Anyone who is at all online these days – as you are if you’re reading this – will know that one of the most fierce culture wars revolve around the meaning of “woman”. They’re fought in courts, in universities, on other blogs and of course on social media and even on streets.
Author: Anca Gheaus Page 1 of 2
I work on various issues concerning justice. I am particularly interested in the relevance of personal relationships to moral and political philosophy. I published papers about gender justice, parental rights and duties, the nature and value of childhood, the goods of work and the ideal-non-ideal theory debate.
This is another post about childrearing and, like my previous ones, it is complaining about the status quo. This time I’m thinking about what we actively do to expose children to various ways of living and views about what makes for a good life (too little) and about how much we let parents screen such sources of influence out of children’s lives (too much.)
More precisely: how to make sense of the wrong of attributing to someone, and treating them according to, a gender that’s different to the one they say they have?
When I said yes to co-writing a book on surrogacy, I thought it would be just a straightforward application of my general view that moral rights over children, including the right to custody, are grounded in children’s own interests rather than in any interest of the right holder. And in a way it is: in a nutshell, I argue that custody is a prerogative, and hence cannot be sold or gifted. A practice that permits people to transfer it at will is illegitimate. But, along the way, I’m making interesting discoveries; one of them is just how far one may push the analogy between holding slaves and raising children in a world like ours, which has not yet fully outgrown the long tradition of denying rights to children. Many contemporary philosophers of childrearing should find the analogy plausible, even if they don’t share my view about the justification of the right to custody. Let me explain.
Class is a deep dividing line in feminism for two, mutually compatible, reasons: One is about the strategic use of limited time and energy in the feminist movement. The interests of poor and working-class women often diverge from the interests of the more privileged, hence the need to set priorities. This is what my previous post was about.
But the more important reason – captured these days by the agenda of the Feminism for the 99% movement – is that the problems of women who make it to the top are parasitic on a structure of the labour market and schedule of rewards that should not exist in the first place. This second complaint against lean-in feminism (sometimes and, I think, mistakenly, identified as “liberal feminism”) is not merely about misplaced priorities, but about identifying feminism with the gender cosmetisation of deeply unjust existing arrangements. The worry with the upper class feminism is, as Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser put it, that “[i]ts real aim is not equality, but meritocracy. Rather than seeking to abolish social hierarchy, it aims to “diversify” it, “empowering” “talented” women to rise to the top.”
This extended post is a response to a recent Boston Review article by Gina Schouten, called “‘Flexible’ Family Leave is Lousy Feminism”.
This must be one of the most animated debates amongst feminists: how to find the best remedial policies for women who are disadvantaged because they serve as main care-givers for their children, elderly parents, sick relatives or friends. They are disadvantaged in many ways. Some are economic: lower lifetime earnings and fewer work-related benefits compared to people without care commitments – hence more dependency on spouses. Others are social: part-time workers take a hit in status, stay-at-home mums even more so. Finally, there are the relational and psychological disadvantages: women who are economically dependent on their partners have less negotiating power than their partners, and many face tremendous difficulties when they want to leave abusive relationships.
The gendered division of labour – women’s assignment to the hands-on care that we all need at different periods of our lives – explains, to a large extent, not only the gender pay gap but also the feminisation of poverty and the private domination to which many women are subjected. No surprise, then, that feminists have two distinct aims: to protect women from the risks of being a care-giver, and also to do away with the gendered division of labour, which is a main source of the problem. I am one of these feminists; I would like to see women and men equally engaged in the labour market, and looking after anybody who needs care.
But I’m also adamant that we should pursue these two aims in the right order: we should give priority to protecting women from the worst consequences of the gendered division of labour over the abolition of the gendered division of labour itself. Moreover, we should be aware of the unavoidable tension between the two aims, and keep this in mind when advocating for particular gender policies.
Earlier this year I published a short article arguing that multi-parenting can provide a solution to a contemporary conundrum: on the one hand, many people are increasingly worried about climate change and environmental destruction. They know that having fewer children is, for a majority of people, the most effective individual action they can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Some women go on “birth strikes” – they decide not to bring children into the world. On the other hand, life without children can be terribly impoverished. Parenting may be the most important – and creative! – act one can engage in, a non-substitutable occasion for personal growth and, for many, the central source of meaning in life. (Which is not to deny that, for many other people, a childless life is perfectly fine.)
Marx might have been right, too strict a division of labour is making us worse off in an important respect: we cannot but fail to develop core human abilities, and this failure cannot but affect our sense of wellbeing, of being at home in the world. Not that we should, or could, fully undo the division of labour such that you and I can “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” But is it really unavoidable, or good for us, to have to live by a radical division of labour where the main social roles are an all-or-nothing business?
Consider: you either enter politics, dedicating it a large amount of time, or you have virtually no say in any public affairs. You’re either a parent or someone who can have children in their lives only very sporadically and precariously. You typically either have a full-time job (for many over-engulfing) or an unsatisfying one, which you can all too easily lose, and which probably doesn’t pay enough to live. You’re either in a monogamous relationship, or else your relationship(s) are not socially sanctioned as serious, meaningful, worthy of protection – as marriage and civil partnerships are.
Remember what good things you hoped awaited you within a future job when you were very young and still preparing for one. And have you ever been unemployed long-term, worried that you’d not find work in the near future? In this case, remember why it was distressing (if it was). Here I’ll talk about the things we can, and should, get out of work – and argue that these goods are so important that we ought to reorganise employment.