Dr. Victoria Bateman, an esteemed economist best known for her nude protests for gender equality, uses her body as a form of art that serves to challenge the stigma around women's bodies and women's rights, in the world of economics.

In March 2018, Bateman attended the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society in Brighton stark naked with the word "respect" written across her chest and stomach. Unbashful in delivering her message, Bateman was determined to start a conversation.

In her book, The Sex Factor: How Women Made the West Rich, Bateman discusses how women have been perceived as second-class citizens throughout history. "Women are seen as passive beneficiaries of economic growth – as the people who should be forever thankful to their male counterparts for creating the riches that enable women's rights to flourish," Bateman writes in book summary. It should come as no surprise that males, particularly white males, have always been recognized as the sole contributors towards economic growth whereas women have not.

In a recent interview conducted by The Quartz, Bateman divulges into the deeper connections between gender equality for women and economic wealth. Women have maintained the traditional roles of homemakers, taking on the responsibilities of caring for every member of the family, and without pay. The job of a homemaker is, in fact, a job yet produces no monetary gain. According to the Office of National Statistics, the British economy would have easily been €1.24 trillion times greater had unpaid housework been included into their calculations.

Discrediting the work of women excluded them from Britain's high-wage economy. When women made the choice to work, the prospect of starting a family became slim. And with women getting married later in life, thus resulting in smaller families, the overall population was impacted. "Slower population growth enabled the British economy to support a higher wage. In turn this then created more incentives for mechanization because employers couldn't rely on cheap labor," said Bateman.

While economists debate over the process in which developments of scientific institutions birthed entrepreneurs who invented the machines that would open the doors to the Industrial Revolution, their perspectives were only from a male's point of view, disregarding the unpaid labor, skills, and entrepreneurship of women. This essentially led to the idea of males as the breadwinners and women as full time, unpaid homemakers. Inequality spread beyond the market and workplace, and into the home.

In her book Bateman writes, "Equality in the market cannot be achieved until there is equality within the home; but equality within the home will not be achieved until there is equality in the market. The two types of inequalities are mutually reinforcing."

She suggests that in order to escape this cycle of inequality, women must have freedom over their bodies and take back the control that men seem to think they have over it. Women should decide for themselves when and if they want to start families. Aside from women lacking access to contraceptives, there is a greater risk for poverty when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Pregnancy also hinders women's ability to be active workers in the labor market where women are paid less for their work while being exposed to unfair treatment within the workplace, which can render them helpless when falling further into financial troubles.

For Bateman, protesting at an event such as the Royal Economic Society's annual conference forces higher-wage, male economists to address the elephant in the room—one that has been there throughout history. Women are demanding respect, representation, and recognition for their contributions in economic history as well as in today's current economy. Bateman's use of nudity in her protests opens up the conversation that women's control over their own bodies, and men's acceptance of that fact, will diminish inequality within the home which will, in turn, transcend into diminishing inequality within the market. Not only does Bateman uses her nudity to deliver a message from an economic standpoint, but it's also her way to diminish the stigma around women's bodies while promoting freedom.

In today's world, gender inequality is still very much present. Recently in the U.S., Alabama's Governor Kay Ivey, passed an abortion law making it illegal for women to have an abortion at any stage of their pregnancy unless the mother's life is in danger. It does not make any exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Not too long before Alabama, Georgia's Governor, Brian Kemp, passed an abortion law making it illegal for women to have an abortion once a heartbeat is detected which typically happens around the sixth week of gestation. However, this law does make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and endangerment of the woman's life.

These laws have stirred up controversy, separating the nation even further between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice. However, at the root of the controversy is the disregard for women's choices over their own bodies. Majority, if not all, of the senators that voted on these particular laws, consists of white males. Until men are no longer making decisions about what women can or cannot do with their own bodies, and until they do not have the final say in what laws are put in place against women, protests like Bateman's are necessary. Whether she is met with support or shame, the conversation has already begun and it will continue to be had until changes are made, and gender equality is achieved..


Shivani Mangar