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Susan Okin's 'Justice, Gender & the Family'

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  • 0:08 Gender and the Family
  • 0:42 Gender Roles
  • 1:34 The Personal is Political
  • 2:15 Justice & Gender
  • 3:25 The Family Teaches Justice
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll consider how being born male or female affects our opportunities. You'll learn how Susan Moller Okin understands justice, and why she's interested in the role of the family.

Gender and the Family

Mica and Trish are a couple with two young children and are expecting their third child. After the baby is born, they've decided that financially it doesn't make sense to both continue working and paying for child care. Instead, they agree that one of them will need to leave their job to care for the children.

How will they decide who quits their job? In this lesson, we'll look at how Susan Moller Okin would look at their situation, based on her work, Justice, Gender and the Family.

Gender Roles

The perspective that Trish should automatically be the one to care for the children because she is a woman may be less common today than in the past. Yet society has a legacy of relying on gender roles. These perceived roles affect how children are raised, how families are structured, and how choices are made even today.

In this context, gender roles are the way we are taught to behave in society, based on our gender. Gender roles are based in part on society's attitudes, such as the belief by some that women are better able to care for children simply because they are female. Gender roles are also reinforced by historical patterns in society, such as a past history of women being deliberately excluded from certain types of work, for instance.

The Personal Is Political

When we think of politics and power, we typically think of the public sphere, such as the legislature and the workplace. Okin and other philosophers point out that the dynamics within a family itself, the private sphere, also involve issues of power.

This perspective is sometimes summed up by the phrase, 'the personal is political,' which refers to the idea that what happens in the family and in relationships are directly related to the issues of larger society. The private and public spheres are both relevant when talking about power, fairness, and justice.

Justice and Gender

What is fair in Trish and Mica's situation? There's no one answer for this, since it depends on many factors. Does one of them enjoy their job more than the other person? Does one of them enjoy caring for the children at home more than the other? Does one of them make enough money on their own to support the whole family? Many different factors could be considered to help them make a joint decision.

Okin argues that it is unjust for a person's sex to determine what opportunities are available to them, such as Trish being assumed to be the one who should quit her job. Being male or female should not determine what a person should do in their life. In addition, no matter who is home with the children, more value should be placed on this form of contribution to the family.

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