Happy European Equal Pay Day!

Or really, not happy European Equal Pay Day.

Today, March 5th, marks the number of extra days into 2011 European women must work in order to receive the same amount of money as men for a year of work in 2010. Earning 17.5% less than men do throughout a lifetime, it’s clear that the wage discrimination against women needs to end. Pay discrimination harkens back to a time when women were always meant to marry young, have kids, and run a household, leaving their husbands to be the breadwinners. Well that nonsense is ending. Today, more women are getting college degrees than men, women are the largest portion of the workforce, and ultimately (and this is the most important point!), women need to be paid salaries that are fair for the amount of work they do.

John F Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Forty-seven years later and we're still struggling.

Many people argue that women are being paid less than men because they are doing work that is worth less than men’s work or that we negotiate for less money than men. Basically, many are under the misconception that women are preventing themselves from attaining equal pay.

The crazy thing is, blaming women for everything bad that happens to them? Not always fair (What a surprise!). What these people are failing to recognize is that:

  1. Even in fields dominated by women, men are on average paid more. For example, female secretaries make 83.4% as much as male secretaries. The difference is not in the quality of their work, it is in their sex.
  2. There is a glass ceiling. It’s more difficult to move forward in powerful companies because of being a woman. Some believe that women don’t have the aggressiveness that men have, and therefore won’t do well in leadership positions. Of course, if women are aggressive, they’re bitchy. If women aren’t aggressive, they’re not leadership material. There is no way to win. This aggressiveness also affects women when negotiating for salaries. We have conditioned to be “nice” and “compromising” for our entire lives. If we are aggressive, we are seen in a negative light, while aggressive men are seen in a positive light.
  3. People assume that women are going to run off and have babies any minute! Although hiring and firing based on whether or not a person will have children is illegal, people still speculate about the likelihood of a woman leaving her job because of her family. Whether or not that family exists yet. I’m a nineteen year old woman, and people already ask me if I want to have kids someday. Or rather, they don’t ask me “if”, they ask me when and how many. I doubt that men my age are being questioned about future children. This sort of attitude undoubtably carries on into the workplace and prevents women of childbearing age from being hired or advancing in companies.

More after the jump!

Is this what we want? Do we want to force women to depend upon men for financial success and security? Earning less throughout a lifetime causes women to have lower pensions, increasing the poverty rate amongst elderly women. Compared to 16% of elderly men, 22% of elderly women live in poverty. Statistics like these are disheartening. If women are going to earn less than men and have their work valued less than men, it becomes logical for many couples (straight couples, the economic dynamics of gay couples are very different, and they face possibly far more obstacles) to value the man’s work above the woman’s. It makes sense for her to stay home and raise the children if that becomes an issue. It makes sense for her to follow his job wherever it requires them to move, leaving behind her own. And this is wrong. We’re structuring society to value men’s work over women’s, which in turn encourages further valuing men’s work over women’s. It’s madness!

However, European Equal Pay Day is a great step. The fact that we are raising awareness of the wage gap means that people care enough to change. It’s encouraging to note that we’re improving, even if in small steps.

Less encouraging? America’s next Equal Pay Day is on April 12th, a full month after Europe’s. While America has also been slowly moving towards pay equity for men and women, it seems we’re still behind. Even though we passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, many political groups work to limit our freedom. In fact, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010 that had been passed by the house, was strongly supported by the president, and backed by the nation. No Republicans in the the Senate voted to pass the bill, which would enforce the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it easier for employees to bring class action lawsuit in the face of gender wage gaps.

Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with Lilly Ledbetter at his side.

Really, European Equal Pay Day creates new and more difficult questions. Why are so many content to ignore the wage gap? This is blatant discrimination based on sex. Where are we, the strong, young women who will soon enter the work force? We need to organize, to protest, to write and call and question our representatives in the house, in the senate, in the schools, in the workforce, anywhere we see the wage gap going strong. Tell friends, family, peers, make our voice heard!

We and our futures are worth it.

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