The Double X Economy is a term I have coined to describe the global economy of women. While women have always engaged in economic behavior, their activities and outcomes have usually gone unnoticed, unmeasured, untracked, unregulated, because of assumptions and limitations inherent in conventional economic thought. In particular, the fact that women in many cultures, past and present, are precluded from participating in paid labor has meant their production and efforts drop beneath the radar of those who monitor, measure, and regulate economic flows. Because they are either employed in informal work or in unmonetized work, their considerable efforts are made invisible by valuation systems that insist only what can be monetized and tracked by official domains.
For thousands of years, women have been excluded from the money system, not only by the fact that their labor is often unpaid, but by restrictions of law and custom that preclude their participation in the overall system of wealth ownership and generation. They are consistently unable to inherit–whether you are reading the news about India or watching Downton Abbey, you can see the ongoing vulnerability of women who cannot work and cannot inherit. Women have also been forbidden to make contracts, to get credit, and to open financial accounts.
Today, much has changed in the developed nations, but the developing nations remain under the thumb of ancient laws that are often attributed to religion, but in truth are older than that–and, curiously, are the same everywhere. Women in “the West” gained the rights to inherit, make contracts, and the like in the 19th century. These very important “wins” are often overlooked by today’s feminist theorists because they tend to mistrust the economy and overemphasize politics and the law as a means to win autonomy.
The 20th century push for access to better jobs alongside the increasing wealth from inheritance and investment in female hands, have put women in the Western nations in a position unparalleled in history. Now women from the wealthy nations are also aware of the suffering among their sister in poor nations, but have the means to step in and help.
The peculiar constraint of the Double X Economy is also important to recognize: the system, at its base, is held in place by violence. This is why organizations who step in to help women in traditional cultures often find that their successes result in an uptick in the incidence of domestic abuse. It is also why factory girls everywhere are at constant risk for rape. It is why Indian spokespeople thought it perfectly reasonable to excuse the violence over Christmas 2012 by pointing to the increased economic autonomy of women–by getting out of place, they suggest, the women have “asked for” the punitive violence of men.
When working to help women escape this system, then, I think it is helpful to think of this economy as a unique economy, born of its exclusion from what we have come to call “the formal economy.” The Double X Economy, when taken as a whole, through the entire course of its history and not just the last five minutes in the West, can be characterized as follows:
it is largely unmonetized,
it is constrained by violence,
it is forbidden to engage in the technologies of wealth,
it is unable to own or inherit property,
it is confined to the reproductive realm,
its primary capital assets (that is, means to earn a living) are the bodies of women, exchanged in marriage, prostitution, or slavery, usually for basic subsistence.