Book Club

The Chair read for you L’économie fémininiste by Hélène Périvier

Published on 24 March 2023

Hélène Périvier is an economist at Sciences Po’s OFCE and the director of PRESAGE, the Programme for Research and Education on Gender Studies. In her book, L’économie féministe : Pourquoi la science économique a besoin du féminisme et vice versa [1], she studies economics from the perspective of gender equality. It is a “powerful appeal for a feminist political economy” according to Thomas Piketty who prefaces the book.

The book is structured around three main themes: (1) economic thought through the prism of gender equality, (2) feminism as a critical tool for economics, and (3) economics as a tool to promote gender equality.

In the context of gender equality, the major currents of economic thought can demonstrate how cross-sectional feminism can be. The normative stance of supporting gender equality is transversal and feminist economics is thus not restricted to any particular methodology or school of thought. For example, economists Mill, Engels and Veblen denounced gender inequality within their respective currents, namely liberalism, socialism and institutionalism. Mill for instance defended the equality of all individuals, regardless of their background or gender, with the idea that liberalism would achieve this equality.

History shows that “economics was built by men, to serve a male-led society”. The theoretical foundations and research areas in the field of economics are not neutral and include male biases that the feminist approach can reveal and question. Hélène Périvier reminds us that it was mainly women who pushed research forward on the working and living conditions of women. The author discussed the lives and works of three French women economists: Fora Tristant, Julie Victoire Daubié, and Clémence Royer. The reader learns, for example, that Flora Tristan developed the idea of an international workers’ organisation to weigh in class struggles, before Marx or Engels.  Feminist economics strengthens the rigour of economics as a science by broadening the scope of controversies and reducing the grip of gender and essentialist biases.

Finally, economics provides analytical tools to document, understand and combat gender inequality. Taking the topic of women and labour, for example, a distinction must be made between domestic work, otherwise known as reproductive or family work, and paid work. Identifying and quantifying reproductive work is a major challenge. To address this issue, empirical economics offers useful tools and techniques to assess the extent of inequality and discrimination. These tools reveal that women perform a large part of domestic work, which penalises them in the paid labour market. The gendered division of roles within family organisation leads to the discrimination of women in the paid labour market. By providing a theoretical and empirical basis for discussing feminism, economics is key to promoting gender equality.

The reader understands in this book the importance of accepting and highlighting the social, cultural and political biases that structure economics. Hélène Périvier defends greater transparency of the normative intentions of economics, insisting that this does not reduce the objectivity of this social science. In other words, economics must become a science that combats gender inequality. Extending the scope of the book to another challenge in our societies, the reader can develop a similar reasoning on the topic of climate change. In the face of social and climate challenges, it is essential that economics fully assumes its political role. “The challenge is then to propose an articulation between the social state, the market and civil society, bringing emancipation and equality” whilst remaining within our planetary limits.

Marie Raude, PhD student, Filling the gap between the financial and economic approaches to the EU-ETS : analysing hedging behaviour of market players.

[1] Périvier, H. (2020). L’économie féministe. Presses de Sciences Po.