Who cooked Adam Smith's dinner? For an economic theory RadFem, speech by Sheila Jeffreys
Traditional economics based on “rational” homo oeconomicus never takes into account the base of the iceberg: the enormous amount of unpaid female work without which the system simply would not stand. The necessary change does not come from the inclusion of a greater number of women in a model based on aggression, gambling and risk, but from a new paradigm that puts the value of people, relationships and care at the center

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In a recent seminar organized by Women's Declaration International as part of the series of meetings Radical Feminist Perspectives, Sheila Jeffreys - former professor of political science at the University of Melbourne and one of the founders of the global WDI network - gave a talk on the topic Rad Fem Economic Theory (the whole meeting is visible here).

Jeffrey started from one of his texts from 2010, close to the global financial crisis. He was called "Who cooked Adam Smith's dinner", whose thought it completely omitted women's unpaid work. L'homo economicus rational, at the center of traditional economic thought, lives a male world of paid work that women do not enter. Women's work is mostly unpaid and unrecognized and is therefore not measured in traditional accounting systems such as GDP.

How do you approach this topic from the point of view of radical feminism and Marxist?

Jeffreys' analysis focused on diagram of the “iceberg” by Maria Mies, Marxist feminist and ecofeminist: traditional economics does not take into account what is below the line, which is the vast majority of what creates the global economy: home workers, the informal sector, women's unpaid work, child labour, domestic work in general and internal (within the family) and external (created by globalisation) colonies. «The vast majority of women's work is not part of the visible economy. Below the line there is also nature, a free good. The cost of fishing destroying the ocean and ecosystems is unseen, and is an example of the destruction in the creation of the capitalist economy. What you see is above the line, the sale of fish." 

In the 1980s it became clear that women's care work subsidized not only men's wages but also capital accumulation. Women's work was obscured with the construction of women as mother, wife, homemaker. 

Marxist and radical or materialist feminists approach the issue of women's unpaid work in very different ways. Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard, both materialist explain that socialist or Marxist feminist theorists see the work done by women for capitalism and not for men. There is a substantial difference between the two things. For radical feminism, however, unpaid work is at the direct service of men.

According to them it is the male breadwinners who own the women's labor. It is not necessary to have means of production. Apart from the housework there are plenty of other types of unpaid functions that revolve around husbands' occupations -until work necessary to ensure their emotional, psychophysical and sexual well-being – which are lost in the analyzes because they are varied and intimate. From the tasks of secretarial, hostess, fundraising, through to organizing social occasions and providing moral support as informal psychotherapists. To get to the sex which women do not want to do and which perhaps should be understood as a form of unpaid work, given that these activities outside the home have monetary value.

Diana Russell wrote “Why do women go to psychotherapists and men to prostitutes?” Women make the house a home, smile, apologize, encourage, sympathize, pay attention, which gives men a sense of belonging.

Traditional economics therefore has a problem. «He doesn't tell the truth because the rational economic man, at the basis of traditional male economic thought, is not at the basis of what is happening. Women's unpaid work is not rational. Adam Smith said “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their interest.” Of course, it's not in women's interests to do all this paid work, says Marilyn Waring. “Whether Adam Smith was fed daily by Mrs. Smith he certainly did not mention. She certainly wasn't repaid by the interest she had in feeding him." 

Maria Mies spoke about the concept of homemaking (housewifeization). With the neoliberal globalization of the last years of the 20th century many jobs have been homemade. Men and women had to do more than one job, part time jobs, poorly paid, without protection, disguised as entrepreneurship and self-employment. What is happening with the homeworking created by the pandemic that has made many women work at home today? Does this job have a higher status?

Jeffreys then spoke about the gendering of the global financial crisis, which proves that L'homo oeconomicus It's not rational at all. It is never said that financial capitalism is specifically male. There are not many women in top positions in finance although progress has been made, the IMF has one female executive. «The point is that men are held responsible for the global financial crisis and I believe that they represent not so much everyday masculinity but a hypermasculinity that is made powerful by aggressive sexism». There isn't much analysis on this, although Linda McDowell has written about it culture that permeates the language of the stock exchange: “Lift up your skirt” to reveal your location. “Have it hard” for a rising market. “Balls Out” for successful transaction. “Rape the cards” to inflate expenses. How can women work in such an environment? According to her, that culture can partly explain the crisis. Women cannot be equal in the sphere of finance because exchanges take place in masculinized arenas such as golf clubs, lapdancing clubs, football clubs. Executives frequent strip clubs and according to Jeffreys when there are women with them they don't know where to look while the girls show their vaginas and anuses to the men. Yet they don't refuse to go because it's part of networking, and therefore their chance for equality. 

So Strip clubs and prostitution are a big part of this culture of finance and business. But finance doesn't just use prostitution to affirm hypermasculinity. There is also the aspect of risk, which is critical to the way masculinity constructs ideology and practices of corporations, of banks, of the finance industry. It is an aspect little discussed in feminist theory. The way capitalism is fundamentally constructed through masculinity in its operation is rarely mentioned.  

The three components of aggression, competition and risk-taking are emphasized in male studies as key elements in the construction of capitalism in relation to the global financial crisis and risk taking is the most implicated component. There are studies that explain how therisk attitude in children and evaluate harmful outcomes such as drug use, accidents, and dangerous sexual practices. these studies also analyze the role of competitive and adventure sports such as bungee jumping and rafting. Many companies encourage staff to network through these sports. The mindset they create is central to risk taking and the way capitalism has been set up. Other research attributes risk propensity to testosterone. But research has shown that testosterone doesn't rise before closing a deal but after. 

The roid rage (roid rage) suggests that rational economic man is not in command of the international political economy. But it is also an attempt to describe in terms of biology something that can be explained politically and socially. It is said for example that women are not very good at finance because they have aversion to risk due to a lack of testosterone. But women and girls are not trained in risk-taking and are not praised for it. Masculinity and femininity are socially and politically constructed to fit different positions in the male dominance hierarchy. «Risk aversion is very positive. At the time of the financial crisis, women were called upon to solve problems because their risk aversion is useful in an economy based on taking big risks that can even cause death." 

The sex industry also contributes to the hypermasculinity of the financial industry. In the USA the men who are supposed to regulate the financial industry use this industry a lot. There is data regarding the use of pornography by SEC officials. Jeffreys also wrote about it in “The Industrial Vagina” And "The imperialism of the penis”, although his observations were not taken into consideration at the time. She cared about the way men's risk was transformed into a burden for women. Women were not responsible for the financial risk and yet they had to suffer it, see ineconomics of care and assistance.

Cuts to public services were offset by women's work. Women are a reserve army of manpower and they can be shown the door when governments fail. Men also took out the stress of job loss and lack of money on women in the form of violence. In 2009, several studies highlighted the increase in domestic violence.  

Maria Mies says that «it is A radical change in the international political economy is needed, while liberals say we just need to get more women in: if there were more women, then men would behave better, it would be less risky and so on. But obviously the problems remain." Mies says that iUnpaid work must be respected and you ask yourself what an economy would be like where nature matters, where women, children, people matter. An economy that is not based on colonization and the exploitation of others.

This would, of course, require the revaluation of women's unpaid work, so that, in a alternative paradigm, the activities and values of currently colonized and marginalized actors are brought to the centre because they are fundamental to ensuring that life can continue in its regeneration and fullness. As long as unpaid work, says the author, is not recognized, national and international economic policies will be able to continue to structurally adapt and react to crises with the expectation that the antisocial behaviors of men must be respected and that women are the shock absorbers of the system.

edited by Mara Accettura


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