Feminist economics often assert that power relations exist within the economy, and therefore, must be assessed in economic models in ways that they previously have been overlooked.  For example, in "neoclassical texts, the sale of labor is viewed as a mutually beneficial exchange that benefits both parties. No mention is made of the power inequities in the exchange which tend to give the employer power over the employee."  These power relations often favor men and there is "never any mention made of the particular difficulties that confront women in the workplace ."  Consequently, "Understanding power and patriarchy helps us to analyze how male-dominated economic institutions actually function and why women are often at a disadvantage in the workplace."  Feminist economists often extend these criticisms to many aspects of the social world, arguing that power relations are an endemic and important feature of society.
Erle C. Ellis is an associate professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a visiting associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
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Considerable empirical evidence, mostly studies of particular localities, suggests that what is usually defined as “gainful” employment (., working outside the home for a wage, or in such “productive” occupations as farming), as opposed to unpaid and unhonored housework—no matter how demanding—can substantially enhance the deal that women get. 6 Indeed, “gainful” employment of women can make the solution of “cooperative conflicts” less unfavorable to women in many ways. First, outside employment for wages can provide women with an income to which they have easier access, and it can also serve as a means of making a living on which women can rely, making them less vulnerable. Second, the social respect that is associated with being a “bread winner” (and a “productive” contributor to the family’s joint prosperity) can improve women’s status and standing in the family, and may influence the prevailing cultural traditions regarding who gets what in the division of joint benefits. Third, when outside employment takes the form of jobs with some security and legal protection, the corresponding rights that women get can make their economic position much less vulnerable and precarious. Fourth, working outside the home also provides experience of the outside world, and this can be socially important in improving women’s position within the family. In this respect outside work may be “educational” as well.