The Universal Pay Gap Struggle In One Tweet

As you may have heard, it's Equal Pay Day in the U.K. today. We observed equal pay day here in the United States back in April, on the day on which women have statistically earned the same amount men did the year before; the Brits, however, observe it on November 9, which is the day on which women effectively begin working for free until the end of the year. Social media has a lot to say about the matter, of course, but I would argue that this one tweet sums up the universal pay gap struggle, no matter what your nationality is. Launched into the Twitterverse by Labor Party politician Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford, and Knottingley, it states simply, “45yrs after Equal Pay Act disgraceful 14% pay gap still exists. Women effectively working for free from today until Jan. #EqualPayDay.”

It puts me in mind of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's response to a question asking why he filled his cabinet with 50 percent women and 50 percent men: “Because it's 2015.” I'm also reminded of a now-well-known quote from Joss Whedon about why he keeps writing strong women characters: “Because you're still asking me that question." It's 2015, Cooper points out, and yet somehow, gender equality — in terms of wages, and in so many other arenas — still doesn't exist.

As you might expect, there's a lot of pushback against Equal Pay Day, too. Looking around the Twittersphere, the most common reaction to those highlighting the gender wage gap seems to be, “There is no pay gap! It's a myth! Equal pay already exists because these laws made it so!” It's true that equal pay legislation exists in a wide number of countries; most of the countries currently in the European Union, for example, put such legislation into place in the years and decades following the Second World War, and in the United States, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 abolished wage disparity based on gender.

But this is where the problem arises: Yes, the legislation is in place — and yet the numbers show that it doesn't really seem to matter. Despite all these pieces of legislation, there's still a disparity between the wages earned by men and those earned by women in a huge number of industries and in many different countries.

A few examples:

As Bustle's Josephine B. Yurcaba recently pointed out, a study found in 2014 that women at law firms make less on the whole than their male counterparts, even if they have more experience or work more hours; in the U.K., a 2013 study found that female graduates earn less than men with the same degree; a study released on November 8, 2015 (that's yesterday, in case you're keeping track) found that not only does cardiology pay less for women than it does for men, but moreover, the field is so unwelcoming for women that the job characteristics change depending on what your gender is; and, of course, there is the oft-cited statistic from the AAUW, which says that in 2014, white women made just 79 percent of what white men made — a figure that worsens dramatically for women of color.

This is just a handful of the studies documenting the existence of the pay gap, by the way — there's plenty more where that came from.

(Also, that's a phenomenal piece in The Independent there; I highly suggest clicking through and reading it.)

So why? Why, despite the fact that there are actually laws in place that make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender, does the pay gap persist? This is conjecture on my part, but I suspect that it's because of the insidious nature of sexism. It's not necessarily that people are going, “Hmmm, this man and this woman do the same job, but here's an idea! Let's pay the woman less, simply because she is a woman”; it's likely something that's happening unconsciously. Sexism isn't always overt (which also goes for countless other forms of discrimination), and sometimes, it's when it's not hostile that it's at its worst. “Benevolent sexism,” first coined in 1996 by psychologists Peter lick and Susan Fiske, manifests as “a paternalistic attitude towards women that idealizes them affectionately” — and according to a study published in 2011, men often don't recognize it when they see it. The pay gap, I suspect, has a lot to do with that blind spot.

There's a lot of this “not recognizing it when you see it” going around all over the place, too — not only with sexism, but also with racism, sizeism, abelism, and pretty much every other type of discrimination you can think of. It's in the microaggressions marginalized groups face daily; it's in the “I'm appreciating your culture!” excuse for cultural appropriation; and it's in the pay gap — which also isn't solely an issue of gender, as many others on Twitter have pointed out today.

No matter what the issue, though, what I keep coming back to is the fact that it's 2015. And the fact that unequal pay, and marriage inequality, and countless other pieces of systemic discrimination are not only still happening today, but also willfully being ignored when they do, is — as Yvette Cooper put it — disgraceful.

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