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Care Work and Property-Owning Democracy

“Since property-owning democracy,” Rawls says,

aims for full equality of women, it must include arrangements to achieve that. If a basic, if not the main, cause of women’s inequality is their greater share in the bearing, nurturing, and caring for children in the traditional division of labor within the family, steps need to be taken either to equalize their share or compensate them for it.

(Rawls 2001a, 167)

These steps, as we saw earlier, cannot be to mandate a particular division of labor within the family because the standards of justice appropriate for the internal workings of associations (labor unions, universities, churches, families) are determined by those associations’ particular characters, aims, and purposes (Rawls 2001a, 11). What I have sketched previously is an account of the basic structure that would either generate rough gender equality in the division of care work, in both the economy and the home, or ensure that any gender-specific inequalities in that division, and any associated gender-based disadvantages, are genuinely voluntary. This result is achieved primarily by removing incentives for women to choose care-related employment and for families to allocate more care work to women, in particular mothers.13 This arrangement of the basic structure is, I claimed, likely to result from Rawls’s explicit exclusion of standards of moral desert, which prevents the entrenchment within the basic structure of prescriptions emanating from the doctrine of natural sex difference.14

I contend that the gender-just basic structure that I have described is in fact demanded by the norms of POD, and so my account is consistent with Rawls’s endorsement of that system. Under POD, recall, physical and human capital are widely dispersed, rather than possessed by a small, elite group, and economic inequality is minimized ex ante. An extensive social safety net is therefore unnecessary, and all participants in the economy can regard their contributions as worthwhile and are viewed by others with respect, whether they are cleaning hotel rooms or writing computer code.

Under this arrangement, as noted earlier, all citizens have, first, adequate means to support themselves and their dependents. In order for all citizens to have such means, women must have such means. So, individual women must be given, and have control over, whatever physical capital is guaranteed to citizens, such as a means for self-sufficiency. Furthermore, women must be equipped with marketable training. These two demands require the equality in public education described earlier: in school, girls must be presumed to be fully capable of, and entitled, to own capital and to engage in paid employment that reflects their preferences, rather than a prescribed gender role.

Second, under POD, the value of the political liberties, Rawls says, is the same for all citizens. For the value of women’s political liberties to be the same as the value of men’s, men cannot have inordinate power as a group to influence elections or to run for public office. Flence women as a group must be roughly equal to men as a group in both social status and wealth. This requires the policies alluded to in the earlier discussion: equal pay for equal work, high-quality on-site childcare, parental leave that is available to both men and women, a better match between school hours and work hours, and so on.

Finally, according to Rawls, POD guarantees substantive equality of opportunity; as we saw previously it is not sufficient, on his view, for all who are qualified to have legal access to various offices and positions. Rather, people need equal access to the education necessary to become qualified for those offices and positions. Rawls is concerned that in a class-stratified society, many talented and/or ambitious lower-class individuals will be effectively excluded from high-paying or otherwise desirable careers, for they cannot afford the training and will tend to imagine such careers as beyond their reach. POD’s wide distribution of human and physical capital militates against this stratification.

As I noted earlier, the presence of substantive equality of opportunity with respect to class is compatible with a rather extensive GDL.

However, this GDL, as we have seen, prevents women from having equal opportunities with men. It thus allows many talented and/or ambitious women to be effectively excluded from high-paying or otherwise desirable careers. While some may be able to afford the training, they will tend to see those careers as incompatible with their aspirations to have a family and will adjust their sights accordingly (Okin 1989, 142-146). Furthermore, when women do achieve such careers, their extra care labor frequently threatens their job performance and requires them to sacrifice career goals. Hence, in order for women to have genuine equality of opportunity with men, the GDL must be removed from all aspects of society within the legitimate purview of the precepts of justice. Hence, POD requires that removal, which in turn requires the education and employment policies I enumerated earlier.

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