Female Economists and the Blogosphere – Do We Dare Mention Sexism?

dictionarysexism.0.0

I recently read Claudia Sahm’s piece on why there are very few female economists in the blogosphere. As a blogger herself, as someone who is active on Twitter, and as a follower of approximately eighty blogs, she states with no hesitation: “It’s true, very few female economists blog. Period.” For her, three hypotheses may explain this absence: women with opinions are not well received, women are busy with other forms of service, and women underestimate what they would contribute by blogging. But aren’t these actually manifestations of a deeper issue?

Surprisingly, the absence of expert women’s voices from the economic blogosphere seems to have caught Sahm’s attention only recently when Miles Kimball listed his Friends and Sparring Partners in the blogosphere and all of them were men. Kimball quickly cobbled an addendum listing Bonnie Kavoussi, Claudia Sahm, Frances Coppola, and Izabella Kaminska, but the question on the male dominance in the economic blogosphere did not go away. One could argue that Kimball is referring only to the female bloggers he interacts with, but, for the sake of the argument, if we focus on numbers for a bit, we can also bring into the discussion the Intelligent Economist: Top 100 Economics Blogs of 2016. Disappointingly, but not unexpectedly, the list contains merely three women bloggers: Carola Binder, Jodi Beggs and Muriel Niederle.

To be fair, some of the blogs in the Intelligent Economist’s list rely on a group of economists. So, out of curiosity, I had a quick look at the blogs that list their contributors[1]. Interestingly, a few more female names popped up. Betsey Stevenson and Megan McArdle from the Bloomberg View economics blog; Carmen Dorobăț from the Mises Wire blog; Melody Barnes, Heather Boushey, Janet Currie, Laura D’Andrea Tyson from the Equitablog; Eileen Norcross and Emily Washington from the Neighborhood Effects blog; Julie Hotchkiss, M. Melinda Pitts, Paula Tkac, Lei Fang, Karen Kopecky, Jessica Dill, Pam Frisbee and Sandra Ghizoni from the Macroblog; Rania Antonopoulos, Lekha Chakraborty, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Yeva Nersisyan, Pavlina Tcherneva and Gül Ünal from the Multiplier Effect blog; Frances Woolley from the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog; Adrianna McIntyre from the Incidental Economist blog; Joanna Shepherd from the Truth on The Market blog; Lynne Kiesling from the Knowledge Problem blog; Eileen Appelbaum, Deborah James, Cherrie Bucknor, Laura Jung, Tillie McInnis, Dawn Niederhauser, Becca Watts from the CEPR Blog; and Susan Ariel Aaronson, Asha Abdel-Rahim, Arnelyn Abdon, Yukiko Abe, Laura Abramovsky, Abigail Adams, Malin Adolfson, Alícia Adserà, Gara Afonso, Sagiri agiri Kitao, Swarnali Ahmed Hannan, Rahel Aichele, Anna Aizer, Kehinde Ajayi, Stefania Albanesi, Cinzia Alcidi, Mariya Aleksynska, Michelle Alexopoulos, Laura Alfaro, Céline Allard, Ingvild Almås, Mary Amiti, Elizabeth Ananat, Maria Victoria Anauati, Siwan Anderson, Mitsuyo Ando, Svetlana Andrianova, Marianne Andries, Emilie Anér, Chiara Angeloni, Shamena Anwar, Chie Aoyagi, Sónia Araújo, Eva Arceo, Cristina Arellano, Janine Aron, Nava Ashraf, Katrin Assenmacher-Wesche, Bettina Aten, Maria Attinasi, Britta Augsburg, Emmanuelle Auriol, Susan Averett, Meghana Ayyagari and Ghazala Azmat from the VOX – CEPR’s policy portal blog [2].

Okay, wipe the grin off your face. The number of names above should be taken carefully. Scrutinising the list of contributors of some of the 100 top Economics blogs clearly shows more female names, but an accurate conclusion on the gender balance in the economic blogosphere would demand a look at the proportion of women bloggers compared to the total number of bloggers. Just to give you a little taste, the VOX – CEPR’s policy portal blog indeed presents an impressive number of 45 female contributors. Nevertheless, this number becomes much less impressive when considering that the total number of contributors for the VOX – CEPR’s blog is 219. Unfortunately, similar imbalance is witnessed in the CEPR Blog, which contains only 8 women out of a total of 20 contributors.

We can keep looking at the numbers for as long as we want to expose the gender imbalance in the economic blogosphere, but it is unlikely that Sahm’s conclusion is wrong. Still, I just can’t understand why people seem surprised to find out that there are very few female economists blogging. Unfortunately, Amanda Bayer’s study on Diversity in the Economics Profession: where we stand and where we’re going has already provided ample evidence that Economics is a male-dominated field (see also here)[3]; the gender gap in Economics is also documented by a recent paper Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape, and this gap gets larger at each stage of the profession according to Where Are the Women? (see also herehere and here). So why wouldn’t the economic blogosphere reflect the male dominance in the field? It is crucial that we openly acknowledge the gender imbalance in the Economics profession before raising hypotheses on why there are so few female economic bloggers. Otherwise, we are not able to tackle the key issue in this discussion, i.e., sexism in our society and in our field.

In this sense, a clarification is in order when Katie Evan stresses that the “blogosphere is exacerbating economics’ male dominance.” The blogosphere definitely perpetuates male bias, but it is the male dominance in Economics that makes the economic blogosphere a job for boys in the first place. This is not about being picky. It is about recognising that the key issue is not ‘oh women do not blog, men are taking over again’, but rather the fact that women are still a minority in this field, and the male-dominated environment plays out in a number of ways that add up to a huge overall damper on the number of women who try to make it to the higher ranks of the discipline. Why is it that The Economist’s recent list of the 25 most influential economists did not include a single woman? Shouldn’t we confront the lack of women in the economic blogosphere as Miles Kimball and an anonymous writer bluntly did when asking: Why are top-notch female economists not being taken seriously? The list of issues women in Economics face that their male colleagues might not be aware of is long and includes enduring misogyny on the virtual domain (see here). See here for the long journey for a female economist to become tenured full professor. See also here and here for the extent to which sexist ideas and prejudices find a refuge in Economics that they do not find elsewhere in academia, apparently. In other words, patriarchy and sexism are pretty much alive in Economics, and the blogosphere is not exempted from its effects.

It seems obvious to me that the answer to the question why are there so few female economic bloggers? should start by acknowledging that the limited number of female bloggers is evidently linked to the limited number of female economists in the first place. We must then go through the inhibitions and oppression that a male-orientated environment means for the women in the field, which in turn involves addressing an extremely relevant point already raised by Noah Smith: “It’s time for economics to acknowledge that it has a sexism problem and to fix it.” Finally, the male-orientated sexist field of Economics does not exist in a vacuum. We do live in a patriarchal society whose values and beliefs, sometimes at an unconscious level (see here), negatively affect female economists who, for example, are often absent from media debates and academic events (see here, here, here and here). We should stop pretending that our modern times are ‘emancipated’ times, and speak about sexism more openly and directly in our profession and society.

Regarding this last aspect, i.e., patriarchal society, I want to raise a specific point. In some areas of the globe, a considerable share of women has acquired some degree of professional and financial independence. However, we still struggle to have support in order to perform this independent and relatively new role and, at the same time, perform the ‘traditional’ role of being a wife and a mother (see here, here, here and here). There’s a huge amount of anxiety that goes with this situation, and pressures to play those roles, whichever they are.

In academia, for example, research shows that men’s academic career is actually bolstered when they have children, but the same is not true for women. The findings actually show that “men’s academic careers receive additional support by their (non-academic) wives in a way that’s not true for academic women with academic partners” (see also here).

Blogging is another job that requires time, but how does it fit in the traditional family structure? I will risk saying that the nuclear family division plays a massive role in freeing time for male bloggers, while the same nuclear division probably stops us, women, from blogging, I suppose. See here for a very interesting account on the nuclear family in contemporary society. I suspect that a questionnaire on how many female bloggers, excluding the ones whose job involves daily blogging, are married, married with young children, married with grown-up kids, and how many are single may also contribute insights into understanding why there are so few female economic bloggers. What if many of us are not blogging or tweeting late at night in order to spend time with our kids or do the housework?

Claudia Sahm’s hypotheses explaining the absence of women in the economic blogosphere are interesting, valid and, despite not being acknowledged by her, certainly related to the gender division of work, gender intimidation, and the glass ceiling. But without contextualising these issues within structures of patriarchy and sexism, they become shallow, and addressing these issues alone is unlikely to ‘fix’ the problem. I do agree with her final observation that “the reason why there are few women blogging is probably a complex mix of factors”. However, there is enough evidence out there showing that the great majority of these factors, if not all of them, come down to sexism and its intersection with other forms of inequality like class, race, sexuality and education. I am disappointed that Sahm’s piece does not directly and categorically address what seems to be the core and the root of the problem leading to the lack of female economist bloggers. My concern in this case is particularly related to the pressures we keep piling onto ourselves without confronting, discussing, and changing the structural conditions that put us, women, in such situations in the first place.

We should be very cautious to not strengthen the Lean in type of feminist argument. If the key issue was that any woman willing to work hard can climb the [corporate] ladder all the way to the top (in this case, any woman willing to blog more can help to correct the gender imbalance in the economic blogosphere), we would not be talking about very few female economists blogging or none making the list of the most influential economists in the first place. Otherwise, we better just assume that we didn’t want it badly enough. We should also always ponder our personal experience and remember that privileged white women are quite often the beneficiaries of solidarity and understanding from their male colleagues, while women of color, women without financial privilege, and women on the LBGTQA spectrum are not (see here and here and here). Further, individual success stories and experiences, showing hard work and perseverance, will not alone challenge the white supremacist patriarchal structure that is in place right now. The idea of ‘trickle-down feminism’ might be very comforting, but it’s never borne out in reality (see here and here). Lean in feminism is a convenient faux empowerment idea for a tiny number of women, often based in developed countries and/or from a privileged social positions, but rather damaging for the majority of us (see the excellent bell hooks here). By no means we should give space for it or let our personal experience validate it.

Blogs of female economists:

Bonnie Kavoussi’s Blog
Coppola Comment
Debtonation by Ann Pettifor

Developing Economics
Economists Do It With Models
The Enlightened Economist by Diane Coyle
Experimental and Behavioral Economics
FT Alphaville – Izabella Kaminska
Lady Economist
macromom – Caludia Sahm
Quantitative Ease by Carola Binder

[1] I did not have access to the WSJ-Real Time Economics blog and The Economist Free Exchange blog.

[2] These are just the bloggers starting with the letter A.

[3] Bayer’s research is, in fact, much broader than the question of gender inequality in the economic profession. Her concern is about the lack of diversity in economics, in particular women and members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. She makes a strong case that the economics profession could benefit from more diversity (see here).

 

Thanks to Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven, Feyzi Ismail and Pedro Mendes Loureiro for helpful comments. All remaining errors are my own.

Carolina Alves is a PhD student in Economics at SOAS.

2 thoughts on “Female Economists and the Blogosphere – Do We Dare Mention Sexism?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s