The division of feminism and economics
When economists see a division of labour, they are likely to assume that it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, unless there is evidence to the contrary. When it comes to the division of labour at home – who goes to work, who takes on childcare and housework – feminists are apt to assume that an egalitarian arrangement is preferable.
Most of us are also likely to say that feminism is about choice, including the right to reject or choose traditional gender roles, but that is often the second thought, and it is paired with theories about how women are forced into traditional roles because of the lack of affordable childcare, etc.
These are huge generalizations, obviously, but I think different starting points on the division of labour cause much of the friction between feminists and economists, at least when it comes to policy. If you associate the division of labour with oppression, it’s tough to communicate with someone who believes that it is humanity’s greatest innovation, the path to efficiency and wealth.
Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. […] While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.
The funny thing about egalitarian relationships is how elusive they are in real life. The other night, my partner and I were talking about the empowered, feminist women in our lives who have chosen to cook and clean for the men in their lives. We circled back, predictably, to choice: “She’s an emancipated, right-on woman, she knows what she’s doing.”
Earlier that afternoon, I read this section of Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist. (I know, I’m late to the bandwagon – my university library doesn’t buy popular economics books, and I have trouble convincing myself to buy hardcover books.) Cowen thinks we should try not to bring up economics too often within the family.
Silence that economist. Zip his mouth. Send him away to write his blog. Do not let him subject family decisions to ‘the optimal theory of principal-agent renegotiation-proof coalitions.’ […] The more our families feel we are violating our commitments to care, the harder the reception that economic advice will receive.
I know that Cowen isn’t really talking about feminist economics here – he means that we shouldn’t justify leaving the toilet seat up with economics. But are “emancipated, right-on women” taking this too far? Do they avoid talking about how much housework they do because they are honouring their “commitments to care”?
This is not my area of expertise – after all, I don’t live with any men – but it’s something I wonder about. Is asking your boyfriend to do more dishes an isolated, personal event, or does it help to reference social science? Feminists have gotten very good at making the political personal, but do we make the personal political enough?