Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Sociology, Economics, and Gender: Can Knowledge of the Past Contribute to a Better Future?

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Sociology, Economics, and Gender: Can Knowledge of the Past Contribute to a Better Future?

Article excerpt


Nicole Hollander's Sylvia comic strip periodically asks: "How well do you know your genders?" Readers are presented with two quotes, and asked to assign a gender to each. In this spirit, consider the following two excerpts from scholarly pronouncements:

   The Society shall operate as a completely disinterested, scientific
   organization ... Its main object shall be to promote studies that
   aim at the unification of the theoretical-quantitative and the
   empirical-quantitative approach to [word deleted] problems and that
   are penetrated by constructive and rigorous thinking similar to
   that which has come to dominate in the natural sciences.

   The [members of our Society] do not imagine that they are appointed
   to destroy the vocation of other investigators of [word deleted].
   They feel themselves called to represent factors in the problems of
   human association which have thus far received less than their
   share of attention. In organizing a society, they are not
   beginning, but continuing, the work of winning for those neglected
   factors the appreciation they deserve. The society makes no appeal
   for credit. It simply proposes to encourage [word deleted] inquiry
   and to await competent judgment of results.

Note, in the first quote, the bold claims to scientificity, the repetitive emphasis on quantitative analysis, and the appeal to association with the "hard" sciences. Note the strong verbs and adjectives used, and especially the quasi-sexual (from a sexist and macho-masculine viewpoint) language. It says: We're going to penetrate and dominate, too!

The second quote, in contrast, practically apologizes for existing. It says, in effect, we are really not encroaching on anyone ... we don't want to steal anyone's thunder ... we just feel that something is calling us to point it out ... we don't want too much, only what's fair ... we're not doing anything radical ... we won't expect to get any recognition for our work ... we'd just like to be supportive ... our job is to wait. It has subservience and passivity written all over it--strongly reflecting the sexist imagination of feminine sexual and social roles.

The first quote is an excerpt from the "Scope of the Society" adopted by the Econometric Society on the occasion of its founding in 1930 in Cleveland, Ohio. This statement is printed inside the cover of every issue of the Society's journal (Econometrica), and the deleted word is "economic." It was drafted by a group of 15 men (Roos 1933), and its gender is decidedly masculine. While the founders of the Econometric Society represented the mathematical vanguard of their time, the entire profession of economics has since shifted in that direction. The typical contemporary paper in the flagship journal of the American Economic Association, the American Economic Review, is now more mathematically sophisticated than anything published by the Econometric Society during the 1930s.

The second is from the editorial announcement of the formation of the American Sociological Association (then called the American Sociological Society), reporting on its first conference in Providence, Rhode Island. It appeared in 1907 in The American Journal of Sociology (American Sociological Society 1907b), the members called themselves "sociologists," and the deleted words are "society" and "sociological." (1) The ASA at this time was also a male-dominated organization. Of the seven papers published from the first conference, one was by a woman. Of the 115 names in the original list of members, only 15 clearly refer to females (American Sociological Society 1907a). (2) The excerpt quoted above seems to have been noncontroversial, at least insofar as it was reproduced by later leaders in the field without comment (Small 1916: 784-785). While the society was predominately male in sex at its founding, the gender of the passage announcing its establishment is decidedly feminine. …

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