I can easily see how the idea of a “wage gap” developed.
Imagine a society where the men face higher social expectations to be rich and successful, whilst the women are encouraged to raise families. As a result, the men work longer hours, and fight for the top jobs. The women, on the other hand, take time off work to have and take care of their children.
If we look at statistics for the society, we can see that two-thirds of the wages are taken home by men. Let’s say this has absolutely nothing to do with discrimination. The men and the women simply make different choices about what they want from life.
Unfortunately, statistics can confuse people. The “men make two-thirds of our money” report is re-published from a different angle, showing the average amount earnt. The average man, the new report says, earns twice as much as the average woman.
Suddenly, this says something very different. It looks like we are talking about individuals, not a general average. It sounds like we are saying that every individual man is paid more than every individual woman. It sounds like we are saying that men are being paid more for the same job, just for being men. It seems like there is a great deal of anti-woman discrimination in this society.
This is not so. Many individual women, who make the same career choices as the ambitious men, will make just as much money as they do. The report only says that most women do not make these choices. It says absolutely nothing about how women are treated in these top jobs, it only reports that fewer women are interested in them.
Is this still a problem? It might be, if our social stereotypes are influencing women to choose family over career. Then again, the same stereotypes make men choose career over family, so why aren’t we seeing that as an issue? The significant statistical difference shows the prevalence of gender roles, but it shows that these gender roles are influencing men as well as woman.
Regardless, it isn’t particularly feminist to oppose these women’s choices. We can’t say “no, that’s not how a woman should behave, you should be doing this instead.” That’s the opposite of what we should be doing. We just want to liberate women from social constraints. If they are free to pursue competitive careers, but choose not to, we can’t criticise that.
Besides, women are not even suffering as a result! Though men bring home 70% of the money, 70% of the money is spent by women. Men work to earn it, but women get to spend it. Most adverts are targeted at women, and this side of the economy is centred around them. Discrimination? If anything, it seems like this is a system which favours women.
The idea of the wage gap makes this worse. Because some people don’t understand how averages work, such as in the above image (individual women with degrees aren’t being paid less, women with degrees in general are just choosing different or fewer jobs), we have the idea that women aren’t being paid enough.
Employers notice that there aren’t many women in leading positions, and therefore create schemes to fast-track their female employees. Systems of positive discrimination are put into place. Female applicants have a dramatically better chance of getting a job, and of furthering that career. This is because the firms have seen the female minority and assumed it is because of discrimination which needs to be counter-balanced. They have failed to consider the alternative explanation, that fewer women apply for these positions. Their attempts to level the playing field serve only to tip it in the women’s favour, and so the few women who do make these career choices are privileged over the men.
There is no opposite movement to correct the statistics about fewer men spending time at home, or about women getting to spend most of the money, and so these realms also continue favouring women. They now have the advantage across the board. People put a lot of effort into telling women it’s okay to work, but none into telling men it’s okay not to work. The gender roles had affected both men and women, but only women are freed.
Now, the society I’ve just described is fictional. In our society, there probably is some discrimination. However, it is nowhere near as severe a problem as feminism claims, because these other explanations are also having an effect. The statistics in the real world are also less extreme.
In a world without any employer discrimination, the “wage gap” and “glass ceiling” would still exist, simply because of the career choices people make. Hence, the existence of these statistical quirks does not prove discrimination. Women do not need benefits to counteract this “disadvantage”. The “disadvantage” only seems to exist because we don’t understand the difference between general statistics and individual cases.
In a world where women get given money without having to earn it, and therefore don’t bother working as hard for a top career, we’d still conclude that it is women who need further preferential treatment to get over their oppression.
Let’s talk about our world.
In our world, the wage gap is still very clearly a result of personal preferences. There are many, many sources which support this finding. The argument is made very well in this essay, with yet more citations to support it. The wage gap and glass ceiling are both debunked, along with other misleading statistics, in this open response. On top of this straight-forward explanation, the same author goes on to show that an enforced wage gap probably isn’t even possible. If you’re not in the mood for reading, here is a video which makes many of the same points.
If you think about it, it becomes rather obvious. Sadly, people don’t like to think. Lobbyists have been misunderstanding the statistics for years, and any politician or employer who attempts to resist them is immediately branded a misogynistic dinosaur. Most don’t resist, and so there are programs which explicitly set out to benefit women over men. This is but one example.
It’s a beautiful irony. On an individual level, there didn’t used to exist institutional wage discrimination. Now, thanks to feminist lobbying, there does. They have invented a non-existent problem, and then created the exact same problem in reverse. On top of that, the rhetoric they’ve used means that nobody can work to solve the problem without being attacked by the government, the media, and the general public.
Go on, tell me women have no privilege.
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