Gina Schouten (Harvard University): Justice and Gender in Political Liberalism

Thu, Nov 30, 2017, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Location: 
301 Marx Hall

ABSTRACT: Despite women’s increased labor force participation, household divisions of labor remain highly unequal. This persistent gendered division of labor is remediable by way of “gender egalitarian” political interventions such as work time regulation, subsidized dependent care provisions, and family leave initiatives. But gender egalitarian political interventions appear to constitute illegitimate exercises of coercive political power. Questions of legitimacy arise because reasonable citizens disagree about what makes for a good life or a good society, and because a fundamental commitment of liberalism is to limit political intrusion into the lives of citizens so as to allow considerable space for them to act on their own answers to those questions. Some proponents of gender egalitarian interventions have devised elegant arguments for the conclusion that these interventions are legitimate, despite appearances to the contrary. I agree that gender egalitarian interventions can be shown to be legitimate, but I worry that the strategies on offer for developing such a justification are unsatisfactory. This is important, because a strategy that misplaces this injustice of the gendered division of labor can issue correspondingly misguided prescriptions for how to fix it. My talk will critique what I take to be the prevailing strategy for defending gender egalitarian political interventions as legitimate exercises of political power. According to this strategy, the gendered division of labor constitutes or causes unjust distributions of goods, and gender egalitarian interventions can be legitimate means to remedy those unjust distributions. 

BIO: Gina Schouten is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. Her research interests include gender justice, educational justice, and political legitimacy, including especially questions about whether political liberalism can constitute an adequate theory of legitimacy. She is currently working on a book tentatively called Liberalism, Neutrality, and the Gendered Division of Labor.