Rejecting the Economics of Misogyny (At the Largest Economics Conference in the Country)

By Kate Bahn

This week in Philadelphia, women are taking center stage at the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA), the largest economics conference in the country. After the scandalous Economic Job Market Rumors study by Alice Wu revealed the horrifying depth and breadth of sexism in the field, finding, for example, the common adjectives used to describe female economists included “hot,” “gorgeous,” and “tits,” it should go without saying that this year’s panel at ASSA acknowledging gender disparities in economics takes on a new urgency.

The fact that women are vital to the progress of our economy should be a no-brainer, yet this is a fact too often ignored by those in power. Research by the Center for American Progress found that U.S. GDP would have been 11 percent lower in 2013 if women had not moved into the workforce during the prior 30 years. According to my own estimates for Pennsylvania, women’s daily contribution to the state’s GDP is over $845 million — just for one day.

Despite the economic importance of women entering the workforce, women’s labor force participation has stagnated and federal efforts to address discriminatory pay have faltered under the Trump administration. Simultaneously in the field of economics, women’s perspectives on understanding the economy are continually dismissed or deemed less rigorous, with fewer citations in academic journals and a lower likelihood for being promoted, for no justifiable reason. Likewise, people of color remain persistently underrepresented in academic economics. That’s why it is critical that any conversations about the economics and the economy must address the impacts of structural misogyny as well as racism.

So what can and should we be doing differently? First, it’s time to reject economics that treats women as an afterthought or out of the norm — both in the academic field as well as in economic policy. This means we must reject what has effectively operated as misogyny economics: an economic framework that devalues women’s contributions to society and works to maintain and perpetuate men’s social and economic power over women. Attacks on a women’s right to choose how and when to start a family is one major example of policies that both oppress women and limit their economic opportunity.

Second, we need a positive economic vision, one based on an economy inclusive of both women and men and committed to mutual success. The International Association for Feminist Economics, for which I serve as the Executive Vice President and Secretary, demonstrates the possibilities of such a radical and interdisciplinary approach to economics, one which fosters and promotes professional development of women, people of color, and scholars from the global south as they research topics relating to gender and diversity too often diminished in mainstream economics. Feminist economics, as a field within economics, has already made inroads in particular policy areas, notably development economics and understanding allocation of resources within households.

The National Economic Association also serves an important role in academic economics by supporting minorities in the profession as well as promoting research on promoting economic growth for people of color. At this year’s ASSA, the NEA is honoring former IAFFE president Cecilia Conrad with the prestigious Westerfield Award for her scholarship on the intersection of gender and race.

Third, in the United States, we need to push back on the Trump-Pence administration and GOP leadership that seems determined to set women back to the Mad Men era — one in which discrimination in the workplace was rampant, there were very few women were economists, and no such thing as feminist economics existed. In a world where the President has a personal history of saying derisive and degrading comments about women — calling women pigs and dogs — the same happens in the world of academic economics, as shown by Wu’s study.

That President Trump has done little to push the misogyny economics framework forward should not be a surprise. He built his presidential campaign around a flawed economic narrative rooted in division, playing a cynical ethnic, racial, and gender blame-game to further stoke existing divides and exploit feelings of economic insecurity felt by white blue-collar workers. Now, his economic message consists primarily of focusing his attention on male-dominated industries and occupations, and on tax breaks for the wealthy while the gender wealth gap and the racial wealth gap are even higher than respective wage gap.

The administration also has moved aggressively to erode critical rights for women — through executive orders to limit funding for women’s health globally, rollback Obama administration rules on equal pay, rescind sexual assault protections, and more. It is an agenda and approach that disadvantages women — and it is steeped in misogyny.

This year’s ASSA economics conference presents an opportunity to deconstruct the connections between women’s and people of color’s status in the economics profession and a contentious national policy climate that prioritizes the needs of white men above women and people of color, or outright attempts to limit women’s opportunity.

Kate Bahn is an economist at American Progress.

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