24 Jul Women: Why We Need to Address The Gender Pay Gap
It is Women’s Month in the year 2017. South Africa has been a democracy for 23 years. Everyone is now equal, right?
WRONG. Woman-identifying individuals have fought for almost all their rights: the right to vote, the right to be perceived as more than human baby-makers¹, the right to our own bodies, the right to he HEARD, to name but a few.
And now, women, who are still sporting fresh battle scars of being in a constant war with the patriarchy and male privilege, face a battle which is yet to be won: The Pay Gap.
Search engine giant Google has recently been accused of “extreme gender pay discrimination” (Levin, 2017). They are not the first and most certainly will not be the last corporation to be accused of paying male workers more than their female counterparts. Now, as much as we would like to place all the blame on the corporate sector (who undoubtedly play a large role in gender pay discrimination), there is a much larger force at play here, namely, the patriarchy. There are obviously many factors affecting an individual’s likelihood of employment such as class, race, physical appearance and able-bodiedness, but I shall mainly be focusing on the issue of gender, especially the patriarchal effect on the gender wage gap.
A friendly recap of the contemporary definition of the patriarchy: “control by men of a disproportionately large share of power” or “a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
Allow me to explain: as long as women earn less than men and are regarded as inferior to men, we will always live in a structurally violent society that strips women of their power. If women are always one step behind men financially, it may increase a woman’s dependency on men, perpetuating a cycle in which a woman must permanently depend on a man. However, before we jump to what the gender binary does we should first examine the hows and whys.
According to Harvard magazine (2016), many assume that gender pay discrimination occurs due to sexism by employers, or because women ‘typically’ lack wage negotiation skills. Claudia Goldin, a Harvard Economist, theorises the idea that the pay gap arises “not because men and women are paid differently for the same work, but because the labour market incentivizes them to work differently”. Essentially, men earn more than women in specific fields. As such, the gender pay gap is smaller in fields such as science but larger in other, less flexible fields such as business and law, which may limit a woman’s choices when deciding her career path.
Additionally, the wage gap is at its peak during a woman’s childbearing years and decreases over time, which means childbearing working women specifically are affected immensely. Moreover, when a woman decides to have a child, she is often expected to be the main child-carer. According to an article by Kliff (2017): “It seems that men in the legal profession who take on non-traditional gender roles (i.e. taking responsibility for child-care) pay a high price for that behaviour…If the workplace penalizes men more than women for taking breaks from work, then it could be the wiser financial decision for a mother to take on more care-giving activities — the decision that society overwhelmingly expects”. Essentially, men get paid more overall, but get paid less for time taken off. This perpetuates binary gender roles, and thus upholds the patriarchy, and the damage it causes. To add to that, under the patriarchy, women of colour earn significantly less than white women due to being doubly oppressed due to their race and their gender.
The Pew Research Centre surveyed households in which two parents are employed on who plays a larger part in managing the children of these households. A whopping 54% of women are in charge of managing their children in addition to being employed. Additionally, 54% of women fulfill the household chores and tasks (Kliff, 2017). This means the majority of women are still playing the typical ‘housewife’ role in addition to managing full-time employment, while men are able to focus freely on building their careers.
This is obviously highly problematic. It pushes the narrative that women are restricted to certain sectors of employment that fit in with their “womanly responsibilities of being a mother, wife and caregiver”. It tells women they are limited to certain fields only. They cannot have a high-earning job and a family. It tells them they cannot have it both ways, it is their duty to care for their family, and everything else is secondary. It stigmatises women who put their careers first and places men who do the same on a pedestal of success. The gender wage gap only shows the beginning of the issues of having a patriarchal society based on strict conventional gender roles. Systemic issues that result due to structural violence such as gender inequality will only begin to cease once issues of unequal pay are addressed.
¹ The author recognises that not all women are cisgender and/or capable of childbearing and seeks to challenge stereotypes relating to womanhood and motherhood.