Is it wrong for feminists to pay other women for housework? Johanna Oksala, Pratt

March 28, 2019 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Wolff Conference Room, NSSR, D1103
6 E 16th St
New York, NY 10003

Many philosophers have suggested that the aim of imaginative philosophical inquiry is not to provide right answers, but right questions. This means demonstrating why certain questions are meaningless, based on false assumptions, or become senseless when posed in a wrong context. The question in my title appears to be a good candidate for this type of philosophical inquiry and I will try to show why. However, I will also argue that posing the question is nevertheless important, perhaps not for moral philosophy, but for feminist politics.

The argument proceeds in three stages. In the first section, I will discuss Gabrielle Meagher’s article, Jstor, Spring 2002, ‘Is it Wrong to Pay for Housework?’. I will contend that rather than posing this question as an abstract philosophical question, it is crucial to place it in the specific historical and socio-economic context in which we encounter it today. A thorough politico-economic analysis of paid housework should then open our eyes to the fact that feminists need to make demands that are not merely ameliorative but embody a radically emancipatory future for all women. In the second section, I will critically assess one such demand, the idea of universal basic income (UBI) – a monthly income paid by the government to each member of society regardless of income from other sources and with no conditions attached. My contention is that a feminist demand for UBI could contribute to the attempts to tackle the deep causes behind the growing socio-economic disparities between women, as well as improving the status of unpaid care work, but only in the context of a feminist revolution of everyday life. In the third section, I will ask what such a revolution might entail and return to the question of individual choice. While I insist that scapegoating women who pay other women for housework misses the real political problem, I will nevertheless conclude by suggesting that there are compelling political reasons for feminists to answer the question in my title with a resolute yes.

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