I was going through a backlog of junk mail I had today and noticed a mailer from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). It was one of those things that's a membership sign up form disguised as a questionnaire. I've gotten a few solicitations like that before, usually from PETA. Their "questionnaire" allegedly asks for your opinion on animal rights with loaded and leading questions like, "Did you know that animals raised by factory farms are mistreated? Are you interested in stopping the abuse?" and ending with an invitation to send them a donation and/or join their organization. AAUW's mailer followed a similar framework, but their questionnaire dealt with issues of income and workplace inequality, leading up to the suggestion that you join AAUW so that they can advocate for change. They mentioned a few things I've heard from different sources: many people think that men and women earn roughly equal salaries and that there are laws mandating equal pay for equal work, but actually, women earn about 77% of what men do (or 77 cents for every dollar), even after statistics are adjusted for factors such as amount of time worked (women are often forced to work less time by circumstances such as taking care of children/elders), and women have fewer opportunities for advancement.
There are some that argue that these statistics are wrong. One notable book that makes such an argument (and that I have not yet read) is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex And Feminism. I don't know enough about their arguments to do them justice in refuting them; all I can say is that the 77% statistic is commonly quoted in everything from magazines to textbooks. It is well accepted as fact. That doesn't mean that it is right. Numbers don't lie, but statistics can very easily be coaxed into lying, since the meanings of their numbers must be interpreted. However, from what I can tell through a little research on the subject, is an accurate statistic reflecting the median income of all men and women employed at least 35 hours a week, but not a direct comparison of men and women working the same job. For a good discussion of the accuracy of the oft-quoted 77%, see Dr. Salary's blog. In short, yes, there is an earnings gap, but they also choose different fields and jobs, so the fairness of the comparison is debatable. Yet, this also leads one to wonder why there is such a gender division in chosen fields, and whether this might be the result of some form of bias and causing its own sort of oppressive disparity. Perhaps some jobs, such as education, pay less because they are typically held by women. If women typically demand less pay, then it stands to reason that jobs that they normally hold would pay less.
Demand, I believe, is the key word of that last statement.
I know the point of the mailer was to cause the recipient to think about how they needed to support the fight against inequality by joining an organization that advocates for pay raises. I'm sure that most people feel like there's no other option than to grin and bear it while waiting for the Equal Rights Amendment or some other legislation to be passed to force employers to change. This is not how I felt. Instead, I was thinking, "Why would anyone ever put up with that?" And I felt very glad to know that we have options now.
Employers are never going to pay anymore than necessary. They would be crazy to just constantly offer pay raises when there is no demand for them. This, I feel, is where most employees are literally selling themselves short. And, unfortunately, many people are in a position where they feel that they have little choice. If they want to maintain the working-class lifestyle of their parents, they have to get a job. Of course, there's always a choice. An adult in the United States is unlikely to starve due to unemployment. But no one wants to make that choice; it is easier to work for less pay than to go without pay entirely. However, until employees declare that their time is worth more and demand more, there will not be equal pay. Again, employers do what they can get away with. They will not change until they find that they cannot hire someone for what they're offering. Employees have to take their power and dignity back and refuse to work for less than what is fair. How likely was this to happen in the days when employers controlled most of the avenues to income? It wasn't likely. Could things change now? Maybe, at least for some.
Thanks to the Internet, those that have the option of waiting for opportunity might be able to find avenues that lie outside of the traditional paths of either applying for work at businesses until you find one that accepts you or trying to sell a product to businesses until you find one that will pay you for it. The Internet connects individual producers directly to their target market. The "middle man" major corporation is still in there; however, its role is much less visible and intrusive. The middle man is the maker of the technology that makes it possible for you to view this blog for free and for me to earn a small amount from that viewing. However, that middle man's incentive is the advertising revenue that is earned through your viewing. The Internet is the tide that lifts all boats. And it does so without discrimination based on race, gender, or creed. It's a true meritocracy. If you find the content worth viewing, then the producer will get paid per ad viewed or clicked. It's that simple, and it gives an alternative to the traditional way of producing and consuming media.
New media will not eradicate old, and maybe it shouldn't. Each have their strengths. It does open up a new way for the audience to freely (in several senses of the word) find what they want, and for the producer and the purveyor to both be fairly paid what their work is worth to the consumer. And, rather than women fighting the establishment to demand equal pay, some can bypass it entirely and move into the new meritocracy. It gives me a lot of hope. So, I want to give this small recognition to the creative women out there that are using the opportunities offered by new media. You are pioneering a new path to equality.