioned whether liberal theory can account for the phenomenon of adaptive preferences, specifically women’s preferences that are formed under conditions of sexist oppression. In this paper, I examine the argument of one feminist who addresses the problem of women’s “deformed desires” by relying on a liberal framework. Assessing her argument, I conclude that liberalism provides inadequate resources for responding to this issue since it errs in understanding adaptive preferences as exceptional, provides little explanation of how changes in individual preferences are motivated, and often fails to identify the adaptive nature of such preferences. I illustrate my arguments through a brief discussion of women’s choices around motherhood and sexuality, and I conclude by offering several suggestions of how an alternative theory might better address the problems raised by preference adaptation in the context of oppression.