Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Equal Pay Requires Specific Strategies




An occasion marked perfunctorily, but rarely beyond it by much of the media, yesterday was Equal Pay Day. The day was so named to underscore how far into the calendar year it takes women to equal their male colleagues regarding income, which is well over four months. Even when mentioned at all, few networks felt it necessary to spell out precisely how this inequality manifests itself, nor wished to show the persistent adversity faced by women who challenge established ways. That would have required in-depth analysis and a panel of talking heads, which may have shed some light on the topic, though not necessarily. Accordingly, it is a bit of an understatement to reduce the challenges that face women by referring to one, singular glass ceiling. In reality, there are many glass ceilings. Some of them are higher than others, and each of them has to be shattered in different ways. Every industry has its own standards and historical gender makeup, and so strategies to equalize income between men and women will need to reflect this.

Listen to the lives and stories of women, and one can accumulate a wealth of anecdotal evidence to prove the discrepancy. Some state that the pay gap is mythological, little more than propaganda, but I have encountered too much proof from those with whom I have spoken to believe that. Ann Friedman, Executive Editor of GOOD magazine, spells out the numerous pitfalls that make for treacherous going for women, especially those who only aspire to make what they are worth. It is an article as enlightening as it is completely disheartening and discouraging.

Noticeably absent, however, from anyone's synopsis of the problem are any attempts at proposing a solution. By now, the problem has something of a name, though we may differ slightly as to what to call it. Sexism is an element that cannot be denied, certainly. Privilege may be an even larger piece. Let it be known that I've never been a fan of quotas or mandatory hires, for any reason, simply because they tend to be polarizing and only invite resentment. But it seems to me, to my own eyes, that the process of inclusion begins when men who have never before considered the notable contribution of women to the workplace sing a different tune. This requires revising many preconceived assumptions.

Don't get me wrong. I've noticed the subtle flourishes underway at this time. Even at the center of all that is ruggedly and unapologetically masculine, that being sports journalism, changes have been made. ESPN, for example, has made more of an effort to incorporate women into its broadcast and highlight analysis. Commentators who have made blatantly sexist comments have been swiftly fired. And at other networks, women have at last made their way from sideline reporter/eye candy to the broadcast booth during men's sports. For a long time, this was a right granted only to women who covered exclusively women's sports. I myself noted an ABC broadcast last fall of a college football game between the University of Alabama and Duke, wherein a female broadcaster was prominently featured. This would have been unheard of not long ago. Indeed, it was the first time ever for the Crimson Tide that the booth had not been all-male, though when it was noted in print form, not much in the way of celebration or conviction was heard.

Predictably, the same tired comments followed afterward. Many Alabama fans were dismissive, if not incredibly hostile to her presence. I admit that the experience was different than what I was used to, but neither did I think she had no right to be there. What I myself observed afterward were the same remarks routinely levied at female police officers. "Not tough enough." "Not knowledgeable enough of a man's world." "Has no right to be there." Know also that I am not picking on my favorite team and home state. One would and could easily find these objectionable opinions across the country. I have also heard them inside gyms, on public transportation, and at restaurants.

For a long time, the discussion of how to assist marginalized people or groups has bogged down around the question of primary responsibility. For example, should men take an active role in helping women achieve equality in pay, or should this be the responsibility of women alone? I myself am inclined to believe that without the support of male allies, any movement intended to bring about gender equality may well never get off the ground. My personal belief is that male allies should begin the process, but should then step aside once it is healthily underway. The Civil Rights Movement, if you'll pardon the comparison, did have significant white support behind it, though it is notable that those out in front were African-American. I'm sure that there are others who may disagree with me, and I welcome their perspectives. It is by putting our heads together that we can find a way to reach the ends we seek.

The world in which we live often reminds me of a family, though it at times is a dysfunctional one. As I write this, I am reminded of similar remarks Hillary Clinton made about the Democratic Party in 2008 after conceding the race. For as many words of disgust and disappointment I hear, few ever say that they're leaving, never to return. I'm afraid that we're stuck with us, friends. We're stuck with us, regardless of how we identity or with whom we regularly associate. This is true for me in my religious life, my activist life, my Feminist life, and every other instance where I routinely associate with different people who share a common interest with me. No one said the process would be easy, but it demands that we first table our petty grievances, regardless of who said what first and who started it. Once we get ourselves, each of us, in order, then we can move towards the ambitious goals we seek.

1 comment:

Kathryn Hannan (nee. Mackenzie) said...

Hi Kevin,
We have a similar event in the UK but at the end of the year instead, this year it will be the 4th of November - after which date (going by the full-time pay gap between men and women) it has been calculated that women will be working for free for the remainder of the year.

To be honest until I read your post I hadn't heard of Equal Pay Day, here or in America. It's funny reading your post so soon after starting my new job. I'm now cataloguing the records of the National Union of Women Teachers - a Union founded with the specific aim of achieving equal pay for women teachers. When this was achieved in 1961 the Union was wound up. I imagine the teaching profession to be one of the few where equal pay actually does exist. I know I'm going to learn so much in my new job as I don't come from a history background, and shamefully don't have much knowledge of my own of women's history, but I'm looking forward to learning!