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Davos Woman to the Rescue of Global Capitalism: Postfeminist Politics and Competitiveness Promotion at the World Economic Forum

International Political Sociology

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a global governance actor that has in recent years taken an increased interest in issues pertaining to gender equality and women's empowerment. The paper critically investigates the work of the WEF in this area, suggesting that WEF‐produced gender and development discourse is profoundly compatible with the politics and practices of neoliberalism—not least in the way in which it aligns gender equality and women's empowerment with national economic competitiveness. This is, furthermore, a distinctly postfeminist reading of gender that rests upon the production of neoliberal‐compatible female subjectivities—such as “rational economic woman” or “Davos woman”—who emerge as those in society best able to deliver fair and sustainable economic growth (effectively rescuing global capitalism from the excesses of hypermasculine crisis capitalism). The framing of the case for gender equality and women's empowerment in these terms is powerful and may well be an effective way for gender advocates to present their demands. But by analyzing not only how the WEF has framed/represented gender issues but also what has been left out of this representation, the paper points to the way in which simplistic representations concerning the contribution that women make to economic competitiveness disguise the double burdens and gendered structures of socioeconomic inequality that are central to the widening and deepening of the market into all spheres of social life under conditions of roll‐back neoliberalism.