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A Gender-Just Basic Structure

In the absence of an institutionalized GDL, we can surmise that the basic structure would look something like this: first, girls’ and boys’ educations would be equal in ways that go beyond the demands of fair equality of opportunity. Boys and girls would not merely experience similar curricula but also equal treatment in the hallways and on the playground. Moreover, they would have access to the same, or similar, extracurricular activities, including sports. Second, jobs would not be designed on the assumption that the worker has a wife who cares for young children, older disabled children, and/or aging parents (Boushey 2016, 5-11). Third, the public world of work would not be regarded and treated as a male domain, in which women are essentially interlopers or mere helpmeets; women would not be seen as usurping jobs that men deserve due to their role as breadwinner. Hence women’s capabilities and authority in that domain would be fully recognized. This means that sexual harassment, discursive injustice, and epistemic injustice on the job would be uncommon (Kukla 2014; Fricker 2007). Fourth, women would not be paid less as group than men (Crompton 2007, 229). Fifth, women would not be channeled into care-oriented paid occupations or discouraged by public institutions, such as schools, from doing paid work. Likewise, men would not be discouraged from doing paid or unpaid care labor.

How would this arrangement of the public domain affect the GDL in the home? Naturally not all families would consist of a man and a woman and their offspring. So, some families would avoid the GDL in virtue of their structure. However, families consisting of a man and a woman and their offspring would be permitted to divide care labor according to their own conceptions of the good. So, couples who affirm some version of the doctrine of natural sex differences described earlier would be free to abide by it (Rawls 2001b, 599). This follows from Rawls’s claim that individuals’ personal choices are not governed by the principles of justice as fairness (Cohen 1997). Nevertheless, couples’ choices about the division of labor in their households would be influenced by the fact that social institutions would be prohibited from enforcing or sustaining, either directly or indirectly, the notion that men and women should be assigned different types of work.

The following three features of a gender-just basic structure would affect how people divide labor within the household: the fact that formal education would not encourage women to do care work nor discourage men from doing it, the fact that men as a group would not earn more than women as group, and the fact that jobs would not be structured on the assumption that the worker has few caregiving responsibilities. The first of these might weaken, though surely would not eliminate, the grip of the ideology of natural sex differences and its prescriptions. Some men and women would, therefore, feel less moral pressure to make traditional choices about how to distribute caring labor in their private lives.

The second of these features - no disparity in income between women and men as groups - would do two things: first, it would alleviate the economic pressure to forgo the woman’s job that is currently exerted on straight couples who want a one-breadwinner family structure. Second, it would lessen the economic incentive for women to take work leave available to new parents. The third of these factors - the assumption that workers have few caregiving duties - would also do two things. First, it would make women less willing to accept an inequitable division of care labor in the home and men less inclined to expect it. This is because institutionalizing the assumption that workers have caring responsibilities (even though some in fact do not) would make care work more socially visible and hence more socially vaunted. This, in turn, would help break the cycle whereby low-status individuals, that is, women, are assigned care work and such work retains its low status because it is done by low- status individuals. Unfastening care work from gender hierarchy would remove its stigma, encouraging men to share in it and women to insist that they share in it. (This would, in turn, probably damage that very hierarchy.)

Second, eliminating the assumption that the worker has no caring responsibilities would reduce the amount and the difficulty of unpaid care work required of parents. This would diminish conflicts over who in the household is to be assigned that work, at least to the extent that men would be less motivated to take advantage of their social permission to shirk. A decrease in caring work (or in its demandingness) would result from removing this assumption because, as Okin points out, the assumption ramifies to affect many aspects of the basic structure. It “lies behind the hours and locations of paid work and political activity, the location and types of housing, the hours and vacations of schools, and the (lack of) provision of child care” (Okin 2005, 244). Imagine that the school day matched the work day, there was onsite day care at the workplace, and people preferred smaller homes close to their workplace, instead of large suburban homes, because private space for children to play was not as important. The time and effort spent caring for children, including getting them to and from school and then getting them to their various activities, or appointments, would decrease. At the same time, parents could be sure that their children are receiving excellent care, for those children would be in the hands of trained professionals. Further, they would have the comfort of being near their babies and toddlers and would have regular breaks to visit them or (in the case of [nonadopting] mothers) to nurse them. Surely the resulting decrease in stress, effort, and logistical challenges associated with caring for children would make men less inclined to exercise the privilege they currently have to be excused from it.

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