- Jul 28, 2000
- Eugene, OR
- Basic Beliefs
The real sexism problem in the discipline of economics | Aeon Essays
Then about the "Nordic Model" of anti-prostitution laws, punishing the customers though not the prostitutes.Sex and prosperity
Nothing we can do will make the world more free, fair and prosperous than giving women control over their own bodies
Women’s bodies are one of the biggest political battlegrounds of our time. What should in many ways be personal – a woman’s body – is instead political. The assault ranges from the recent clampdown on family planning in the United States (and its global gag rule prohibiting funding for international family-planning organisations that discuss or offer abortion), to new repressive restrictions on clothing, including ‘burqa bans’, or new laws in a growing number of European countries that aim to abolish women’s ability to monetise their bodies. Everyone, it seems, has a view on what women should or shouldn’t be doing with their own bodies.
The redoubled attack on women’s bodily autonomy comes, paradoxically, at a time when feminism is increasingly popular. In part, the expanding appeal of feminism might be a response to the evident regression. But feminists are not entirely blameless. A vein of feminism lies at the heart of some of the growing restrictions on women’s bodily freedom. Some ‘feminists’, for example, like to argue that one cannot be feminist while showing off too much of your body; others argue that you cannot be feminist while covering too much of your body. Both see clothing restrictions as empowering to women. Women’s ability to choose seems not to feature; the claim that we are all ‘socially conditioned’ apparently makes it irrelevant.
Despite the clear relationship between women’s bodies and economic prosperity and inequality, modern-day economists rarely consider it. That’s because economics operates on the basis of assumptions that render us genderless. According to its ascendant orthodoxy, we are all rational, calculating, independent agents. Love, sex, dependency and society fall outside the economists’ way of looking at the world. Furthermore, economists typically presume that we are all free to make our own choices. Potential restrictions on those freedoms (from access to birth control to the criminalisation of sex work and even types of clothing) are ignored. Economics instead focuses on what we do with our freedoms: the choices we make with them, why, and how those choices affect the behaviour of the economy.