Wall Street Women by anthropologist Melissa S. Fisher

August 25, 2012

This past Tuesday The Guardian ran a piece about my new book on the first generation of Wall Street Women:

The article stirred up quite the controversy about the cause of the financial crisis. Like other accounts, bloggers debated wheter masculine, greedy, risk-taking actors and financial practices led to the crisis, and if a more feminine, conservative, long term approach would have possibly helped the economy to avoid crisis or to fix it.

For a more detailed, ethnographic, and nuanced discussion of women on Wall Street and the gendering of finance and the crisis, you may want to take a look at my book. Drawing on nearly two decades of fieldwork, archival research, and extensive interviews with a very successful cohort of first-generation Wall Street women, the book charts the evolution of the women’s careers, the growth of their political and economic clout, changes in their perspectives and the cultural climate on Wall Street, and their experiences of the 2008 financial collapse. While most of the pioneering subjects of Wall Street Women did not participate in the women’s movement as it was happening in the 1960s and 1970s, I argue that they did produce a “market feminism” which aligned liberal feminist ideals about meritocracy and gender equity with the logic of the market.

The book: Wall Street Women


4 Responses to “Wall Street Women by anthropologist Melissa S. Fisher”

  1. danielbeunza Says:

    All — I’ve known and liked Melissa’s work for some time. I asked her to write this post as soon as I saw the very controversial reaction to her article on The Guardian. The comments are well worth seeing. Welcome Melissa!

    Also, Melissa be on the BBC Newshour this coming Sunday – sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 am est, 1:30 and 2:00 pm London time.

    Melissa — as for the Guardian controversy, I was particularly interested in dfic1999 … who points out that cultural differences among men and women are now the basis for a new argument of inequality — one that sees women as superior. You do point out this is ironical. Would you care to elaborate/ offer more thoughts?

  2. Daniel: It is a bit ironic. The valorization of women as naturally cautious and caring seems familiar from generations of celebrations of gendered difference. But I think one of the most interesting findings in my book, is that this gendered logic has become increasingly aligned with the market (market values) over the past four decades. So the specific gendering of the recent crisis may have been relatively novel, but the representation of Wall Street women as more risk averse was and is deeply rooted in historical gendered discourses in finance. For example, when I first met a senior woman in research (back in 1994), she told me why she thought she and other women had done so well in the area of research beginning in the seventies. She described how women explained that women were better investors because they knew how to shop, how to consume. So, in other words, her idea was that the women used gendered assumptions about their roles as mothers making family purchases in order to sell themselves as economic experts.

    Now, several decades later, financial experts (and others) are blaming greedy, risk taking elite men for the crash, and calling for “feminine” more conservative, more risk-averse solution. In both instances, an understanding of women as nuturing and men as competitive underwrote specific new opportunities for real women, whether masculine virtues were valorized or not ….

    What is particularly new, I think, about the gendering of 21st century financial crisis is the scale. During the seventies, eighties, and nineites, the women drew on these notions to claim a place for themselves within particular areas within wall street firms – namely research, sales, and wealth management, rather than investment banking and trading. By 2008 they were reframing the argument, setting it within the more global context of financial markets and the crisis. This is evident in the way that experts are now making the “business case” for womens equity and leadership in global finance, including the very idea that was debated in Guardian article blog – that women’s unique, biological abilities to be wary of risk enables them to solve the economic crisis.

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  3. danielbeunza Says:

    Thanks for clarifying. Will be interesting to follow this debate. If you have specific examples of high profile women bankers, I’ll be curious to follow their evolution

  4. Anya Bennett Says:

    Hi there,

    I am a financial blogger associated with several financial communities for quite a few years. I was wondering if I can get an opportunity to fill the slot in your writing schedule. I assure to provide you with articles on all financial topics with rich information, according to your requirements. Would you like to accept a guest post for your blog? I shall offer you the same and would also promote your site through the social media. It would be a great thing if we can successfully work together. πŸ™‚

    I cordially regret in advance if you find this offending.

    Many thanks for your time.

    Anya Bennett.

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