Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Misogyny of Wage Gaps

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, which was passed by the late President Kennedy on June 10, 1963. Since then, we've come a long way, but persistent and blatant wage gaps continue to be an issue. I think that my fellow Impersonators, Lindsay and Amelia, have covered the basics far more eloquently than I am capable of without sounding repetitive.

Regardless, wage gaps are a part of a much larger phenomenon than simple misogyny in the workplace. Female work, even if it is the same work that a male can and does do, is consistently undervalued. If a woman does a man's work, she more likely to be underpaid and less likely to be promoted. If a woman does a woman's job—housekeeping, mothering, teaching—she is more likely to see exponential wage gaps, or no monetary compensation at all.

Take any traditionally female-dominated field and it is easy to see how much more undervalued and underpaid the work is compared to traditionally masculine fields. Even underpaid and overworked masculine careers like police officers and firefighters garner more respect than a maid, a nanny, or an elementary school teacher.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the case of the stay-at-home mother. I have nothing for respect for women, such as my mother, who choose to devote all of their waking hours to their children. Regardless, women in America often have to choose between a career and a family. Women that choose to stay home and raise children, arguably the most important job a person can do, labor unpaid to the tune of $117,000 per year. My parents had an ugly divorce when I was fairly young, and one of my father's complaints was that my mother used him as a "free meal ticket". My mother, under appreciated and overworked, labored day and night to raise me and my brother in the manner in which she felt was appropriate. How many other mothers are demeaned for their work? How many others are under-appreciated? Mothers are the backbone of our society, and yet, much scorn is heaped upon the woman who dares to stay home, raise the children and maintain the household, and occasionally shop or do things for herself.

For those that choose to work and have children, or are forced to as single parents or because of financial difficulties, the stereotypical "women's work", such as housekeeping and childcare, still falls disproportionately on our shoulders. This phenomenon was dubbed the "second shift" by Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Second Shift and The Time Bind, where she used peer-reviewed research to show that in two-career couples, men and women usually work equal hours but women still do a disproportional amount of housework.

Imagine the amount of work woman do to uphold this society that goes unappreciated, unpaid, or underpaid. A single mother chasing after her ex-husband for child support is regarded as greedy and should stay out of his wallet (another gem parroted by my father, even today). A single father that works and raises his children by himself is a saint, a real trooper. The double-standard is pervasive, especially when it couples with racism to form the myth of the welfare-queen: poor southern black women who have children for their own selfish gain.

I know that no amount of legislation such as the Fair Pay Act will ever amount to true fair pay unless the persistent devaluing of "women's work" utterly ceases. Our struggle to get paid the same amount for the same work is part of a larger struggle for women everywhere to do what needs doing—whether that is behind a desk, at the stove or both—and be able to support ourselves and our families.

Remember that when we discuss Fair Pay, we are really addressing the systematic and pervasive devaluation of anything a woman chooses to do for the simple fact that she is not a man.

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