I often tell people that I was born a feminist. There was no alternative route for me; my internal sense of power and self-worth has never allowed me to believe that success and gender are linked. I vividly remember learning the term “wage gap” in the fifth grade and feeling certain that I just wasn’t understanding the concept properly. “You’re telling me,” I thought to myself, “that a man and a woman can work at the same company and do the same job, but he will make more money because he’s a he? This can’t be true.”
That night, while doing my homework, I asked my dad about it.
“Dad,” I said, “did you know that women and men don’t get paid the same when they do the same work?”
“Yes,” he told me, in that very patient and wise fatherly tone. “I’ve heard that.”
This wasn’t the response I was expecting. Why would adults permit this obvious form of injustice to continue? They were supposed to know how to handle these things! I mean, my school had a rule about handing out birthday invitations: The whole class had to be invited because fairness and inclusivity were the cornerstone of a positive environment. How was there not a “birthday invitation” policy about equal pay? Those work environments could not possibly have been positive.
Still taken aback, and slightly suspicious of this new information, I asked the only thing I could think of. “Does Mom know about this?” Surely she didn’t. My mom would have called someone and fixed it. Any mom would have. That’s a classic mom M.O.
My dad laughed. “Yes,” he told me. “Your mom is aware of it, too.”
I sat at the kitchen counter, quietly processing. Suddenly, I brightened. I had found an exception!
“But not all women? Like Mia Hamm. She’s the best in the world, just like David Beckham. So they would make the same, right?” My soccer team was killing it this year, so this was the obvious parallel to draw.
“That would make sense, wouldn’t it? But, no, David Beckham probably makes a considerable amount more than Mia Hamm does.”
Well, I was stumped. If my dad knew, and my mom couldn’t make someone fix it, and Mia Hamm had worked her whole life to become a legend and still made less than her male counterpart, then what hope was there for any of us girls? But instead of becoming defeated by that idea, I got indignant, which is now my trademark when faced with any sort of adversity.
“Does that concern you?” my dad asked.
“No, it doesn’t,” I said, with my chin stuck out, ready for the apparent battle ahead. “Because when I grow up, I’m going to be SO GOOD at whatever I do that people would hire me whether I was a man, a woman, or a toad!” That’s right, world. A toad. Bring it on.
Fast forward a few years, and I enroll in a college course titled ‘Women in American History.’ We spent a semester discussing the evolution of womanhood in this country, covering the rights to property, divorce, voting, and finally, the wage gap. Again, I was disappointed. This archaic practice, though guarded against, had prevailed. Fortunately, this time I was in a position to gather facts and critically consider them.
What I know now is that the wage gap is far more nuanced than the way it’s depicted on Equal Pay Day, either by those of the right or the left. Ivy League researchers have dedicated their lives to understanding its intricacies, its fluctuations over time, and its impact on people of differing income brackets. It can’t be calculated within concrete, pre-existing margins of $.22 and $.78, and as any economist will tell you, this is not exactly an apples-to-apples issue. Still, it’s an issue all the same.
For wage gap deniers, let me say this:
- You are correct, there are laws set in place that were designed to bar against wage discrimination in the workplace. Notably, the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This has not, however, solved the problem in its entirety.
- “Why wouldn’t companies solely hire women, if they could pay them less?” That’s a natural question to ask, but try to consider its inverse, too. “Do companies only hire women because they can pay them less?” Saving money and leaving more left over to pad the salaries of top C.E.O.s, the vast majority of whom are male.
- Simply discrediting any woman who speaks up about being paid less at a job than a male employee really doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It happens. Simmer down, you didn’t sign the paycheck or create the legislation and no one’s mad at you. We’re just saying “Hey, yep, that happened to me. It wasn’t cool, what can we do about it?”
- If there truly are no existing discriminatory efforts being made against women in America, fiscally or otherwise, then what’s the harm of a Constitutional amendment? Help us ratify the ERA, if only so we don’t have this debate on April 4th of next year, and the year after that, and the year after that…
For further information, try these resources. For further progress, try these resources, and then find opportunities to discuss them like the intelligent, cultured human being you are.
Here in America, we value our intense work ethic, we brag about how little sleep we need to manage our 60+ hour/week jobs, and we spend an absurd amount of money on coffee. All these traits can be applied to males and females alike; no matter our gender, we’re about the hustle and the pursuit of the American dream. And while we should never forget the old adage “Money can’t buy happiness,” it’s important to acknowledge what money does offer. A sense of security, the ability to pursue our passions, and the opportunity to provide for others. I can’t help but wonder, how much more could we all become if the playing field were leveled?
For this week’s images, I asked Kayla to help me portray that childhood trait: My unshakable confidence and security in my sense of self. Isn’t she talented?