My Equal Pay Day
Yesterday (April 4) was Equal Pay Day – a day meant to symbolize (as is claimed) that by for the first three months of the year women work without getting paid for work, versus men who do. For those who use this day for a call to action, it is yet another way to promote the wage gap propaganda of a “77 cents to a dollar” gap in pay between women and men.
Personally, I find making this day about gender to be disingenuous. By emphasizing gender, it does not focus on different kinds of work and different kinds of pay. Instead, it makes identity politics the issue, which is so damn simplistic and unaware. And even as I know quite well that pay gaps exist, and will probably always exist, especially for those who choose human services work over other work, or who give up their more ambitious pursuits to instead care for others, I also know that it is a choice. I also know that it is not only women who make that choice. Indeed, many men – myself included – have sacrificed better careers, good promotions, and greater pay for investing ourselves more emotionally to helping others and caring for family.
As one of those males, I sacrificed when my spouse wanted to climb the corporate ladder. I supported her advancement, turning down a full-time college job in California. And most of my investment of time and energy got taken up with raising our son, keeping house, and taking care of bills. As stay-home dad, I modeled for my son the care necessary to get a child through pre-school and into junior high school before returning to full-time work. I refer to this as a “sacrifice” because it did actually weaken my work history in terms of going back out in the economy. Working part-time jobs along the way as I was raising my son just didn’t pay much, nor did they build up my retirement (or social security), nor did they read well on my resume when I finally began looking for a full-time job again. Explaining to employers that I was a stay-home dad for eight years sounded odd to corporate officiers, who saw men as one-track career types.
Although it is easy for me to understand the importance given to the wage gap for parents who make sacrifices, it is just impossible for me to make it primarily a gender issue. For to be fair, I have always insisted that my choice for staying home was mine, not society’s – as I would assume it is for many women. The exchange for me was worth it as well, creating a space for my son and me to bond in ways that many fathers and sons envy, teaching through the experience in stay-home parenting that there is as much or more payoff with human connection and community than any job could give.
Inherent Problems with Pay Gap Claim
So it is not so strange that I understand personally the various problems with the pay gap figure – from the types of work (low-risk versus high-risk) people cluster around to how much time parents take off from work for child care or birth (see How the Gender Gap Works). It just so happens that for low-risk work and child care, most is done by women. Still, it is worth reading Harvard professor Claudia Goldin on the gender pay differences; her research shows what common sense might – there’s a lot more to the story than just pay. There are questions of full time vs part time work, hours worked overall, etc. And Goldin demonstrates that the average 77% earned by women versus men is just not accurate when broken down to different occupational sectors.
Nonetheless, the differences in average pay between what I will call caretakers and worktakers is significant – more in the kind of work than in earnings from work. That is, caretakers have more flexibility, emotional connection, and relationship potential with others than do worktakers, who have more rigidity, less emotional connection, and risk-taking potential in the world. In the caretaker versus worktaker economy, there will probably always be less money for caretakers and sadly much less love for the worktakers. It’s a cruel tradeoff.
But Pay Gap Feminism Continues – Why?
And yet the pay gap average continues to be used to mobilize women and equal rights activists to political action. This gender fairness appeal for wages went into overdrive during the 1980s, the decade when male-dominated unions were broken up and replaced by civil rights corporatism, whose democratic mission it was to increase female and minority hiring. As a result, corporations profited by embracing diversity over the more adversarial (and expensive) male-dominated labor unions. And so as the workplace became more diverse, wages and salaries declined overall.
This overall decline in pay is important since equal pay would have had more consensus and produced better solutions had there been coalitions built between civil rights activists and unions. But instead, in the 1970s and 80s, these groups were turned into opponents. And corporations seized on the call for diversity in the workplace to accelerate the break-up of unions. And so a new corporate culture was born – making unions look boorish and misogynistic. Corporate culture also brought the myth that anyone could get rich – just cut taxes, kill unions, and diversify the workplace. The American labor movement weakened under the new politics of neoliberalism (capitalistic civil rights). And although corporations shifted to more diversity, they would eventually become more high-tech by the 1990s, throwing into the economic neoliberal machine a monkey wrench. Thousands of tech-savvy males enter the new economy, but soon enough they too became the newest targets for those chasing wage equality. And thus began a new feminist assault on the high-tech sector, with daily demands for girl-only STEM funding.