The Gendered Distribution of Wealth Needs to Change

By Raewyn Connell
Illustration by Sophie Blackhall-Cain


“If you could change the world overnight, what would you do first?” I hate to say it, but in this man’s town, what counts most is money. So if I could change the world overnight, the first thing I would do is get women and men equal income.

That’s equal income. Not equal pay, because many women don’t get paid at all, or only work part-time. Not equal opportunity, because many women can’t access opportunities that already exist. Not equal rights, because…

Well, as Anatole France remarked, the Law in its majestic equality forbids both rich and poor to sleep under bridges. They have an equal right to sleep in posh hotels; it’s just a little matter of…

Money.

Whenever I hear that women have it all now, and we shrill feminists are relics of the past, my mind strolls down to Bridge Street, where the Stock Exchange lives.

Here are registered the fine corporations that own most of our economy. I think of the biggest and best of them, globally. I think of the fine executives who run these enormous aggregations of wealth, who buy and sell steel, coal, computers and governments around the world. I look at their well-tailored suits, and I count the pairs of trousers with the zips in front…

Actually Fortune magazine has made the count for me. In 2014 they celebrated a “historic high” in the number of women CEOs of Fortune Global 500 corporations. That historic high was 4.8%. In 2015 the number fell… In any case, it would have been far more informative if Fortune had announced that over 95% of Global 500 CEOs — 19 out of 20 — are men. But that’s not news. That’s just the world we live in.

Control of the major economic decisions in our world is in the hands of an incredibly privileged transnational subculture of men. A trickle of women now are joining them; and surprise! it makes practically no difference to the way their corporations work. The Australian sociologist Judy Wajcman did splendid research about women who rise into management in a high-tech industry, and do you know what she called the book? Managing Like a Man.

In fact there are many other ways to be a man. What is woven in with corporate privilege is a distinctive, power-oriented and calculative masculinity. This kind of masculinity treats economic life as a competition in which the strong come out on top, “aggressive” managers are admired, and profit is the supreme good.

With this kind of masculinity ruling in transnational business, it’s quite normal to profit from a vulnerable workforce, at home or abroad. It’s normal to strike deals with local patriarchs to buy very poor women’s labour on the cheap. How else did we get those bargain baby clothes, those smartphones? How else did we get Rana Plaza?

Other men too may try to assert a dominating masculinity. We hear some results in the news: one-punch assaults in the street; blokes with high-powered rifles shooting wombats; football teams raping young women; homophobic bashings of gay men. The commonest form of gender-based violence is asserting power by beating up wives and girlfriends, and that occurs in all social classes. Why? It’s not because rip-offs and abuse are programmed in a “male brain”. That’s a concept that makes neither scientific nor moral sense.

What produces exploitation, vulnerability and aggression is the way our society works. Above all, it’s the entrenched structures of power and privilege threaded through our institutions — including gender.

We need to recognize how big the stake in gender privilege actually is. The way the “wage gap” is usually reported, comparing full-time workers in similar jobs, strikingly understates the inequality in income. Superannuation gives a better picture of how it cumulates. In Australia today, women who have super have balances averaging around 60% of men’s. And one-third of all women have no super at all.

So, if I could change the world overnight… Well I can’t. But I know what’s needed to move towards equal income. Women need a stroppy feminist movement; strong unions; public education and health care; progressive taxation; full employment; and social control of wages and conditions. Pretty much a social revolution, then. Something a long way better than corporate capitalism.


Raewyn Connell is one of Australia’s leading social scientists. She is best known internationally as a sociologist of gender and a pioneer of research on masculinities, known in Australia for work on class inequality and social justice in education.

Raewyn will be delivering a solo talk, “Masculinities” at All About Women on March 6 at the Sydney Opera House. She will be speaking about how we can better understand the dilemma of men and boys today.
For more information and tickets:
aaw.sydneyoperahouse.com