Entitled: Lessons for Economists

By | May 31, 2021

I had really appreciated Kate Manne’s first book (published in 2018) Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny because it did exactly what the title promised, namely making it clear how misogyny has a logic, that of policing infractions of what psychologists would call prescriptive and descriptive behavioural norms pertaining to gender: what men and women are allowed and encouraged as well as prohibited and discouraged to say, feel and do according to the patriarchal order.

The book gave a really useful description of the patriarchal order as an institution, in terms that resonated well with economists’ understanding of insitutions as the formal and informal constraints (laws and codes of conduct but also customs and traditions) that provide the rules of the game to political, economic and social interactions. Misogyny was therefore described as the system of sanctions that accompanies the rules, encompassing wide spectrum of behaviours (by both women and men) that ranged from discounting women’s opinions and mansplaining, to belittling, silencing, all the way through to gaslighting, abusing and killing women. The book did all scholars of gender in the social sciences an immense service by providing a clear theoretical framework with which to both understand and, for those of us that do a lot of empirical work too, measure misogyny, in my case in the context of domestic and work relations. Thanks to that book we can now think about producing indices of misogyny for various domains (the home, work, public spaces, social media) that aggregate different types of variables to identify a systematic pattern of abuse experienced especially by women but also by men who transgress. Measuring, crucially, means being then able to assess the effectiveness of alternative interventions, and that is something economists care about a lot.

In Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women (published in 2020) Manne goes one step back in the setting up of the patriarchal order and shines the light on the distribution of rights and corresponding obligations that patriarchy assigns to men and women. She looks at the different types of entitlement conferred to men (to power, admiration, knowledge, sex, consent, domestic labour, medical attention and bodily control) and to the corresponding women’s physical, emotional and intellectual obligations that flow from men’s entitlement and determine the inequalities we witness. As for the previous book, I do wish social scientists working on gender read it widely and make use of its finely tuned definitions: to understand a problem one needs to describe it accurately first and say what it is and what it is not providing examples aplenty. What Manne contributes this time is again precious both theoretically and empirically: to economists she is providing a useful feminist contribution to the definition of the endowments problem that Sen’s capability framework has done much to illuminate in our field. What comes before choices and strategic interactions between agents happen is the definition of a set of rights, and this set Manne shows us is systematically skewed by gaps in entitlement in such a way that the opportunity set that women and men see for themselves are radically different: to use a metaphore for economists the Edgeworth box for a representative woman and a representative man trading with each other (goods or services or perhaps their time and leisure) is no box at all. It is hard to see in what sense women in an exchange dictated by norms that favour male entitlement would be able to make choices over the same spectrum of options that is faced by men. Explaining women’s outcomes as a result of their ‘different preferences’ when one accounts for entitlement properly becomes indeed a rather pointless exercise.

Systematically different entitlements that give rise to symmetrically skewed obligations have of course been discussed in Sen’s capability frameworks but operationalising capabilities and measuring them empirically continues to be challenging in many ways. Here what Manne provides is again a neat way to divide entitlements by areas and suggest ways to think about measuring them in both the expectations, the behaviours and the language used by women and men to describe their interactions from their own individual perspectives. The entitlement gap becomes then an observable entity and thus a measurable one, and this puts us again in a better position to evaluate policies to reduce it. We can think of applying this to the domestic sphere of household negotiations over coproduction and sharing, or the public one of work, participation in public and political life and enjoyment of public spaces. We can do even better and abandon the separation of spheres ( that are of course interconnected) and look at how entitlement gaps determine collections of interlinked outcomes such as the low financial, mental and physical wellbeing of women experiencing multiple forms of entitlement gaps.

So thank you Kate for another really useful book, and if you read this and are a social scientist interested in inequality (and not just necessarily of the gender type) don’t miss it!

One thought on “Entitled: Lessons for Economists

  1. ajs

    Thanks for this summary! Sounds good, will get the book-

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