When people ask me why I did graduate school in economics, I sometimes half-jokingly tell them that it was a case of going into the lion’s den to see what the lion is up to in there. This is an exaggeration to be sure, but it is in keeping with the dictum that we should understand something in order to critique it effectively. For the similar reasons, I keep reading a variety of mainstream economics books, journals and blogs.
And sometimes I come across things like this. The title, “Feminist framing and general equilibrium theory”, is innocuous enough – especially if one is used to the residual sexism and racism that sometimes accompanies the ahistorical and asocial theory of society that underpins mainstream economics. The author, Nick Rowe, is a frequent contributor to the group blog on which the article appeared; he is a professor of economics and a fellow of a prestigious research institute.
The article is an argument against some recent evidence that shows there may be structural reasons for why fewer women major in economics in university. In particular, there is evidence that women are far more likely to drop economics as a major if they do not receive As.
Nick Rowe’s answer to this phenomenon? “Maybe it’s because men with low grades in economics have nowhere else to go, so stick with economics despite their low grades.” The proof for this statement is – as befits an economist – a quick ahistorical example of four sentences about men, women and their chosen disciplines. Not facts about what the academy actually looks like. No, four logically-equivalent statements, which show hope to show the horrible bias of “feminist framing” and, indeed, “bigotry”, when we talk about why women are discriminated against in economics.
Yes, you heard it here first: those man-haters in the humanities are forcing men into economics and other technical disciplines. I suppose we are meant to feel empathy for the closet poets forced to crunch numbers for seven figures in their Wall Street offices when they could be working at the local Starbucks for poverty wages with all the other humanities grads.
While these claims are outrageous, there are far worse things out there on the internet. However, to spare us the trouble of finding them, the author presents them to us himself – as further evidence for his views! Naively, I followed one of the links because in answer to the author’s rhetorical question if I’ve ever heard of “female hypergamy”, I had to admit that I hadn’t.
I lost the following ten minutes of my life to reading about “alpha fucks and beta bucks” and still didn’t quite know what hypergamy really was (thank god for Wikipedia, I suppose). I could, however, make out that it was thinly-disguised pseudo-science to cover for gender privilege and mysoginy (kind of like economics can sometimes be thinly-disguised pseudo-science to cover for class privilege). Here is a choice quote from the linked article:
Most often when I’m asked the “How do I get my wife to fuck me again?” it’s coming from a man who once thought he had the best his wife had to offer, sexually, emotionally, etc. only to discover she had or still has the potential to be much more than he can coax from her or she’s willing to give to him. Again, I have to come back to the question, does his being her husband make her impression of him Beta by default?
There’s a lot more I could write about this. What do you do if you find yourself in this situation? Leave, divorce, cheat on her? That may be enough to push past that comfortable familiarity. I can think of one married blogger who’s husband cheated on her with the result being her unconditional submission.
Why does this matter? It matters because a respected economics professor posts sexist drivel on an influential economics blog and links to full-blown misogynist idiocy. It matters because it furthers institutionalized sexism. It matters because women at universities across the country are not only dealing with institutional obstacles in the academy, they have been worried about their physical safety.
I’ve seen women from close friends to classmates become discouraged from economics. I can only speak for myself. There are reasons the lion’s den can be an ugly place sometimes. For example, when stepping in trepidatiously, we only find the lion rolling around in the muck of privilege.