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Citizenship and Gender in Political Liberalism

Citizenship and Gender in Political Liberalism

Gina Schouten
September 29, 2017 -
1:15pm to 3:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Gina Schouten, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University

The trend toward equality in men’s and women’s shares of paid and caregiving labor has stalled. A growing number of scholars argue that, absent political intervention, further eroding of the gendered division of labor will not be forthcoming anytime soon. Certain political interventions to promote gender egalitarianism could jumpstart the stalled gender revolution, but critics regard such political interventions as illegitimate exercises of political power. These critics seem to have a point. The interventions in question would effectively subsidize gender egalitarian lifestyles at a cost to those who prefer to maintain a traditional gendered division of labor. In a pluralistic, liberal society, can scarce public resources be used to finance coercive interventions to subsidize gender egalitarianism? My book answers this question affirmatively, arguing that promoting gender egalitarianism is a legitimate aim of political policy, even by the lights of political liberalism, a particularly demanding theory of liberal legitimacy. 


The chapter I’ll circulate lays the foundation for my argument and critiques an existing attempt to reconcile progressive gender egalitarian interventions with liberal legitimacy. Christie Hartley and Lori Watson argue that political liberalism imposes substantive feminist requirements on the just liberal state. They argue that gender egalitarian interventions are justified on the grounds that gender injustice threatens citizenship. I agree with Hartley and Watson that the liberal concept of citizenship holds the key to justifying progressive gender egalitarian political interventions. Still, I think their argument is unsuccessful, because it can establish only that a hierarchal gendered division of labor undermines citizenship. This limitation is problematic for two reasons: First, the gendered division of labor is not essentially hierarchal, and morally objectionable harms inhere in its non-hierarchal components. Second, the policy initiatives licensed by a hierarchal diagnosis of the gendered division of labor would exacerbate the morally objectionable harms that inhere in the non-hierarchal features of the gendered division of labor. Hartley and Watson’s argument may offer a partial reconciliation of liberalism and feminism, but on its own it is worse than incomplete: It could further entrench the injustice of the gendered division of labor.


Gina Schouten has just begun a job as assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard University. She received her BA in 2006 from Ball State University. After a year spent teaching kindergarten in Denver, Colorado, she began graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she received her PhD in 2013. From 2013-2016, she was assistant professor of philosophy at Illinois State University.

Her research interests are in the areas of social and political philosophy and ethics. She's written on political liberalism and political legitimacy, educational justice, the gendered division of labor, and diversity problems within the discipline of philosophy.