This paper explores the relationship between feminist theory and rising economic inequality. It shows how greater inequality reflects the valorization of the stereotypically male qualities of competition and hierarchy, producing a greater concentration of wealth among a small number of men at the top, shortchanging men more than women through the rest of the economy, and altering the way that men and women match up to each other in the creation of families. By creating a framework for further research on the relationship between the norms of the top and the disadvantages of everyone else in more unequal societies, the paper provides a basis for feminists to develop a new theory of social power.
The paper demonstrates how the development of winner-take-all income hierarchies, the political devaluation of families and communities, and the terms of the family values debate diminish equality and community. The paper addresses how to understand these developments as they affect both the structure of society and the allocation of power within our families in ways that link to the historic concerns of feminist theory.
It accordingly ends by asking the “woman question” in a new way: one that revisits the stereotypically masculine and feminine and asks how they connect to hierarchy, one that considers whether the inclusion of women changes institutional cultures in predictable ways, and one that wonders whether the values that today are associated with more women than men offer a basis for the reconstruction of society more generally.
June Carbone & Naomi Cahn, Unequal Terms: Gender, Power, and the Recreation of Hierarchy, in 69 STUDIES IN LAW, POLITICS, AND SOCIETY 189 (Austin Sarat ed., 2016).