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Sexy money: the hetero-normative politics of global finance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2015

Abstract

The article develops a critical analysis of gendered narratives of global finance. The post-subprime crisis equation of unfettered global finance with the excessive masculinity of individual bankers is read in line with a wider gender narrative. We discuss how hetero-normative relations between men and women underpin financial representations through three historical examples: war bond advertising, Hollywood films about bankers, and contemporary aesthetic representations of female politicians who advocate for austerity. A politics emerges whereby gender is used to encompass a/the spectrum between embedded and disembedded finance, approximate to the divide between oikonomia and chrematistics. The apparently desirable ‘marriage’ between the state and finance that ensues carries several ambiguities – precisely along gender lines – that point to a pervasive limit: the myth of embedded liberalism in the imagination of global finance.

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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2015 

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References

1 David Cameron, Speech to the Tory Party Conference, Manchester (October 2011)

2 We thank Chris Clarke, Matthew Festenstein, Shirin Rai, Adrienne Roberts, Chris Rossdale, Carole Spary, and Nick Vaughan-Williams, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of this article.

3 These popular catchphrases are from (in order): Timothy Geithner, David Cameron, Barack Obama, and George Osborne. Cited from Ian Katz, ‘Geithner says European Nations Must get “Fiscal House” in Order’, Bloomberg, available at: {http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-07/geithner-says-european-nations-must-get-fiscal-house-in-order.html} accessed 8 April 2013; David Cameron, Speech to the Tory Party Conference, Manchester (October 2011); Audrey Taylor, ‘Obama Proposes Federal Worker Pay Freeze’, ABC, available at: {http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-proposes-pay-freeze-federal-workers/story?id=12268050#.UWKm8pOThcV} accessed 8 April 2013); Stephanie Flanders, ‘Tough Choices for Mr Osborne’, BBC, available at: {http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19001620} accessed 8 April 2013.

4 Indeed, the Daily Mail even argued that the turn to staycations, while necessitated by recession, might itself be a boost for UK growth: ‘How rise in ‘staycations’ is set to give British economy a £7.3 billion boost’, available at: {http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1388211/Rise-staycations-set-UK-economy-7-3bn-boost.html} accessed 8 April 2013).

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24 In their book, Masters of Nothing, 2011, Hancock and Zahawi are somewhat typical of this critical mood when they lament: ‘In investment banking, the highly masculine culture has given rise to a working environment shaped by schoolboy pranks, pseudo-military posturing and an unhealthy dependence on the sex trade’ as cited in Heather Stewart, ‘Tories call for measures to cut sexism from the City’, The Guardian (4 September 2011), available at: {http://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/sep/04/publish-bank-pay-reduce-male-dominance-say-tory-mps}.

25 Juanita Elias, ‘Davos woman to the rescue of global capitalism’.

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28 See S. Walby, ‘Gender and the financial crisis’, paper for UNESCO Project on ‘Gender and the Financial Crisis’ (9 April 2009), available at: {http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/doc_library/sociology/Gender_and_financial_crisis_Sylvia_Walby.pdf}; B. Young and H. Schuberth, ‘The Global Financial Meltdown and the Impact of Financial Governance on Gender’, Garnet Policy Brief, no. 10 (2010); J. Montgomerie and B. Young, ‘Home is Where The Hardship is: Gender and Wealth (Dis)Accumulation in the Subprime Boom’, CRESC Working Paper no. 79 (2010), available at: {http://www.cresc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wp%2079.pdf}; Pollard, Jane, ‘Gendering capital: Financial crisis, financialization and (an agenda for) economic geography’, Progress in Human Geography, 37:3 (2013), pp. 403–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Roberts, ‘Financing social reproduction’.

30 Krippner, Greta R. and Alvarez, Anthony S., ‘Embeddedness and the intellectual projects of economic sociology’, Annual Review of Sociology, 33 (2007), pp. 219–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; See also Granovetter, Mark, ‘Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness’, American Journal of Sociology, 91:3 (1985), pp. 481510 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ruggie, John G., ‘International regimes, transactions and change: Embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order’, International Organization, 36:2 (1982), pp. 379416 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 For an overview, see Steans, J. et al., An Introduction to International Relations Theory (3rd edn, Harlow: Pearson Education, 2010), pp. 165–8Google Scholar.

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34 Parpart, J. and Zalewski, M., Rethinking the Man Question: Sex, Gender and Violence in International Relations (London: Zed, 2008)Google Scholar.

35 Griffin, ‘Gendering global finance’, p. 10.

36 Ibid.

37 Prügl, ‘“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters …”’ p. 21.

38 Ibid.

39 Elias, ‘Davos woman to the rescue of global capitalism’; Prügl, ‘“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters …”’.

40 Interestingly, while IR and IR feminism have seen a number of texts that look to uncover the disciplining effects of discursive assumptions about ‘the international’. See Walker, R. B. J., Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)Google Scholar; and Enloe, Cynthia, Bananas, Beaches and Bases. Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)Google Scholar, IPE in both its critical and feminist variants has been somewhat less concerned about the reproduction of a statist imaginary within finance. An important exception to this trend is Aitken, Rob, Performing Capital: Toward a Cultural Economy of Global Finance (Palgrave: Macmillan, 2009)Google Scholar.

41 De Goede, M., ‘Mastering “Lady Credit”’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2:1 (2000), pp. 5881 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Ibid., p. 66.

43 This is not to detract from the genuine hierarchies and structures of domination that exist with and as a result of a particular imagination of finance. Indeed, one of the important outcomes of the critical work on the financial crisis has been the proliferation of feminist analyses of the gendered breakdown of work and employment changes that follow from the practice of finance and the fallout from austerity. See Roberts, ‘Financing social reproduction’.

44 De Goede, ‘Mastering “Lady Credit”’, p. 68.

45 J. Stiglitz, ‘Taming Finance in an Age of Austerity’, Project Syndicate (2010), available at: {http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/taming-finance-in-an-age-of-austerity} accessed 28 June 2013.

46 Shiller, Robert, The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do about It (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008)Google Scholar; UN, ‘Report of the Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System’ (2009), available at: {http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/commission/financial_commission.shtml} accessed 11 August 2011; Stiglitz, ‘Taming finance in an age of austerity’.

47 Ruggie, John G., ‘International regimes, transactions and change: Embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order’, International Organization, 36:2 (1982), pp. 379416 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Abdelal, Rawi and Ruggie, John G., ‘The principles of embedded liberalism: Social legitimacy and global capitalism’, in Moss, David and Cisternino, John (eds), New Perspectives on Regulation (Cambridge, MA: Tobin Project, 2009)Google Scholar; Hays, Jude C., Globalization and the New Politics of Embedded Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Seabrooke, Leonard, ‘What do I get?’; Steffek, J., Embedded Liberalism and Its Critics (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006)Google Scholar.

50 Aitken, Rob, Performing Capital: Toward a Cultural Economy of Global Finance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Peston, ‘Why men are to blame for the Crunch’; Prügl, ‘“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters …”’.

52 Jackson, S., ‘Gender, sexuality, and heterosexuality: the complexity and limits of heteronormativity’, Feminist Theory, 7:1 (2006), p. 105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Griffin, P., Gendering the World Bank: Neoliberalism and the Gendered Foundations of Global Governance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 The Atlantic (16 June 2010). A picture of one of these ads can be accessed here: {http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/06/japan-men-who-buy-government-bonds-are-super-sexy/58249/}.

55 Sources/URLs: National Archives; Northwestern University Library, World War II Digital Poster Collection. Left image: {http://research.archives.gov/description/513995}; middle image: {http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/wwii-posters/img/ww1647-32.jpg}; right image: {http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/wwii-posters/img/ww1647-68.jpg}.

56 Cartwright, D., ‘Some principles of mass persuasion: Selected findings of research on the sale of United States War Bonds’, Human Relations, 2 (1949), p. 255 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

57 Ibid.

58 Sung Won Kang and Hugh Rockoff, ‘Capitalizing patriotism: the liberty loans of World War 1’, NBER Working Paper no. 11919 (January 2009), p. 4.

59 Source/URLs: Library of Congress World War I Poster Collection. Left image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/92510151/}; middle image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712337/}; right image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93510435/}.

60 Ibid.

61 Aitken, Rob, Performing Capital: Toward A Cultural Economy of Popular and Global Finance (New York: Palgrave, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Source/URLs: Library of Congress World War I Poster Collection. Left image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002707404/}; middle image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002719437/}; right image: {http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002695578/}.

63 De Goede, ‘Mastering “Lady Credit”’.

64 Of course, this line of thought is not exclusive to film. In a piece on literary narratives of financial crisis, Nicky Marsh highlights how a gendered critique of finance is offered in the work of many ‘writers, including Tom Wolfe, Caryl Churchill, Po Bronson and, most recently, Lucy Prebble, for whom the sexual languages of the financial economy provide evidence of an aggrandising heroic masculine individualism, an explicit abandonment of the collective demands of the social’. Speaking of the metaphorical signification of the economic cycle, she argues that the ‘possibility of the bust is always contained within the figurative languages of the boom and images of degeneration and disease are never very far removed from these sexualised languages of masculine desire’. Marsh, ‘Desire and disease’, p. 303.

65 Godden, Richard, ‘Fictions of fictitious capital: American Psycho and the poetics of deregulation’, Textual Practice, 25:5 (2011), p. 859 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Richard Godden interprets a subtle pun by Bateman – who pronounces ‘mergers and acquisitions’, as ‘murders and executions’ – to argue that the allegory is one about finance devouring the productive economy: ‘Mergers may be understood as the rentier's revenge on the worker; in which, most typically, during the 1980s, stock holders empowered by raiders, broke up conglomerates, sold subsidiaries and re-centred restructured activities in the core business – thereby violating “trust”, “implicit contract”, prior labour patters – … Money made from merger, in that it dismembers, “human capital”, necessarily bleeds.’ Godden, ‘Fictions of fictitious capital’, p. 862.

67 Griffin, Penny, ‘Gendering global finance: Crisis, masculinity and responsibility’, Men and Masculinities 16:1 (2013), pp. 934 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Interestingly, recent work in the anthropology of finance has suggested that such fantastic imagery might actually miss an important aspect of the embodied realities of finance. Karen Ho argues that many investment bankers are themselves subjects in a disciplinary ‘market’ that can downsize and retask them just as easily as it can factory or productive workers. Referring to ‘their own truncated temporality’ she argues: ‘Investment bankers get downsized all the time, yet they learn to thrive in a corporate culture that is characterised by slash and burn expediency’. Ho, Karen, ‘Disciplining investment bankers, disciplining the economy: Wall street's institutional culture of crisis and the downsizing of corporate America’, American Anthropologist, 111:2 (2009), p. 186 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

68 Inside Job.

69 Jackson, Stevi and Scott, Sue, ‘Sexual antinomies in late modernity’, Sexualities, 7:2 (2004), p. 238 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

70 Indeed, following on from the film narratives it probably goes without saying that the removal of Dominique Straus Kahn over rape allegations is perhaps an important echo of the move towards postfeminist governance in finance; Elias, ‘Davos woman to the rescue of global capitalism’.

72 ‘Morgens Sparpaket, abends sparsam im Supermarkt’, Bild (5 March 2012); ‘So geht die mächtigste Frau Europas einkaufen’, Bild (1 May 2012).

73 ‘Caption competition: Angela Merkel and a rubber glove’, The Guardian (31 May 2012), available at: {http://www.theguardian.com/business/blog/2012/may/31/caption-competition-angela-merkel}.

75 See Roberts, ‘Financing social reproduction’; Johnna Montgomerie and Brigitte Young, ‘Home is where the hardship is: Gender and wealth (dis)accumulation in the subprime boom’, CRESC Working Paper (2010).

76 The Guardian (25 May 2012).

77 See Zalewski, Marysia and Runyan, Anne Sisson, ‘Taking feminist violence seriously in feminist International Relations’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 15:3 (2013), pp. 293313 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 Maurer, Bill, ‘Resocialising finance? Or dressing it in mufti?’, Journal of Cultural Economy, 1:1 (2008), p. 69 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 American Psycho, emphasis added.

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