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Smash the patrimoney – Feminism and the universal basic income

Women’s day, hooray. I’ve spent a big part of my day today reading about the horrifying gender inequality that’s still alive and well in Austria (one interesting article here) and in most parts of the world. Every year, unchanging gender pay gaps are published alongside ads for free stuff you never needed but can now (but just today) get for free if you buy even more stuff you never needed (mh, that sweet female consumer money). But what about progressive political, social and economic ideas that could finally change those dreary statistics on inequality instead of making us feel better for a day because we’ve gotten a rose?

One of the progressive left’s most challenging new ideas is that of a universal basic income. People getting money that requires neither work nor the embarrassing plea for aid by the state, but just because they’re humans and as such deserve to live, feed and heat their homes in dignity is considered radical by political parties whose alternative programs of financial aid have failed to keep children out of poverty and people off the streets. With workers not being forced into degrading and exhausting work by financial necessity, governments and companies would have to seriously reconsider allowing for such work to be legal – at the expense of some benefits for companies and the super-wealthy, which is not in every politician’s best interest.

But a rarely discussed “side effect” of such an income are the feminist advances this change would bring. Depending on the amount people would receive, such an income would either lessen or completely end women’s financial dependency on their (most often male) partners and from their families. This would open up a variety of possibilities: the possibility to more easily leave an abusive partner, being considered and respected as a more equal financial provider, the opportunity to search for work in one’s field after family leave instead of having to take whatever you can get (in countries where you’re not protected from being fired for birthing a child and then wanting to spend time with it) and having money to spend on yourself.

But wives and mothers (I sincerely apologize for this ancient patriarchal phrasing) aren’t the only ones who would benefit. Many young women wouldn’t face financial pressure anymore to find a partner (although the social one would stay alive and well, I imagine), they would be freer to choose a career path or studies that they want away from what their family might decide for them and use the threat of withdrawing money to get them to do. Come to think of it, quite a few young men might be happy about that, as well. And, of course, elderly women wouldn’t face poverty to the same extent they do now when they reach retirement, especially when the husband in a “traditional” partnership has died.

There is, however, one aspect I worry about: This could be a way of paying women for housework (a feminist proposition with quite some history that has been largely abandoned by modern feminists). Now, in general, that brings a lot of the benefits mentioned above, as well. But what it also does is to push women back into the home. On the other hand, if that’s the kind of partnership you want rather than do a job in addition to the second shift of housework, the third one of care (whether for children, the elderly or a partner) and the fourth one of socially accepted physical maintenance, I can neither blame nor judge you.

So here’s to a women’s day with less bullshit – let’s think about our future in serious, long-lasting terms instead of as a marketing ploy that only furthers the structural inequality women face when it comes to the economy.

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