This past Tuesday was national Equal Pay Day: a day that brings awareness to the differences in pay between men and women, where a woman earns approximately 78 cents to every man’s dollar. While I love that we have an entire day devoted to pay equity, I’m still a little confused on why we need to have one. Didn’t JFK sign the Equal Pay Act over 50 years ago? Still women are earning about 22 cents less than men, and that isn’t accounting for the race wage gap, which can increase the disparity to over 40 cents. While 22 cents may not seem like a lot, in the big picture that means women earn over 11 thousand dollars less than men every year, and that is problem.
My concern is not only with the disparity in pay but also the fact that I have heard more anger on campus about a bake sale promoting Equal Pay Day than anger about women making thousands dollars less a year than men. As I have been promoting the issue on campus this past week I have gotten several responses from students saying that if women want more money they should just work harder, but the idea that women do not work as hard as men is outdated, wrong, and at the very core: misogynistic.
There are two main reasons for the gender wage gap. The first is that men simply have higher paying jobs. While it is easy for some to assume this is simply because men are harder workers, this just isn’t the case. From the start, women are typically offered less money when they start a job, putting them at an immediate disadvantage. Furthermore, many women do not ask for raises or promotions because they are conditioned to think that they do not deserve them. When a man asks for a raise or promotion he is seen as ambitious or confident, whereas a woman asking for a raise or promotion is seen as pushy and aggressive. This all can be traced back to gender roles that make up the core of our patriarchal culture.
Even popular culture and media plays a part in this: the pushy female boss is a common stereotype in sitcoms across networks. The idea that women who know what they are worth and demand that to be expressed in their paycheck are pushy is an idea that is holding women back socially, emotionally, and economically.
The second main reason for the gender wage gap is that even when women have jobs in the same positions or industries as male peers they are still paid less. Only 3 percent of the CEOs of the top 500 American companies are women, and even they are being paid less than their peers. Recently women like Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, have been making headlines as they rightfully call attention to the fact that they make less than their male predecessors. In the case of Abramson, she claims she was even making less than a man who worked under her. Women like Abramson across the country are no longer putting up with being valued less because of their gender: a trend I hope to see continue to every industry.
While this year’s Equal Pay Day has passed, don’t forget to keep in mind that wage inequality is still affecting women everywhere. Check your privilege and check the facts because this doesn’t get better until we all insist it does.