The Wage Gap: Beyond the Numbers

I’ve recently had a conversation with someone about the wage gap. Everyone is up in arms about women making but a percentage of what men make. The idea of women making 78 cents out of every dollar that men makes is upsetting, naturally. But what my interlocutor argued to me was that women tend to work part-time more and work lower skilled jobs. So considering the wage gap doesn’t account for either of those factors, it is rendered invalid. He argued that it was up to women to decide to take on more professional roles in the workplace, demand raises, etc.

While it’s true that the wage gap statistic doesn’t acknowledge those factors, it definitely does not render it invalid. Professionalism in the workplace revolves around the perspective of a man. A class I’m taking defines this as androcentrism. This means that because men got there first, the industry naturally caters to them. While it is believed that the wage gap goes away with increased education, stats show that while the gap narrows, it is still present. We also need to be able to acknowledge institutions that socialize women into certain positions. Women may chose to work lower skilled jobs than men, but that is because they have been raised with the idea of men holding professional positions. We all know that the way male babies and children are treated is different than the way female babies and children are.

While I was at the rock climbing gym the other day, little kids ran around chasing after each other. This one little girl, looking down at her feet as she ran, stopped in her tracks in front of my friend and jumped– flinching at his presence. We giggled as she quickly ran around him to follow the pack. I couldn’t help but think that I have never seen a little boy react in such a manner. Granted, my view is subjective and nonscientific, but when a little boy stops in the midst of his running, he does not flinch at the presence of an adult. He stops, looks up, and continues on. So even in young children, I’ve seen how gender norms have been engrained in little boys to be gutsy and adventurous, and little girls to be more delicate and fearful. Sure, it’s cute that she flinched now, but it’s not so cute when she feels the need to carry around pepper spray a young adult for fear that she might need to defend herself from threatening people in the world. Women are raised with a different perspective of walking around at night, with a different perspective of what their physical and psychological abilities are. While little girls aren’t taught that they cannot be president explicitly, socially they are. There are statistics that show that when children are about five years old, an equal number of both boys and girls wish to be president. At age fifteen, a large gap develops, with more boys wishing to be president than girls.

So if anyone tries to argue with you the way I was argued with, fighting the validity of the wage gap numbers, start to talk beyond the numbers, and the root causes of them. The fact that the stat doesn’t cover it all, does NOT mean that there isn’t a very real problem with the way men and women work and earn money in this society.