Online Feminist Economics Resources

It seems the momentum for progressive pedagogical change is growing: this time in the discipline of Economics. Over at  LadyEconomist.com, Dorothy recently shared a syllabus of readings on Feminist Economics. It’s a great resource, and very much in the spirit of what we are trying to do with our Politics and Development reading list.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Feminist Economics, Dorothy’s explanation is worth quoting at length:

First, feminist economics seeks to understand the way in which gender shapes the economy and people’s economic experiences. A classic example of this would be the study of the genderwagegap. And second, feminist economics also explores the way in which gendered thinking influences the study and methodology of economics itself. Economics tends to be very masculine, not only the proportion of men in the field, but also in the way “good” economic theory is judged. Good economic theory is quantitative, logical, strong, etc. – all descriptions that are rhetorically masculine. Also, mainstream economics focuses on the separative self rather than communities or a more relative and subjective understanding of oneself, which is an androcentric or male-point-of-view bias. The feminist economics project tries to overcome these limitations of mainstream economic theory not only to bring up new questions in economics, but also more fundamentally explore the different ways in which questions can be answered.

A more detailed, but equally accessible article is “Economics Needs Feminism” by Yuan Yang at RetheZine.com. Yuan is part of the team that set up Rethinking Economics, “a community to demystify, diversify and invigorate economics”.

The London School of Economics actually runs a half-unit course on Feminist Economics and Policy: An Introduction. The online summary says it aims to “consider the provenance and key tenets of Feminist Economics and how these ideas have been used to provide analytical understandings of gender issues with respect to economic processes and policies operating at macro and micro levels.”  Their suggested reading list offers some good starting points. The course is taught by Prof. Diane Perrons, Dr Ania Plomien and Dr Naila Kabeer. Perrons has written provocatively about the relationship between the global financial crisis and gender inequality (here and here).

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What next? Conference, report #2 …

Portia Roelofs, co-author of the gender report, will be speaking about the report at Border Crossings: New Directions in the Study of Gender at SOAS this Saturday, 11th May. The conference is being held by the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS, and includes a keynote address from Deniz Kandiyoti. We are excited about connecting with interesting people working on gender at SOAS and beyond, and discussing how to take the ideas of the report forward.

More generally, we’re looking to write a follow up report, examining whether the recommendations of the first report have been put into practice, and presenting a more comprehensive view of gender teaching in SOAS. We’re still not entirely sure on the details, but we’d love ot hear from anyone who is interested in getting involved! Get in touch at soasgenderreport@gmail.com

TOMORROW @ LSE: Gender, Militarisation and Violence

For anyone who is curious about how gender analysis can improve our understanding of war and violence, there’s a great event planned for tomorrow afternoon hosted by the LSE Gender Institute. It brings together highly respected scholars, many of whom are on our Gender in Politics and Development Reading List,  so even if you are already familiar with the literature it’s likely to be a great opportunity to ask questions and network.

“This roundtable is concerned with analysing the importance of gender in recent research on military masculinities, border militias, violence within militaries, the militarisation of everyday life, and the ethics of war and peace.”

WHEN: 1.00-3.00pm, Friday 2 November 2012
WHERE: New Theatre, East Building, London School of Economics

If you can’t make it but would like to find out more about how gender relates to issues such as militarisation why not take a look at some of the readings by authors who will be speaking at the event:

– Cockburn, C. 2001, ‘Chapter 2: The Gendered Dynamics of Armed Conflict and Political Violence’ in Moser C. and Clark, F. eds. 2001 Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence (London: Zed Books)

– Cynthia Enloe, 2004. “All the Men Are in the Militias, All the Women Are Victims: The Politics of Masculinity and Femininity in Nationalist Wars” in The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire. University of California Press

And a blog by Aaron Belkin which analyses sexuality in relation to the military (and doesn’t require journal access or a university library!):

New Study of DADT Repeal: Openly Gay Service Has Worked

More info, and details of how to find the LSE,  are available on the LSE website:

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/genderInstitute/events/eventsProfiles/201213/genderMilitarisationViolence.aspx

Googling Gender in the Workplace

An interesting article from the New York Times about how Google is using statistical analysis to improve the representation of women in senior roles in the company. By studying where women’s career paths were likely to diverge from men’s they could target their employment and HR policies to level the playing field, in the hope of achieving better gender equality.

“Google’s spreadsheets, for example, showed that some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished.

Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.

A result: More women are being hired.

Once hired, technical women were not being promoted at the same rate as men. At Google, employees nominate themselves for promotions, but the data revealed that women were less likely to do so. So senior women at Google now host workshops to encourage women to nominate themselves, and they are promoted proportionally to men, Mr. Bock said.

Another time Google was losing women was after they had babies. The attrition rate for postpartum women was twice that for other employees. In response, Google lengthened maternity leave to five months from three and changed it from partial pay to full pay. Attrition decreased by 50 percent.

“We get incredible women into the company, and we work hard at getting incredible women,” said Alan Eustace, senior vice president for knowledge at Google. “I wish we could say we’re amazingly successful and closing in on 50 percent women, but it’s not true.”

This provides an interesting middle ground between the two typical positions in the debate about how to achieve gender equality in high-flying companies. Usually you have those who believe that quotas are a necessary measure to overcome unconscious gender bias in promotions and appointments on the one hand, and those who believe that quotas violate meritocratic principles on the other. The question is: do the factors which make women less likely to get hired or promoted affect their ability to do the job they’re applying for?

Google obviously don’t think so. The tendency to make yourself look good in an interview, put yourself forward for promotions or the desire to spend a couple of months more with your newborn probably don’t have much to do with whether you can make good business decisions or programme software. As Google admits in the article, it’s not a panacea, and inequality still remains. Hopefully innovative approaches to analysing the causes of gender disparities in employment will allow us to move beyond the rather limited “quotas vs. patience” debate.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/technology/in-googles-inner-circle-a-falling-number-of-women.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0#comments

Opinion: Why are there so few female authors on reading lists?

The SOAS report looks at how gender is taught in Politics and Development classes, and finds that it is frequently invisible from syllabi and reading lists. However these issues exist in a wider context of women’s under-representation in academia. The problem of gender inequality in academia presents itself in a number of ways. For example, we found that there were far fewer female authors on our reading lists.

The Problem

Looking at just one example, we discovered that on the reading list for a core politics course just 16% of the authors were female, only 2 readings out of 188 talked about women and none used gender or feminism as a lens for analysis. Of course, this is only one reading list for one course in one university – but in the report we point to similar findings elsewhere. Even if it is an anomaly, it’s a pretty striking one which requires explanation.

Even if there are fewer journal articles or books published by women in Politics or Development (and this is by no means obvious – can anyone link to some research on this?), the choice of readings to include on reading lists amplify the inequality. It is highly implausible that the 16% figure simply reflects the current state of the disciplines. In the report we explain why we think this is harmful: it sets an assumption that academia is a male pursuit, leads to the absence of role model for female students, and prevents the experiences of half of the population from feeding into academic knowledge.

Why?

In this blog post, I’m going to assume that marked gender imbalance on reading lists is a substantive harm, and instead focus on a more explanatory question. Why are there so few women on reading lists? The simple answer is that reading lists don’t change. I’ll outline the simple practical reasons, before moving onto the more conceptual reasons why reading lists tend to include the same authors year after year.

(I discovered this as I was looking for additional readings for my masters dissertation. After downloading various syllabi for African Politics courses at major European and US universities I found that many were identical. Why didn’t I look at reading lists from African universities? I was led by Google search results, which prioritised the more search-friendly Western websites and the couple of others I looked for weren’t publicly accessible.)

Answer 1: Practical Reasons

Firstly, reading lists are a bit like family heirlooms. They get passed down generation to generation through the great circle of academic life. As a student your beliefs about what counts as the “key readings” in your field are influenced by what you are set by your teacher. When, later in your academic career, you come to teach the course, you are likely to include the “key readings” that you remember from your early teaching – even if that means you miss out the best part of 10 or 20 years of scholarship.

Secondly, compiling a reading list takes time, and academics are often very busy and/or disorganised people. In between teaching, sitting on committees and working on their own research, a scholar is unlikely to find time to speculatively read another dozen articles to see if any of them are worth adding to their undergraduate course reading list. Furthermore, teachers are often paid for the class time they teach, not the preparation, so there is no incentive to put in the hours to prepare an evolving or innovative reading list.

Answer 2: The way we are taught

More conceptually, the institutionalisation of disciplines into formalised bodies of knowledge contributes to the fact that reading lists tend to remain the same over time. Specific debates and authors become reified, until they are seen as synonymous with the subject. For example, political theory becomes fixed around the progression of Hobbes, to Locke, to Rawls. You cannot be said to really know about political theory if you haven’t been taught this traditional narrative of the liberal state.

It could be objected that all disciplines are in conversation with themselves, and this requires fixed historical and intellectual points of reference, so that in a discussion everyone is “on the same page”. But, this instinct towards teaching a discipline through teaching the history of a discipline, tends towards excluding more modern writers, which often means excluding female writers.

That’s not to say that every course will be taught like this – simply that it’s a tendency I’ve encountered in my own experience. Students are often taught about the subjects in chronological order, which at first glance makes a lot of sense. However, in some cases this can be problematic. Economics, International Relations and Comparative Government come to mind as subject areas which are risk being taught as century long arguments between a series of white men.  Especially with introductory undergraduate courses, a pattern can emerge: starting in the first couple of weeks with either Ancient Greek men or 17th century European men or Early 20th Century Oxbridge men, and the course gradually moves forward through the traditional debates until the last week when something post-modern happens circa 1990 and the course ends. Of course, there is space in this structure for female authors if lecturers are willing to find them – either as contemporaries, or, more likely, as modern day commentators on the central historical thinkers.

The Solution

This is clearly a huge question which probes to the heart of what it is we are doing as social scientists, or scholars. Moreover, I know that mine is a controversial view to take; not everyone would agree that most course are chronological, or that it’s a problem, or  that it’s a problem which has gendered consequences. Fortunately, the practical issues are easier to deal with.

In response to the first two issues – ignorance and time constraints – the solution is easy. An Australian website called Women’s Works was set up with the aim of making it quick and straight-forward for lecturers to add female-authored articles to their Philosophy course lists.  Searchable by author or topic area, the database provides suggested readings by women in 19 subject areas: including Metaphysics, History of Philosophy, Logic and Epistemology.

The Women’s Work database provides an interesting counterpoint to the Gender in Politics and Development Reading List we have published elsewhere on this site. Whereas Women’s Work showcases work by women, our reading list focusses on readings about women and gender more generally. That said, there is considerable overlap between the two categories. Much of the current work on gender is by female academics. This maybe reflects women’s frustration with the heteronormative assumptions behind a lot of academic work, and a desire to carve out a space where they feel that neglected issues can be addressed.

But others find this problematic. As discussed at the launch event, some female academics are wary of being labelled as a “woman who works on feminism” or “that woman who works on gender”. This creates stereotype threat which is where women are reluctant to work on gender issues in case they reinforce, or are viewed through the lens of, a stereotype. (Check out the amazing website ReducingStereotypeThreat.org).

Either way, there is clearly work to be done to ensure that the world of academia is open to people of all genders. Whether that’s by providing more balanced reading lists, or working against pigeon-holing certain subjects, positive steps like Women’s Work are a good place to start.

Dr Matthew Hill blogs about the Report

Following his spot as guest speaker at the launch of the report Critical and Inclusive? Report and Recommendations on Gender Teaching at SOAS at the beginning of October, Dr Matthew Hill has written a blog about his reflections on the issues raised in the report. He talks about the problem of women being invisible on university syllabi and wonders how he can bring gender into a module he will soon be teaching on US democracy promotion.

 

(update 30/10/12: the link to Matthew’s blog was not working but has now been fixed.)