How Crypto’Bro’ Culture Is the New Toxic Masculinity in Finance

This may sound familiar: as individuals begin to circle off into smaller groups at social occasions, buzzwords like “crypto,” “invest,” “stocks,” and “portfolio” begin to fly through the air like hummingbirds transporting the specks from circle to circle.

You are suddenly intimidated. The sense of being an outsider is an imperceptible disempowerment that results from a lack of terminology and confidence when it comes to discussing the most powerful item in the world: money.

It has less to do with knowledge than with cultural perceptions of who has a legitimate monopoly on money. Within families, this is typically the case with men, also referred to as “Economics Uncles.” Economics Uncles are well-informed about the economy, and their assessments are always positive or negative — without additional explanation. Today, outside the domain of the uncles, we see “financial bros” – individuals, typically young guys, who feel the need to show their supremacy by flaunting their alleged mastery of shiny new objects in finance.

“‘You have no idea what you’re doing with your money if you’re not investing in cryptocurrency,’ a financial dude once stated to me. This despite the fact that it turned out I had been investing money for a much longer period of time than he had — albeit not “properly,” as A, 23, put it.

This new financial space, carved out by the crypto boom and the proliferation of NFTs, has a key characteristic with the finance spaces of the Economics Uncles Era: they are exclusionary and frequently skewed toward women.

Shrayana Bhattacharya, an economist and novelist, observes that despite the fact that some of the most renowned figures in banking and finance are now women, everyday cultural dialogues about money continue to be overly clique-y, bro-y, and insider-y.

It has to do with the fact that money is a symbol of strength and masculinity, and the numerous tools and devices devised to deal in it are unquestionably unavailable to individuals who are not traditionally considered money proprietors. Women today have a better understanding of the economy and are more financially knowledgeable on a fundamental level. However, as speculative finance, such as bitcoin, has grown in popularity, there is now an inevitable continuum of “economics uncles” to “financial bros,” generating a whirlwind that sucks up any real discourse or legitimate query about economics or finance.

“Women’s participation in financial and market sectors is limited in our country. Now, when a new market emerges, it will almost inadvertently – due to the nature of women’s responsibilities in society – be passed into other types of dialogues,” Bhattacharya explains.

This demonstrates the continuum: the majority of people discussing new financial instruments like cryptocurrency are wealthy, cis-het guys working in IT, startups, or, as Akira, 27, puts it, “unemployed people with the necessary IT knowledge.” Money games and aggressive masculinity are inseparable — anyone seeking admission must first acquire the necessary mindset. The requirements for membership are nebulous, and nobody overtly acknowledges that it is a boys’ club. However, it is a club for people who are captivated by the potential of risk-taking; hence, only the most socially and financially secure can afford to take chances. The broad sweep profiles of the brothers in question imply that they are already secure men (in most cases).

Therefore, speculative financial technology is not for individuals who have bills to pay, who lack a blue-chip business employment or assets, and who lack the capacity to learn about the “what next” in financial technology since they are still caught up in the “what now?” In other words, investing in risky schemes – which were conceived in the first place in a hypermasculine environment – is costly in multiple ways.

Briti, 24, discusses her interactions with peers that share her categorization. She is the ideal person to discuss finance in writing. Nothing distinguishes her qualifications (premium college graduate, strategic projects manager at a Fortune 500 business) from those of the lads speaking lyrical about cryptocurrency. Despite this, she refers to finance as a “massive black box.” This hesitancy is gendered and pervades interactions as an invisible undercurrent. Crypto, non-financial tokens, and other emerging financial instruments add a new layer to the problem. It boils down to the reality that speculative finance is gamified in order to entice and electrify participants. The rewards promised are enormous, making the risk of loss appear worthwhile. However, in a culture where financial independence is still a hard-won battle for women, speculative finance games feel like an unneeded splurge.

“Many women [I know] do not view stocks as a secure investment and do not seek them out as a source of income,” Alisha, ___, explains. Women “are raised from infancy to consider the family’s stability… Thus, rather of taking a chance and failing, it would be deemed preferable to have stability,” she continues. Additionally, research indicates that women are more risk averse and fearful of loss than men when it comes to financial technologyness-making. The gendered expectations around investment also ensure that, while it is an exciting, self-fulfilling potential for males, it remains predominantly a family-oriented endeavor for women.

However, the gendered preconceptions ingrained in who can afford to take risks are simply the beginning of a lengthy chain of issues – it also has to do with masculinity, the “crisis of confidence,” and the whole concept of the expert.

The issue is that expertise is increasingly being defined in terms of personal experience — and males are predominantly the purveyors of money and finance. Consequently, an inexorable loop develops in which, by being excluded from discussions about money, women are excluded from experience and thus competence. That is why, despite the fact that there are more women in senior finance roles and generating knowledge about finance, there does not appear to be a matching shift in how finance is seen.

Additionally, the advertising around speculative finance has a frat-party vibe that reinforces hypermasculinity and even sexism: underwear-clad models draped in Bitcoin logos and women being propositioned during job interviews. The New York Times noticed that one advertisement for a cryptocurrency called DateCoin showed “a reclining woman in a swimsuit with writing across her torso reading, ‘Touch my I.C.O.,'”

Finance, on the other hand, becomes a new opportunity for cis-het males to demonstrate their masculinity in the face of increased scrutiny of their social behavior. The shapers of finance culture exude a very specific aura: the frenzied, amplified energy of Wall Street is the aspirational vibe – the power, aggression, control, and fearlessness are all alluring. Today, there is a resurgent masculinity that has emerged virtually as a counterbalance to the ways in which masculinity is endangered by the increased presence of women in positions of financial security and independence. Jargonized discussions about money become a means of erecting even another wall, enclosing some other aspects of money within a boys’ club.

Many males, too, experience a sense of exclusion and emasculation as a result.

“I am a man, and even I am frequently scared by the fact that it is a very restricted boys club,” Saurabh explains. “It’s tiring for me personally since the tone of the argument is perpetually one of get-rich-quick schemes, and you can feel truly excluded,” Akshay, 25, says.

There is considerable debate over whether stocks and cryptocurrency are, at their core, simple to grasp. For others, they are straightforward principles couched in extremely thick jargon. For others, this complex language indicates their incomprehensibility. “Speculative financial innovations such as this gain a great deal of their cultural clout from their impenetrability. A precise definition is typically indicative of a well-regulated instrument,” Tressie McMillan Cottom writes for The New York Times.

Thus, the vocabulary is the kingdom’s keys. For women, the reason it is difficult to understand is not due to a lack of effort, but because it is inaccessible by default — thus making it an inner code-speak that excludes anyone with a tenuous relationship with money to begin with. “Whenever language technologies that impede involvement – finances, science, and markets – [develop], it becomes problematic because they have a long-term effect on humans. While the stock market may assist women in saving, [sometimes] you are not socialized to manage money…” According to Bhattacharya.

However, women’s mistrust should not be overlooked. Many people have an instinctive belief that it is possible to live without investing in new financial markets — and occasionally, this belief is justified. “I had an incident when one of my friends offered to pay for my artwork in cryptocurrency… When I rejected, they assumed it was because I didn’t understand and not because I had legitimate worries,” Aparna, 22, explains.

“This individual, who is a guy, ultimately lost a substantial amount of money.”

Finance culture, then, can tell us something about gender relations in the post-liberalization world today — they appear to have been mended through increased financial mobility, but manufactured financial exclusion acts as an additional layer of disempowerment to offset these achievements.

The libertarian philosophy – or the concept of unrestricted exchanges without government intervention – that underpins technology such as bitcoin and even stocks makes them appear to be an equitable medium of exchange. However, the gendered aspect of risk-taking and money limits any discussion of them without a thorough knowledge. As a result, we have schoolboys who buy in stocks and become millionaires, while mature women avoid it as it is “too difficult.”

Thus, finance capitalism appears to guarantee simply equal opportunity in the game. However, it is difficult to criticize not only the access to opportunity that it provides, but also the game’s rules, without speaking in the language of power. This language spreads informally, the polar opposite of the whisper network that frequently protects marginalized people from harm — here, whispers are passed along only to those who are in on it.

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