Topic 3: Feminism and the Role of Economics

Neha Hui

Game theoretical Framework and the Possibility of Dialogue between Feminism and Economic Theory

The reluctance of mainstream economic theory to move out of the realm of methodological individualism has been criticized by feminist over the last few decades. This sustained criticism has resulted in significant changes in the ways in which gender has been viewed in the discipline. However, much of the methodological shift has been in empirical engagement (especially in the way socio-economic data is collected, measured and analysed). Economic theory has largely remained untouched by this recent penetration of feminism in the discipline and persists to be the theory of the utility maximizing individual- an individual who is probably reflective of a Eurocentric middle-class man. While Marxist theory has criticized this conceptualization of the economy, this has primarily been from the angle of class, and questions of gender (and equally other hierarchies like race, sexuality etc.) has often been left incompletely dealt with. This paper tries to look at the possibility of using game theoretical approaches especially Nash Bargaining Models as mode of aligning economic theory to feminist understanding of reality. The advantage of this framework is that while, like the rest of mainstream economics, it uses the profit maximizing individual as the unit of analysis, there is scope to bring hierarchies and power differences between individuals. This provides the possibility to understand negotiation within the context of unequal distribution and opportunities. Thus we have the theoretical flexibility to understand economic engagement between two individuals who aren’t necessarily impersonal and symmetrical. Thus there is room for economic theory to be able to analyse groups whose consumption and production decisions are constrained by institutional factors including patriarchal structures. We could use this framework to understand economic decisions within the family as well as negotiations within gendered professions like domestic work and sex work, areas which mainstream economics has failed to explain satisfactorily.

Yanos Soubieski

What Economics cannot offer to Feminism.

The standard method for understanding inequality between one set of people with another revolves around comparing the economic standing of the respective people’s. We do this primarily by exploring the distribution of wealth within a society and compare the share of wealth between the groups of people in question.  If there exists an asymmetry within the distribution of wealth this indicates the presence of an inequality.  Certain strands of feminism have developed from this logic to explore the possibility that a society characterised by male domination over women, namely patriarchy, manifests itself in the economic domain whereby the economic wealth of men is systematically disproportionate to that of women. From the percentage of billionaires to CEO’s, franchise managers to head teachers, men are disproportionately better off than women. Even in positions which are not of explicit economic benefit, like that of a seat in the legislative body, the same logic of comparison is applied and an inequality between men and women is present. Accordingly certain strands of feminism endorse measures like that of affirmative action or legal restraints on discrimination with respects to position and pay. Nevertheless does this not demonstrate a significant epistemological failing relating to how we conceive of patriarchy and identify its manifestation? A society characterised by male domination over women cannot be understood by prioritising comparisons of wealth and position when any such distribution is itself merely the symptom of a prior problem. Clinical diagnosis functions by fundamentally separating the symptom from the problem itself; we should do the same and recognise economic investigations into patriarchy generally confuse patriarchy with its symptom, inequality. This is part of a larger epistemological issue in which we fail to see the nature and shape of the economic domain as a result of a prior social domain, but it is on this ‘problem of the symptom’ which I shall focus.

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