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Economist Victoria Bateman delivers a lecture on 'Brexit: The Naked Truth' in Cambridge, England, in January 2019. (screenshot from Vimeo)

The cost of stigma

Esteemed economist protests naked to send message about ‘a woman’s value’

By WITW Staff on May 15, 2019

Victoria Bateman, a University of Cambridge economist who scandalized colleagues at the Royal Economic Society in Brighton last year by attending the annual gathering naked, is calling on her fellow academics to acknowledge “the elephant in the room in the economics profession.”

“Women and women’s bodies … this is what’s being ignored,” Bateman told Quartz..

Bateman says that economists, to their great discredit, have long ignored the unpaid labor of women — including the bearing and raising of children, housework, and providing care for the young and elderly. The U.K.’s Office for National Statistics estimates that the British economy would have been $1.6 trillion larger in 2016 — an increase of 63 percent to the country’s GDP — if housework were included in GDP calculations.

Similarly, 75 percent of unpaid care globally is provided by women — the equivalent of 2 billion women working full time for free, according to the International Labor Organization. These time-intensive unpaid responsibilities, she argues, effectively prevent women from entering the job force and marketplace, dramatically stifling economic growth across the world.

To that end, Bateman believes that ensuring women have full legal control over their bodies is the most surefire way to encourage economic growth. By providing women with access to birth control and abortion services, women would be freed from paying the price for unintended pregnancies that can force them out of the job market and into the role of unpaid carer.

“We can’t underestimate the risk of poverty that comes alongside an unplanned pregnancy,” says Bateman, adding that an estimated 44 percent of pregnancies globally are unintended. In general, she says, women’s freedom across the world — including bodily autonomy — is restricted due to a dominant notion that “women’s bodies are sinful” and “that a woman’s value rests on being very modest about her body.” As a result, she says that many people believe that restrictions must be imposed on women, including limitations on what they can wear and the criminalization of sex work, “to protect them from having their respect undermined by their bodies being on show.”

Her naked protests at the Royal Economic Society and elsewhere, she says, are meant to call attention to how the stigma attached to women and their bodies actively contributes to their continued economic marginalization.

“Women should be free to monetize their body or their brain,” Bateman told Quartz. “It is intellectually elitist and hypocritical for feminists to say otherwise. We should be thinking more about the effect of society on women, the way we judge women who monetize their body and the stigma and the marginalization that they experience.”

Bateman’s new book, The Sex Factor: How Women Made the West Rich, revisits economic history through feminist eyes.

Read the full interview at Quartz.

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