Wall Street Women

Wall Street Women

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 3 photographs Published: June 2012

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

Wall Street Women tells the story of the first generation of women to establish themselves as professionals on Wall Street. Since these women, who began their careers in the 1960s, faced blatant discrimination and barriers to advancement, they created formal and informal associations to bolster one another's careers. In this important historical ethnography, Melissa S. Fisher draws on fieldwork, archival research, and extensive interviews with a very successful cohort of first-generation Wall Street women. She describes their professional and political associations, most notably the Financial Women's Association of New York City and the Women's Campaign Fund, a bipartisan group formed to promote the election of pro-choice women.

Fisher charts the evolution of the women's careers, the growth of their political and economic clout, changes in their perspectives and the cultural climate on Wall Street, and their experiences of the 2008 financial collapse. While most of the pioneering subjects of Wall Street Women did not participate in the women's movement as it was happening in the 1960s and 1970s, Fisher argues that they did produce a "market feminism" which aligned liberal feminist ideals about meritocracy and gender equity with the logic of the market.


“While there is no shortage of voices that bemoan the continuing gender inequality on contemporary Wall Street, Wall Street Women allows readers to understand just how far women have come in recent decades. Though this does not excuse the lack of women in the corner office, at least it allows us to take a break from the hand wringing over the subject and appreciate the accomplishments of some unsung heroes of the slow but steady feminization of finance.” — Terrence Murray, The Financialist

“A well-researched and enlightening account. . . . Ethnographers in all fields can also benefit from Fisher’s approach, which consists of a combination of individual interviews, observation of and participation in association meetings where the women networked, and a final group discussion.” — Maria Siano, Foreword Reviews

“Extensively researched and thoroughly documented, this portrait of a pioneering generation of women provides context for understanding the emergent discourse of feminizing markets. Strongly recommended for readers interested in business anthropology or gender studies, particularly for gendered discourses of finance and the female financial elite.” — Rebekah Wallin, Library Journal

“Fisher shows how women who made it on Wall Street deftly deployed their supposedly innate risk-averse qualities to stay afloat long term. . . . [W]e get the pleasure of hearing conversations that normally take place behind closed doors. When the women dish about the guys in the office, they really dish.” — Elizabeth Dwoskin, Bloomberg Businessweek

“Fisher presents a world to us that taps into a current public interest in women pioneers in business, is methodologically innovative, is theoretically rich, and is ethnographically vital in understanding how to move forward as both gendered and market-engaged persons in the post–?nancial crisis world.” — Sarah A. Tobin, American Ethnologist

“Melissa Fisher has written a fascinating, fresh, and accessible account of the pioneering women who started careers on Wall Street in the 1960s and 1970s and established themselves as successful financial professionals. . . . This book offers a readable ethnography that would be a valuable course adoption in both undergraduate and graduate courses on social aspects of finance or gender and labor markets.” — Louise Marie Roth, American Journal of Sociology

Wall Street Women serves not only as an helpful reminder of women’s struggles and successes, but also as an enlightening depiction of changes—and continuing challenges—in a part of the business world often seen as mysterious at best and oppressive at worst. Indeed, the material Fisher gleans through ethnographic and archival research establishes the importance of her project, even if the book raises troubling questions about the compromises that women continue to make in the name of success, and about the nature of high finance itself.” — Megan Brown, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“[W]ell-argued and superbly researched. . . . Fisher’s in-depth case study of a Wall Street women’s cohort adds ethnographic specificity to the typically cross-societal literature on market feminism.” — Alexandra Michel, Administrative Science Quarterly

Wall Street Women offers insightful interpretations of the noticeable changes in the rhetoric and practice of the first women of Wall Street, encouraging further comparative study of elites in this area. Fisher’s extensive fieldwork, conducted over many years, has produced a detailed, wide-ranging and thoughtful exploration of the first women of Wall Street and their navigation of a competitive corporate culture structured by ideas about masculinity. Furthermore, it makes a significant contribution to our wider understanding of capitalism and finance as gendered and the resulting complexity of this for women in a market-driven society.” — Alison C. Kay, Women's History Review

“Wall Street Women is an interesting description of the commercial and class structures in which a set of women were instrumental in reducing, however partially, the dominance of men in finance.” — James G. Carrier, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Fisher’s work is valuable for anyone interested in women and professionalization, in finance or beyond. . . . The interwoven, nuanced discussion of the competing political choices faced by these women – pro-choice Democratic candidates versus  pro-business Republican candidates, and also the more visceral and omnipresent question of  putting more women, period, in the old boys’ club of Washington – is another illuminating facet  of Fisher’s work which should be considered a strong selling point of this piece of scholarship.”  — Jaci Eisenberg, 49th Parallel

“With a vast amount of insightful accounts, Melissa Fisher allows us to gain a valuable glimpse behind usually closed doors. Hence, the book is an inspiring source for scholars in the field of gender studies, identity studies and career studies, and other readers who are interested in the exploration of institutional change and concomitant changes in career paths and practices.”  — Markus Latzke, Ephemera

“. . . the book constitutes a valuable contribution to a timely debate on the ethics of global finance and adds a gendered perspective formerly absent from the relatively thin anthropological record on Wall Street. Readers with interests outside those areas will also find it useful. . . . Instructors may find it useful for teaching methodology.The book has an accessible style. . . .” — Susan MacDougall, Anthropology of Work Review

"Melissa Fisher's Wall Street Women introduces us to a feminist world that we can hardly imagine. As they dream of changing the hostile domain of finance, women find themselves drawing on traditional notions of gender equality and coaching each other in old-fashioned survival skills. Written in enticing prose, Wall Street Women offers us an illuminating peek into a wholly unexpected fusion of feminism with the market." — Alice Kessler-Harris, author of A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman

"Detecting gendering in high finance is a long-standing challenge—it is a domain inhospitable to the main categories of feminist analysis. Melissa S. Fisher goes at it with gusto and gives us a great book." — Saskia Sassen, author of Territory, Authority, Rights

“Fisher . . . combines the detached curiosity of an anthropologist studying the folkways of a tribal village with a sure grasp of history, politics, and economics, as well as an affectionate regard for her subjects, a small group of highly successful women who entered Wall Street in the ’60s.” — Publishers Weekly


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Melissa Fisher is the Laurits Anderson Professor of Business and Organizational Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. She is a coeditor of Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Wall Street Women 1

1. Beginnings 27

2. Careers, Networks, and Mentors 66

3. Gendered Discourses of Finance 95

4. Women's Politics and State-Market Feminism 120

5. Life after Wall-Street 136

6. Market Feminism, Feminizing Markets, and the Financial Crisis 155

Notes 175

Bibliography 201

Index 217
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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