Patricia Arquette made a memorable acceptance speech at the Academy Awards this year, leveraging her Best Supporting Actress win as a platform to say,
“It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all.”
The Wage Gap is a real issue, but for more reasons than $0.78.
Am I glad she brought attention to an important issue? Of course. However, I would have been more glad had she not omitted a lot of important data, and a lot of actual people.
It’s usually at this point in the story that anti-feminists and other critics of the “alleged” wage gap like to pipe in. A lot of what they say has some merit, that this 78% statistic doesn’t take into account things like industry or education or experience:
“Women choose jobs that pay less!”
“Women work fewer hours than men to take care of their kids!”
“Companies pay women less because they might take maternity leave!”
On a surface level, these all seem like logical ways to explain away the “myth” of the wage gap, until you start to ask basic questions like “Why?”
Why don’t those jobs pay more? Why are traditionally female professions undervalued? Why are women more likely to be passed over for promotions? Why can’t men take equal responsibility for their children? Why are companies assuming all women want children? Or that all women can have children? Why don’t companies realize that some men can have children? Why don’t men demand paternity leave?
Statements like this that are used to “debunk” the wage gap can be boiled down to sexism and socially ingrained misogyny, and intrinsically fail at their goal of disproving the existence of a wage gap.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has been at the forefront of the fight for wage equity since 1913, and is as interested in the reasons behind the pay gap as they are eradicating it. In 2012 they published a report that looked at male and female workers one year out of college. The subjects were virtually equal in age, education, and family responsibilities, and the AAUW controlled for factors known to affect earnings, such as college major, occupation, and hours worked.
Even in those nearly identical scenarios, the AAUW still found an inexplicable 7 percent gender pay gap which only increased with age, affecting both women’s take-home pay and retirement accounts.
The average wage gap in the United States is $10,876, ranging from $5,850 in Washington, D.C. to an astounding $16,453 in Louisiana. Across the country, white women are making about $0.78 to every $1.00 a white man is making. But as I’ve already said, that’s not the only number I’m concerned with because the average white woman is still making a considerable amount more than the average Latina, American Indian, Pacific Islander, or Black woman.
Everyone’s heard about the 78%. How many of these other numbers have you heard?
I commend Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for starting a conversation, but it’s a conversation that needs to change. She told reporters backstage:
“It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all of the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
I mean…are there not gay women and women of color? If “we’ve fought for” them, as she says, the fight must be over and won. But is it really? Is the fight over for the women of color and trans-women that are killed simply for existing? Is the fight over for the non-white women making far less than white women regardless of their experience or education?
Feminism is not, and never has been, white women and white women alone. Despite the wage gap still favoring white women over women of color, white women remain the largest recipient group of affirmative action, and most people think pay inequity is a difference of $0.22.
Here is a woman being recognized with the highest honor in her craft, standing up at an Awards ceremony where most people of color in the room were snubbed (despite their equally impressive achievements), and she’s asking them to put aside their very real plight in order to help her.
This is why feminism needs to be intersectional (which will be a topic for another Friday), and exactly why the Wage Gap Issue can no longer revolve around 78%.
Please leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!
The Gender Wage Gap is A Chasm For Women Of Color, In One Chart (thinkprogress.org, 2014)
The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (aauw.org, 2013)
By the Numbers: A Look at the Gender Pay Gap (aauw.org, 2014)