In the long run, gender-based taxation may contribute to changing the traditional division of labour within the family, which currently encourages men to work more in the market and women more often at home.
It will come as no great surprise to regular readers of this site, that the first nation to consider taking up such a policy is Sweden:
The government also unveiled formal proposals for an equality bonus for people who take parental leave. The bonus, in the form of a 3,000 kronor per month tax reduction, will be paid to the lower-earning member of a couple when he or she returns to work.
The idea is that the bonus will encourage couples to share parental leave more equally, by making it financially more feasible for fathers to take time off. The bonus has been estimated to cost 1.2 billion kronor a year. Nyamko Sabuni said the money would be a "great step" in ensuring that mothers and fathers take equal shares of parental leave.
Nyamko Sabuni is the "Minister for Integration and Gender Equality" in the Swedish Government. She is a member of the centre-right Liberal People's Party.
Why Sweden? The Swedish state is committed to patriarchy theory: to the idea that the chief good in life is autonomy; that careers are the measure of how autonomous we are; that men and women should therefore participate equally in careers; and that the traditional connection between women and motherhood is simply an oppressive social construct.
Monica Silvell, from the Division of Gender Equality, noted in a speech in 2004 that the adoption in Sweden of patriarchy theory meant that:
The old view of men and women complementing one another was replaced by the notion that the sexes were basically similar.
The Swedish state is therefore intent on creating a sameness in the social roles of men and women, even if this means spending billions of kronor to greatly reduce female tax rates.
But can the idea that the sexes are basically similar really form the basis of social policy? I can think of at least three reasons for doubt.
The first is the most obvious. Our love life and our sexuality are built on the differences between the masculine and feminine. Therefore, there is likely to be considerable disappointment and confusion if our roles in society are forced toward androgyny.
It's difficult to believe that the heterosexual instinct will be denied. Compare Monica Silvell's idea that "the sexes were basically similar" with the views of these Melbourne women:
A Melbourne office worker, who wanted to be known only as Jessica, was left stunned when no man in her office could help her change her flat tyre last week. "I had to wonder, where have all the real men gone?"
Emma Fletcher, 25, said metrosexuals were poseurs and cared too much about how they looked. "We're the girls and it's our job to pretty it up."
A real man is someone who is handy like her father and can fix things, according to Rebecca Campbell, 26. "A real man is someone who acts and looks like a man, not a woman."
Even career women have trouble dealing with the conflict between their heterosexual instincts and newer family arrangements. Amy Brayfield lost interest in her husband when he became too feminine in his role as house husband:
But our sex life was in ruins ... I realized it had been almost a year since Mark and I had made love.
Sometimes he'd say, "I really think things would be better for us if we could just be intimate again." ... but just the thought of him touching me made me recoil. "Maybe I'm just not a sexual person anymore," I told him, and I honestly meant it.
The truth is, I wasn't attracted to him anymore. ... in my head, I'd neutralized him as a sexual being. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the sheer power of his masculinity in the bedroom, but I wasn't. Because I felt like the man in our relationship.
It's not just a question of relationships, though. The idea that being a man or woman doesn't matter runs up against issues of personal identity: of our basic sense of who we are. We don't identify ourselves as being gender neutral or as being only insignificantly a man or woman. Our sex is fundamental to our sense of self. The Swedes are therefore pitting social roles against personal identity.
Even more significantly, there is the question of life meaning. Is it really surprising that we should experience our highest and most satisfying sense of self, and a more purposeful connection to our place in the world, when we most fully manifest our nature as a man or a woman?
The Swedish state has a simpler and more limited prospect for its citizens. They are to have an autonomous family life, a somewhat oxymoronic ambition as someone in serious pursuit of autonomy would most likely avoid the commitments of marriage and parenthood altogether.
How far you can subvert important aspects of existence with billions of kronor remains to be seen. In the long run, it doesn't seem likely that a state ideology will conquer all.