Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Gender and Economic Ideologies

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Gender and Economic Ideologies

Article excerpt

The term "economic ideology" usually brings to mind distinctions between "free market" capitalism and Marxism. In this paper, the term "ideology" is used in a slightly different way. The dictionary definition of "ideology" includes "Manner or content of thinking characteristic of an individual or class" (Webster's 1961). What are some of the elements of the "manner or content of thinking" that characterize economists? In particular, what are the pictures of human nature we carry around in our heads, and how do we use these in putting together something we consider to be "good" economics? Of course, one of the interesting things about ideologies is that, while one can always point out the flaws of another's, one is always reluctant to believe that one has one, oneself: "They are ideologues; I am simply right." The aspects of the belief systems of economists that are examined here are so basic that to most practitioners they seem only "natural." This paper questions assumptions that have often been thought to be unquestionable, that have been thought to be at the very foundation of economic science.

The first section explains why gender is an important issue in the discussion of ideology. The next section applies a feminist critique to the ideology of mainstream North-American economics. The last section, perhaps of special interest to readers of this journal, applies a feminist critique to one example of social economics, Mark A. Lutz and Kenneth Lux's Humanistic Economics: The New Challenge.

I. Ideologies and Gender

What comes to mind when one suggests a discussion of "gender and economics"? To many people, this suggests a focus on women's roles in the economy. The phrase may also conjure up the issue of the role which women have played, however small, as members of the economics profession. Feminist scholars suggest, however, that the role of gender in the academic disciplines may go far beyond whether or not women are included as the subjects of studies or in the group doing the studying. There is also the question of whether the assumptions used in doing studies, their methods and conclusions, are based in ideologies that are particularly tied to on furthering of male interests. The so-called "New Home Economics," for example, while bringing to the fore many issues historically of special concern to women, has been accused of simply formalizing and reinforcing outdated assumptions about male and female roles (see Ferber and Nelson, 1993b).

If one accepts the notion that economics has, at least in the past, demonstrated a neglect of "women's issues" and anti-feminist biases, there are several alternatives one might think of for reforming the profession. One may be simply to increase the number of women in the profession, on the assumption that greater representation will correct the problems. Another alternative may be to encourage feminist researchers to work within the accepted confines of the discipline, but with greater sensitivity to the role of unexamined assumptions about proper roles for men and women in determining policy conclusions. If economics were to take its clues from other disciplines, it might consider the notions of "gynocentric" (woman-centered) science or feminist "postmodernist" approaches which have been discussed there. The so-called woman-centered approach rejects all of what it perceives as male-centered science, including norms of objectivity and analytical inquiry, in favor of completely distinct assumptions and methods, while the postmodernist approach, in its more high-brow forms, uses techniques of literary criticism to "deconstruct" traditional understandings (see Ferber and Nelson, 1993b).(1) But yet another alternative remains, which does not require the assertion that women "think differently" or the overthrow of all traditional understandings, but only an investigation into how we have come to understand economics and gender in particular ways. This is an approach which considers both economics and gender to be socially constructed. …

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