The “Other” 51%

It’s finally becoming not controversial or fringe to say that investing in women is smart economic policy, at least in the development sector. The Daily Beast‘s recent article,“Why the Global Economy Needs Businesses to Invest in Women”, speaks about the new trend in the World Economic Forum in Davos,

Businesses are starting to understand what development experts have long known: investing in women pays dividends.”

It’s good, wholesome feminist reading, wholeheartedly positive and realistic at the same time.

The subheadline, though, was problematic: “The global economy needs the other 51%.” This is implying that this other 51% is someone other than “the global economy,” as if women were not an active or a passive agent of this global economy.

Yet again, that may be true; according to UNICEF,

Women earn only one tenth of the world’s income and own less than 1% of property … Women’s rights and access to land, credit and education are limited not only due to legal discrimination, but because more subtle barriers such as their work load, mobility and low bargaining position in the household and community prevent them from taking advantage of their legal rights.

Nonetheless, I still find the language of the article interesting. The writer takes the viewpoint of a man, since the “other 51%” are women, implying that men are the global economy. When we read we take the perspective of the author, especially when written in this semi-objective tone. This is like reading anything prior to a couple of years ago, where anything referring to people in general would have “he” and “him” written all over it. We’re even lucky that English lets us do this not-so-cumbersomely; it’s a whole other story with languages with clear gender distinctions, as, for example, Chinese and all Romance languages (I’m sure many more do this, if not all, but these I speak of from personal experience).

The general is male, the specific is female. We all know this from grammar or language classes. It seems like a harmless rule, but it is actually deeply, darkly sexist, going back to the inception of language itself. And in this way it continues to perpetuate sexism unconsciously in more harmful ways than we imagine. (More…)

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