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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Minding the pay gap

    The blogosphere was rocked Friday by the actions of some four dozen intrepid warriors who, fed up with women’s salaries still lagging behind those of their male counterparts, did the unthinkable: They raised awareness.

    Well, some of them did, anyway – the first blog I visited, “”New Wave Grrrl,”” contained a post from last Monday imploring others to blog for fair pay and nothing thereafter.

    The National Women’s Law Center declared April 18 “”Blog for Fair Pay Day,”” where as many feminist bloggers as possible were to “”raise (their voices) in support of equal pay for women,”” according to the group’s Web site. But the fact that they chose blogging – the epitome of couch potato activism – as their means of taking action Friday suggests that they’re not altogether too upset about the pay gap. What will happen if someone sees a blog post who didn’t already know that women are paid an average of 77 cents for every dollar a man makes? Well, now they’ll know. That’s about it. And, unlike the suffragists of about a century ago, nobody’s going to be carted off to jail for blogging about fair pay. It’s risk-free and, frankly, point-free as well.

    Perhaps it’s just as well – if your response to the pay gap is to cast a complaint into the vast sea of white noise that is the Internet, then you probably aren’t suffering as much as you think. The same goes for “”raising awareness”” in general. As has been humorously pointed out by the blog “”Stuff White People Like”” (see posts 18 and 62), it’s something privileged folks – those who usually aren’t affected by whatever it is they’re making others aware of – like to do because it requires minimal effort, can’t really fail and makes you feel like you’re solving a problem, when really you’re passing the responsibility for solving it onto somebody else.

    It’s a shame, because the pay gap is certainly real, significant and not as malicious as you might think after having your awareness raised.

    In the 19th century, working-class women in industrial societies often earned less than their male co-workers not because they were considered less valuable than men, but because it was assumed that they were supported by husbands and were just working for some spending money – really, they were usually single or trying desperately to supplement their husbands’ paltry wages. It was also believed that women were naturally suited to the tasks they performed in factories, and therefore didn’t deserve as much money as men who had to learn new skills to perform their jobs.

    Ignorant, no? Thankfully, society has wised up a little bit since then. Dual-income households are par for the course and women are no longer stuck in traditionally “”female”” jobs because of a bunch of essentialist bunk. Yet, the pay gap persists.

    It all comes down to socialization. Women who were taught as little girls to be “”nice”” – to avoid, under all circumstances, being considered bitchy – might avoid negotiating for higher salaries when their male counterparts wouldn’t hesitate to do so. And just as girls are still encouraged to play with Easy-Bake Ovens while boys have their Tonka trucks (even though we’re quite proud of the fact that we’d never force them to) so do women often choose traditional occupations despite having many more options than in the past. We may think our society is free from the gender roles and prejudice of the 19th century, but we are still pulled along by the subtle, subconscious forces of socialization.

    Legislation, like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act mentioned on the NWLC Web site, won’t fix the underlying problems. It could be federally mandated that women and men be paid exactly the same amount of money for the same work, but that won’t change the fact that women often wind up in low-paying, traditionally female occupations because that’s what is expected of them – which means that, on average, women will still earn less than men because they’re doing different work.

    The real problem is not that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn; the problem is that we continue to subliminally succumb to the gender stereotypes with which we have been bombarded since birth. The solution, then, is to live without regard to traditional gender roles – to study what we want in college, to choose careers which interest us, to negotiate for decent wages without regard to whether it’s “”normal”” for a man or woman to do it. If these roles are done away with, the entire basis for the pay gap will be too.

    Alyson Hill is a senior majoring in classics, German studies and history. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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