By Adam Zimmerman of AAUW
Yes, you read that correctly.
A couple of weeks before my bar mitzvah, my parents and I went to our rabbi’s home to discuss the big day. One of the honors for the bar mitzvah boy is that members of his family can get called up to read certain prayers during the service, so we gave him our list of names. When the rabbi saw our list, he informed us that we had a problem: We had more women readers than our conservative temple would allow.
As a result, right in front of me, my mom and the rabbi got into an argument. She wanted him to accept our family list without changes, he wanted her to respect our temple’s traditions, and no one was budging. After a few minutes of this back-and-forth, my mom looked him square in the eye and said the following: “You will never understand, as a man, what it feels like to be told you can’t do something just because you’re a woman.”
Quite literally, those words changed my life. The more I thought about it, the more I looked around, the more I realized that women get the short end of the stick all too often. Perhaps the starkest example of this ongoing reality is the gender pay gap: For every dollar the average man earns, the average woman takes home only 77 cents. For women of color, African American women and Latinas, the gap is even wider. That’s obviously a problem for women. What’s not often talked about, however, is that this is also a problem for families and for men. Also, did you know that men of color experience a pay gap, too, compared to white men?
As detailed by The Shriver Report — A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, women now comprise 50 percent of the paid workforce for the first time in history, and two-thirds of mothers are either the primary or co-breadwinners for their families. In other words, the wages women earn have never been more important to individual families or the overall American economy than they are today.
The wage gap may hit women directly, but the men are hardly immune from its consequences. Over the course of a year, the gender pay gap results in the average woman earning $10,622 less than she should be taking home. President Obama is banking on rising women’s wages as a driving force of economic recovery; how different would the economy look if women were pocketing that money every year? How important is that money to the husband who was laid off and is still depending on his wife to get the family through his period of unemployment? How significant is an extra ten grand to the son who starts college in the fall and is counting on his mother to help him shoulder the enormous cost of tuition?
AAUW has more than 100,000 members and donors; only a couple hundred of them are men. Nevertheless, every man has a stake in AAUW’s efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and our other efforts to finally eliminate the gender pay gap once and for all. So if you ask me, I’d say an AAUW membership is the perfect Father’s Day gift for Dad. After all, it literally pays dividends.
You know, my mom is right; men will never understand precisely how it feels for a woman to be told she can’t do something just because of her gender. However, it is certainly within our power to do something about it. As a 13-year-old boy hearing her words, I vowed to live up to that challenge. As a 28-year-old man today, I’m hoping other men hear the call to get involved.
And if you need any further inspiration, as soon as my mother said those words, the rabbi let us keep the list as it was. A blow was struck for women, and the men benefitted just as much. Think about it.