Sexism, the wage gap, and the “baby excuse”

Recently I’ve been finding that Facebook has turned into an excellent way to keep politicized.

Until recently, I was freely and basically passively posting feminist related articles, with a nice circle of feminist-friendly friends, who would give my feminist articles thumbs up and make nice feministy responses. However, lately when I post these feminist related articles, I’ve been finding a lot of responses that have re-sparked my political edge. Comments that justify, explain, or sympathize with the problem that to me is so obvious. SO – I’ve decided to keep track of the responses I get to various articles, and use my blog as an opportunity to write an articulate explanation of why I believe what I believe. It’s easier than getting into stupid debates on facebook that turn people you haven’t seen since grade 7 into your mortal enemies. Starting today.

So today I posted an info graphic I found on Feministing about the gendered wage gap.

Here it is:

This led to the Facebook question: isn’t this because women have children? Well that’s a common response and I don’t hold it against anyone who may have also wondered that, but it reflects deeply held sexist beliefs that are bad for women and contribute to inequality. Here are my thoughts on why the “baby excuse” is sexist, and doesn’t explain away the fact that this info graphic is representing a sexist reality.

People have been blaming women for the wage gap ever since there was a wage gap. the reality is that there is a lot more going on here than just the fact that women are “choosing to take time off work” and therefore “sacrificing their job opportunities”. A friend posted this study, which found that women who don’t have children earn equal wages to men, as support for the earlier claim. It’s interesting to note that in this study there was no notice of any income change in men with children, although women with children seem to be headed down the poverty track. In fact, it says “The last three men nominated to the Supreme Court have all been married and, among them, have seven children. The last three women — Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Harriet Miers (who withdrew) — have all been single and without children.” Men are never told they have to choose between work and a family, whereas women are. That in itself is sexist. The only reason men with families don’t take dents in their paycheque is that they depend on women to do domestic work for them.

This is a perfect example of the way gendered constructions and norms hurt women. It is a reflection of a sexist society, not a justification for a sexist reality. Women getting paid less because they carry the burden of childrearing while men face no barriers to balancing work and family is a reflection of a deeply sexist problem, it doesn’t explain away sexism. Women are forced to work double jobs, while men continue to profit from the fact that childbearing is a women’s domain. Also, please note women don’t get paid for caring for children, even while the kids dads make money off of their work by being freed up to stay in the office till midnight, or whatever. Domestic work is still labour!

Further, plenty of women don’t ever have children, yet still get typecasted as ‘mothers’ and don’t get the same opportunities as men. It is interesting that men are never questioned about their plans to have family, and yet women are presumed to be a riskier investment because of our (sometimes) reproductive potential. That being said, women shouldn’t have to chose between work and family. If we value children and reproduction in general, the labour system should be set up to make it easy for women to raise children and work, women shouldn’t be punished for raising children, they should be rewarded for it, seeing as how raising kids in a good family contributes to the social good and all. Also remember that the vast majority of single parents are women. So those women don’t get to choose between work and family. The big point here is that a major source of the problem and a solution to this clearly sexist reality, is that men need to play a bigger role in raising families. And that’s the double truth, ruth!It’s also important to note that women overwhelmingly represent underpaid workers in areas such as sales and service. Female dominated jobs are underpaid, and thats not because they are easier, its because people have realized they can get away with paying women less. The average wage of a janitor is much higher than the average wage of a “cleaning lady” for example. Whats the real difference there, other than gender? There are plenty of historical analyses of how these ‘gendered ghettos’  developed, one of them being that during the war when men were away from work, women were hired at lower wages. After the war, these companies realized that keeping women on in these positions was cheaper, but they didn’t want to prevent the men coming home from gaining prestigious professions. So instead of equalizing the workplace after the war, women were maintained in lower ranking roles such as secretaries, while men returned to other arenas at their higher, male, salaries. Secretaries weren’t always a female position, if so whitemaleamerica would never have come up with the title “Secretary of State”. Women inhabit underpaid professions because women are underpaid. Further, women are also underrepresented in unionized jobs, which are typically paid way higher, have more benefits and job security.

Basically, we could be doing WAY more to ensure equality in the workforce instead of penalizing women for their choices/circumstances. But that doesn’t happen, and that’s probably because to equalize wages would require men to make a little less. And who wants to make less money? Especially when that means also recognizing your privilege, denouncing it, and participating equally in all aspects of your life in order to make it easier for women to participate actively in the work place. To me the bottom line it that women make less on average in all the sectors represented in that info graphic than men do in the same field, working the same hours. And thats a reflection of a sexist society no matter how you slice it.

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  1. Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU!!!

    Seriously, every time I try to talk to people about the still existing wage gap, I get the same thing. I try to explain it, but they persist in their belief that the wage gap is a “non-existent issue” and feminists just need to shut up and be happy with it. That if there is a wage gap, it’s our fault anyway and if we’re getting paid less, it somehow must mean we’re doing less work.

    To assume that everyone is always paid equally, unless a woman takes time off to raise her child, would be to assume that every business, everywhere, always adheres perfectly to every last syllable of equal pay laws ever. It’s that way of putting on blinders, sticking fingers in your ears and saying, “EVERYTHING IS FINE!”

    No, it isn’t. Everything is not fine. Women are still being judged as “liabilities.” Even those of us who don’t have kids. To some businesses, a woman is a walking uterus, constantly having the potential to suck out money from them. The fact that a woman is considered a “liability” on the basis of her gender alone is incredibly sexist.

  2. Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree with some of what you say but you also have some big inaccuracies in your post.

    E.g., childless unmarried women make more money then men, and married women without children make about the same as men. It’s only when you factor in motherhood that the numbers skew so much towards men.

    Does this absolve the problem? No. But we need to acknowledge these facts and include in our discussion, and not try to make the problem out to be something it isn’t.

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