Linda Scott Q&A: “My knees have got a bit too creaky for fieldwork”

The economist talks Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Warren, and Gloria Steinem. 

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Linda Scott was born in Austin, Texas in 1952. An expert on women’s economic development, she is the founder of the Power Shift Forum for Women in the World Economy and has twice been listed among Prospect magazine’s top 25 global thinkers. 

What’s your earliest memory?

I was in a dark room with a strange blue light fixture shining intermittently through the window. I cried out. My mother’s voice soothed me. I was two.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, Louisa May Alcott – cliché, but I am trying to be truthful. I wanted to be an author and she gave me romantic visions of creating in an attic. As an adult, Gloria Steinem. I believe she will be remembered as the most significant leader of the 20th-century women’s movement. 

What book last changed your thinking?

When writing my book, I felt I had to address the question: is women’s subordination natural? I read, deeply and widely, in primatology, evolutionary theory, archaeology and anthropology. I found my answer, but in the process my thinking about what it means to be human was turned upside down.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Elizabeth Warren, the US senator and erstwhile presidential candidate. She displays a “smartest girl in the class” form of leadership that I find reliable and therefore comforting. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Women and economics. I’ve always been able to fill a room with that.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The past is a terrible place, especially for women. If my arm were twisted, I would probably choose the era of the Gibson Girl, but I would want an ejection button at the ready to return to the present.

What TV show could you not live without?

Easy: The Rachel Maddow Show.

Who would paint your portrait?

I would want a veritable chorus line of artists. MC Escher for the complexity of thought. Mary Cassatt for the maternal ethic. René Magritte for the wicked sense of humour… I could go on. 

What’s your theme tune?

When I want to be inspired to continue my mission, I play “Ebudae” as recorded by Enya. It is a waulking song – a chant that Scottish women sang as they sat as a group and beat woven cloth to softness. When I hear it, I think of all the women who have contributed to their nation’s prosperity, but who have gone unnoticed and too often uncompensated. It makes me think: who am I to falter?

What’s currently bugging you?

Trump, Trump and Trump.

What single thing would make your life better?

A personal consultant coming in to clean up and synchronise my digital devices.

When were you happiest?

Though my knees have got a bit too creaky for it, when doing fieldwork in remote areas, working to help women become autonomous. That I could employ my skills to a cause I wholly believe in has made me happier than I thought possible.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would be a theoretical physicist. They must think the truly great thoughts. 

Are we all doomed?

Only if we give in to despair. 

“The Double X Economy” by Linda Scott is published by Faber & Faber

This article appears in the 10 July 2020 issue of the New Statesman, State of the nation

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