I once read that economics is “politics in drag”—it bandies about as if it were a purely objective, value-neutral science, when in fact, it’s a vehicle for enacting deeply-held ideologies about what belongs in the public sphere—or not, the dogma of individual responsibility, and the role of collective institutions in facilitating social inclusion and equity. Or at least that’s what Dr. Nancy Folbre’s analysis of economics as a “masculine domain” means to me.
This is not to say that we should abandon the field. Quite the opposite, we need more women like Ruth and Dr. Folbre who can expertly bring “woman’s work” into the picture and make visible the productive value of and society’s collective responsibility for what has for so long been relegated to the private sphere and placed squarely upon the unpaid shoulders of women and girls.
But changing the field of economics, as with any institution, will require long-term, multi-faceted strategies both within and outside the discipline. We’re talking about challenging deeply held beliefs—not only within organizational and institutional cultures, but also at the very personal, individual level. Amen to Dr. Folbre’s assertion that “men’s reluctance to share the temporal responsibilities of family care” is a “major factor” for closing the wage gap.
But when most men in the U.S. (and not just economists) hold tightly to the belief that they do as much housework as their wives–even though data show that they don’t, we know we’re in for an uphill battle. If we women can’t convince our male partners that the unequal distribution of household labor affects our career and earning capacities (not to mention the tradeoffs that we disproportionately bear in terms of leisure time, according to none other than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) imagine the potential resistance in the crusty corridors of the economic Old Boy’s Club.
In order to support more women in the field of economics, we need to also promote a broader dialogue about women’s equality—at home, in the workplace, and in society at large. Thankfully, we don’t have to start from scratch, as women activists, researchers, organizations and movements have spent decades getting care work on global political agendas like that of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The World Bank, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
But perhaps even more, we need dialogue that encourages us to surface and question our own assumptions and beliefs—about the gendered division of labor (among other things) and the ways that we—men and women both—intentionally and unintentionally benefit from and perpetuate it.