by Jennie S. Bev
Adam Smith hypothesized that people are inherently greedy, and that’s what it takes to run the engine of wealth. And to measure a country’s economic health, gross domestic product comes into play.
But while numbers look neutral and impartial on the surface, we should raise our awareness of the fact that they are actually biased toward creating patriarchies.
Today we still slant toward the favoritism of one of the genders, which is reflected in popular concepts in our society. Obviously, a patriarchal capitalism develops within the umbrella of the patriarchy of power. In politics, patriarchy is considered a normal occurrence. In measuring economic health, GDP, the worldwide standard, is a system with a tinge of patriarchy.
While women have succeeded in attaining suffrage, a sense of individualism and economic and legal rights — the three waves of feminism — we are still working toward a balanced society in which male and female influences can be acknowledged as equal partners in most, if not all, areas of human activities.
Women, regardless of their somewhat active participation, have been sidetracked in political and economic issues not merely in grassroots activities but also in umbrella paradigms. The world of politics continues to be a man’s world. Unless a woman can think and behave like a man, she is unlikely to be elected or be politically influential.
According to Michel S. Kimmel, Jeff Hearn and Raewyn Connell in Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities, gender itself is a compromised formation in response to patriarchal structure. This explains why in most theoretical and applied concepts, patriarchy and the patriarchy of power are peeking by the window.
GDP indicates whether a country’s economic health is vibrant or not, as it measures the total value of goods and services exchanged in a national market within a certain period.
However, is it really the correct standard to measure economic health? GDP doesn’t include nonmarket contributions, as if they are not necessary to society. GDP only calculates activities that generate profits, hence being the core of capitalism.
For instance, activities in taking care of households, mostly the domain of women regardless of whether they work elsewhere for profit or not, aren’t counted in GDP.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen argued that many countries with high GDPs, such as the United States, actually have low living standards among the poor. But there are countries such as India with low GDPs but, because they focus on nonmarket activities, their living standards in certain regions are much higher.
It is another level of the patriarchy of capitalization.
The ultimate argument comes from the exploitation of nature, which is an ecological commoditization. This notion is derived from the belief that it is mankind’s inherent right to exploit nature, a concept partly promoted by religious beliefs.
Religions, particularly Abrahamic monotheisms, are patriarchal in nature, which is evident in a God that is a fatherly, masculine figure.
Traditional capitalist accounting used for the calculation of the GDP doesn’t distinguish between “good” and “bad” activities. The latter includes environmentally abusive activities as long as they generate profit. This fact has led environmentalists, conscientious economists and other activists to call for an alternative to GDP as a measurement of economic health.
One such alternative is the Genuine Progress Indicator. Economists James Heintz and Nancy Folbre have described the GPI as adding the value of nonmarket activities and subtracting the costs of environmental damages, resources depletion and unused time.
Forms of patriarchy comes in all colors and shades. We simply need to increase our awareness of their presence. Because, after all, the world is designed with equilibrium in mind. Signs of imbalances can be found everywhere. Open your eyes and listen.
The Jakarta Globe, March 31, 2009