WEPS: You say that you are a feminist economist. How would you define Feminist Economics?
Hélène Périvier: Feminist Economics considers economics from a gender equality perspective. On the one hand this approach interrogates the economics’ analytical framework from a feminist standpoint. On the other hand, it contributes to building knowledge to promote gender equality i.e by studying and documenting gender differences.
It works in both directions because economics has a positivist dimension (that aims to study individuals behaviors) and a normative one (to help improve wellbeing and build a “good and fair” society and this necessitates to describe what we consider as fair). Moreover, feminism has a scientific dimension because it has its own analytical framework and tools to describe and quantify gender inequalities and discriminations. as with any scientific field, many controversies emerge among feminist scholars. Linking economics and feminism is necessary because they are interlinked and bring to one another conceptually.
WEPS: Is Feminist Economics a field that is also defined by the methods it is using ? Does it oppose the neoclassical model?
HP: The feminist perspective is transversal and cannot be restricted to a method, a theoretical frame nor to a specific school of thought. Feminist economics is often defined in opposition to the conceptual framework of the neoclassical model, with a critique of the concept of rationality and of the homo œconomicus paradigm. But there are neoclassical feminist thinkers using this framework to shed light on gender inequalities .
Nevertheless, one major criticism that can be addressed to the neoclassical model is not the concept of rationality in itself but rather the fact that rationality is taken for granted. The neoclassical conceptual framework rarely questions the conditions in which individuals can exert their rationality. This blind spot does not allow to highlight the different forms domination can take and this is a key contribution with feminist economics. When looking at the methods used in feminist economics studies, we clearly see they are very varied and it gives to this field a subversive dimension!
WEPS: Women economists are quite absent from economic history. How to make their contributions more visible?
HP: There is now much evidence highlighting the contribution of women to economics and aiming to make these contributions more visible (see for instance pioneer research by Evelyn Forget and her coauthors). In my book, I focus on three French women who worked on economic topics but did not received recognition in the History of Thought.
Flora Tristan, an utopist-socialist, worked on the idea of an international working class association ( before Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel!) and that this should include gender equality.
Julie-Victoire Daubié was the first woman to pass the baccalaureate and worked a lot on education and training.
Finally, Clémence Royer, was the first to translate Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species. She worked on many economic issues such as taxation and even won a prize before Leon Walras on that topic! Already at their time, these women contributed to producing knowledge and reflecting on gender imbalances and more broadly they contributed to the knowledge in economics. They should be acknowledged for that.
In general, women have often been excluded from academic institutions. But if we consider that economists are the ones pushing the frontier of knowledge and taking part in the scientific controversies of their time, these women truly are part of the field.
WEPS: Today, what kind of barriers to women’s recognition or visibility do you identify?
HP: In the first place, women are less visible because they are less numerous, compared to other social sciences. So the question is: why are there so few women in economics?
Regularly, the “self-censorship” of women is presented as the main issue : but this is a problematic black box. I believe people are rational, at least at a certain point, and do not simply say “I would like to do that but I won’t”. If they do not, it is because they feel that the environment is not fully welcoming, that there will be more obstacles. This is well documented by sociology. I think that in economics, young women do not experience the same way as their male colleagues (as shown by Alice Wu’s work).
So, to increase women’s visibility, we must act on the number of women in economics, maybe through effective role model policies, but also on the economic environment in itself, in order to offer a safer and more inclusive space, including by producing research on those mechanism.