April 19, 2016
By: Nijah Glenn
Happy Equal Pay Day (Okay, so maybe it was on April 12th, my apologies)! Actually, it would be happy if equal pay was actually equal pay and women weren’t still fighting to be taken seriously in their lines of work. Okay, before I become too insufferably political, let’s start from the beginning.
Since the United States has existed (or as long as the North American continent has had human inhabitants), women have formed part of the inhabitant demographic. Starting with European settlers, women in the 17th and 18th centuries had roles aligned with patriarchal values steeped in religion. Roles for women at this time followed a domestic role, tending to the house and children. While women did play a crucial role in the household, they were not recognized as their own “economically independent individuals” (thanks memorialhall.mass.edu). While that all sounds totally yikes inducing, hope was on the horizon. In the 19th century, life in the States began to change. While the cult of domesticity reigned supreme in the 19th century, women were beginning to show signs of resistance to these preconceived notions that women were suited for rearing children and domestic life, but were not entitled to a vote. The early 1900s brought the suffragette movement, calling for women to vote (though it is important to remember that women of color were left out of this conversation). The rest of the 20th century brought the whirlwinds of the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for farm labour unions, women’s liberation, passing the Equal Rights Act of 1972, and Title IX (to name a few) which brought new freedoms for women in the United States quickly and en masse. With these changes, women could now vote, had a legal right to abortion, were able to access a fair and equal education at nearly every American university, and had access into fields which were exclusively/ nearly all male. But 44 years after the ERA was passed, how much progress have we actually made as a nation so that women can be financially independent?
While the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 sought to reduce the gap in payment between men and women, women still make an average of 79¢ on the dollar. On average, the pay gap costs a woman $10762 a year. Given that women in 1964 made an average of 59¢, a 20¢ leap over 52 years is not a major improvement. As a girl, I find the pay gap disturbing. As a STEM girl, it is even more disturbing when looking at a breakdown by profession. Women in scientific careers such as computer programming, dentistry, medicine, and pharmacy make 72-84¢ of what their male peers make on the dollar on average. What does this tell us? How and why are women being paid less? Well, let’s start with what we know causes disparities in pay: race and age. On average, an African American woman makes 64¢ to her white counterpart’s 78¢. Though Asian American women make 90¢, Native American women and Latinas make 59¢ and 54¢ on average respectively. Age adds yet another complexity, as CNN reports that women between 55-64 earn 76% of what men are paid, while women 35-44 earn 81% of what men earn. These two intersections alone cause strife, and restrict the amount that a woman will earn on average. However, I can imagine that factors such as sexuality and genderfluidity/ rejection of the prescribed gender binary also play a role in how little a woman/ individual perceived as one earns. And it isn’t exactly a secret that in fields with more men dominating them (such as computer programming), women are paid less because there isn’t enough support to mobilize around a growing minority.* Add the belief in women’s incompetency to “men’s work” or the mastery of what is considered “women’s work” to the mix, and there’s a recipe for disaster. With such factors in mind, can we even call it Equal Pay Day?
While surely it is a step in the right direction, the gender wage gap has many nuances that must be fleshed out in order to work towards equal pay for all. Women, no matter where they fall in terms of race, education, sexuality, status of gender, or line of work deserve equal pay. Would you want your dentist to only perform 79% of your filling? Or for the radiologist reading your scan to only read the 81% she’ll be paid for due to her age (excluding her race)? I think not.
* fun fact: most computer programmers were women until the 1980s when the field sought men out. In fact, the person to write the first code for a computational machine was Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Oh, and the code for the Apollo missions? Written by Margaret Hamilton!