Every time I bring up Equal Pay Day (or Unequal Pay Day as I prefer to think of it), some idiot (usually an unenlightened man) lectures me about women’s choices. Women choose careers that allow them to be with their kids more, so of course they get paid less overall, as a group.
Now, let’s be honest, there is an extent to which this is true. However, there is an extent to which this is also not true. Women also make less money than men generally, even when accounting for such factors as experience, education, industry, and hours. The wage gap persists. Additionally, the flaw in the argument about women’s choices is that the lowest paid jobs are often the least flexible (Ellen Bravo illustrates this point well on her post for the Women’s Media Center).
Celebrating Equal Pay Day means not only acknowledging that women are paid less for the same labor, but also exploring the broader issues related to equal pay. For example, feminists often say that equal pay is not just about women, it’s about families, too. Let’s be honest – when people say “families”, they really mean “kids.” A “family-friendly work environment” does not mean a woman can bring her husband to work and leave him in a corner with a chew toy and the boss will be ok with it. But the truth is, equal pay is an issue for men too – that’s what we mean when we say it’s a “family” issue.
Just as women feel pressured to take jobs or consider careers that reflect the reality of their family obligations (read: having kids and then caring for them), men feel that pressure too. Men are used to being the primary bread-winners in the family. Society and culture has taught us that “real men” take care of their families, can support their women and children, and can be providers. And women expect it, even though we like to think that we’re such feminists we’ve moved beyond that. We buy into this idea of masculinity that says that men can take care of us (the damsel in distress theme is alive and well, folks).
And so how many men feel comfortable going into fields that aren’t going to give them the security of a steady paycheck? I imagine it’s similar to the number of women who aren’t comfortable going into a field that doesn’t allow them the flexibility to also be primary caregivers. Especially in these tough economic times, it’s crucial for a family to be able to depend on two incomes. When women are paid less than their male counterparts for equal work, the harm is not only to the women, but also to anyone else relying on their income. In this day and age, that can include a man as well.
In essence, issues that affect women affect men. Men need to recognize not just the moral value in supporting equal pay for women, but also the economic value. And women need to support policies that allow families and individuals to make the best choices for their careers and their families. This means that the feminist community should be just as concerned with issues like paternity leave as it is with maternity leave.
Hillary Clinton famously remarked that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. What she meant was that issues that affect women affect everyone. It’s time we all took that statement to heart and started advocating for the broader issues that accompany women’s inequality.
Photo Credit: Women’s Fund of Central Indiana