Who cooked Adam Smith's dinner? For a RadFem economic theory, speech by Sheila Jeffreys

The traditional economy based on the 'rational' homo oeconomicus never takes into account the base of the iceberg: the huge amount of unpaid female labour without which the system simply would not stand. The necessary change does not come from the inclusion of more women in a model that is based on aggression, gambling and risk, but from a new paradigm that places the value of people, relationships and care at the centre
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In a recent seminar organised 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 entire meeting is visible here).

Chi ha cucinato la cena ad Adam Smith? Per una teoria economica RadFem, speech di Sheila Jeffreys

Jeffrey started from a text he wrote in 2010, on the heels of the global financial crisis. It was called "Who cooked dinner for Adam Smith'whose thinking completely omitted the unpaid work of women. L'homo economicus rational, at the heart of traditional economic thinking, dwells a male world of paid work that women do not enter. Women's work is mostly unpaid and unrecognised, and is therefore not measured in traditional accounting systems such as GDP.

How do you approach this issue from the perspective of radical feminism and Marxist feminism?

Jeffreys' analysis focused on the diagram of the 'iceberg' by Maria MiesMarxist feminist and ecofeminist: traditional economics does not take into account what lies below the line, which is the vast majority of what creates the global economy: homeworkers, the informal sector, unpaid work of women, 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 is also nature, a free good. The cost of fishing that destroys the ocean and ecosystems cannot be seen, and is an example of the destruction in the creation of the capitalist economy. What you can see is above the line, the sale of fish'. 

Chi ha cucinato la cena ad Adam Smith? Per una teoria economica RadFem, speech di Sheila Jeffreys

In the 1980s it became clear that women's care work subsidised not only men's wages but also the accumulation of capital. Women's work was overshadowed by the construction of woman as mother, wife, housewife. 

Chi ha cucinato la cena ad Adam Smith? Per una teoria economica RadFem, speech di Sheila Jeffreys

Marxist and radical or materialist feminists approach the issue of women's unpaid work in very different ways. Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard, both materialists 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. For radical feminism, on the other hand, unpaid work is in the direct service of men.

According to them it is the male heads of households who own the work of women. It is not necessary to have means of production. Apart from the domestic work there are many other types of unpaid functions that revolve around the occupations of husbands - up to the work necessary to ensure their emotional, psychophysical and sexual well-being - that are lost in analysis because they are varied and intimate. From the tasks of secretariat, hostessing, fundraising, to organising social occasions to providing moral support as informal psychotherapists. To get to the sex that women do not want to do and that perhaps should be understood as a form of unpaid work, since these activities outside the home have monetary value.

Chi ha cucinato la cena ad Adam Smith? Per una teoria economica RadFem, speech di Sheila Jeffreys

Diana Russell wrote "Why do women go to psychotherapists and men to prostitutes?" Women make the home a home, they smile, excuse, encourage, sympathise, pay attention, which gives men a sense of belonging.

The traditional economy therefore has a problem. "He is not telling the truth because the rational economic man, the basis of traditional male economic thinking, is not 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 dinner but from their interest'. Certainly it is not in the interest of women 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 was not repaid by the interest she had in feeding him." 

Maria Mies spoke about the concept of homemaking (housewifeization). With the neo-liberal globalisation of the last years of the 20th century many jobs have been home-made. Men and women had to do more than one job, part-time, badly paid, unprotected jobs disguised as entrepreneurship and self-employment. What is happening with the homeworking created by the pandemic that has caused many women to work at home today? Does this work have a higher status?

Chi ha cucinato la cena ad Adam Smith? Per una teoria economica RadFem, speech di Sheila Jeffreys

Jeffreys then spoke about the gendering of the global financial crisis, which shows that l'homo oeconomicus is 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 a woman executive. "The point is that men are held responsible for the global financial crisis and I believe they represent not so much everyday masculinity but a hypermasculinity that is empowered by aggressive sexism". There is not much analysis on this, although Linda McDowell wrote in the culture permeating the language of the stock exchange: 'Lift up your skirt' to reveal their position. "Having a hard-on' for a rising market. 'Balls out' per successful transaction. 'Raping the cards' to inflate expenditure. 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 masculinised arenas such as golf clubs, lapdancing clubs, football clubs. Executives frequent strip clubs and according to Jeffreys when there are women with them they do not know where to look while the girls show vagina and anus to men. Yet they do not refuse to go there because it is part of networking, hence part of their chance for equality. 

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

Le three components of aggression, competition and risk-taking are emphasised in male studies as key elements in the construction of capitalism in relation to the global financial crisis, with risk-taking being the most implicated component. There are studies that explain how theattitude to risk in boys and evaluate harmful outcomes such as drug taking, accidents, dangerous sexual practices. these studies also analyse 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 fundamental to risk-taking and the way capitalism is set up. Other research attributes the propensity to take risks to testosterone. But research has shown that testosterone does not rise before a deal is done but after. 

The roid rage (steroid rage) suggests that the rational economic man is not in charge 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 risk aversion 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 hierarchy of male dominance. "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 US, the men who are supposed to regulate the financial industry use it a lot. There is data concerning the use of pornography by SEC executives. Jeffreys also wrote about this in "The Industrial Vagina'. e "The imperialism of the penis', even though her comments were not taken into consideration at the time. She was interested in the way men's risk turned into a burden for women. Women were not responsible for the financial risk and yet they had to suffer it, see in theeconomy of care and assistance.

Cuts in public services have been compensated for by women's work. Women are a reserve army of labour and can be thrown out the door when governments fail. Men also vented the stress of job loss and lack of money on women in the form of violence. In 2009, several studies underlined the increase in domestic violence.  

Maria Mies says that 'it is a radical change in the international political economy is needed, while the 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 of course the problems remain'. Mies says that theunpaid work must be respected and asks what an economy would look like in which nature is important, in which women, children, people are important. An economy that is not based on the colonisation and 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 the currently colonised and marginalised actors are placed at the centre because they are essential to ensure that life can continue in its regeneration and fullness. As long as unpaid work, says the author, is not recognised, national and international economic policies can continue to structurally adapt and react to crises with the expectation that men's anti-social behaviour should be respected and women should be the shock absorbers of the system.

by Mara Accettura

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