The Pay Gap Isn’t a Myth, Motherfuckers

Do women make less than men? In truth, we don’t know for sure. It’s a complicated question. Here’s what we do know: women have been discriminated against throughout history. In the early 20th century, they weren’t allowed to visit university libraries without a male escort. Don’t believe me? Just read Virginia Woolfe’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Jane Austen wrote in secret, because women weren’t taken seriously as writers. Sandra Day O’Connor couldn’t even get a job as an attorney after law school. Some of my mentors in academia remember their male professors telling them explicitly that women simply weren’t qualified to be professors. Women were systematically excluded from almost every professional field until the last couple of decades.

So if you ask me, it’s likely that women make less than men in a lot of circumstances. We have some evidence that it’s true. Here’s the logic. A male douchebag CEO like Donald Trump thinks to himself: “Shit, the law requires me to hire women and minorities now. It also looks bad if I don’t. But women just don’t do as good a job as men. Shrug. I guess I’ll hire them, and then just pay them as little as possible without getting in trouble.”

In truth, private companies aren’t required to disclose salary information. Minor differences in pay to state and federal employees can always be chalked up to qualifications and experience. That means it’s really fucking hard to amount substantial, objective evidence of a systemic pay gap across fields, employers, and positions. A few years ago, the White House formed the Equal Pay Task Force, to try and investigate the issue thoroughly. Last January, President Obama announced plans for the federal government to start tracking company salaries by gender and ethnicity. I guess that plan’s dust now that we have a pussy-grabbing Cheetoh as president.

There’s plenty of compelling anecdotal evidence, though. My hero, Gillian Anderson, who campaigned for equal pay in the 1990s, again had to counter a much lower offer than what Fox offered to equal-billing co-star David Duchovny for returning to The X-Files. And last summer, a 17-year-old was fired for asking about pay inequalities at a pizzeria where she worked. Once the news went viral, the pizzeria fired their manager and offered the girl her job back—denying allegations of pay discrimination.

The idea of equal pay has its opponents. They either deny the pay gap as a myth, or they make all kinds of strange arguments to indirectly justify the pay gap. Some of these ass hats claim to be feminists, or at least not sexists. Here’s my question: If you’re such a feminist, then why are you spending so much time arguing with me about the mere possibility of a pay gap? And if you’re not a sexist, then why are you actively trying to undermine feminist efforts? When you spout off about issues you haven’t researched, then you’re hurting our cause. You’re directly contributing to and helping sustain a culture of sexism.

Despite a healthy amount of evidence, anti-feminists still insist that the data for the gap is wrong. Here’s a breakdown of the typical arguments, in my experience:

  1. If you’re paid less, it’s not because of your gender. It’s because you’re less qualified or have less experience.
  2. The particular area of your profession, if it’s dominated by women, just happens to pay less than other areas dominated by men. For example, pediatricians tend to be women, and pediatricians in general make less than other types of doctors.
  3. Women aren’t really paid 70-77 cents per dollar compared to men. That’s just an average of wages and salaries by gender.
  4. If you’re a mom, you probably make less because you work fewer hours.

It just so happens that the wage gap is complicated, a fact which sexist trolls exploit in order to label research on it as “misleading.” Trolls often tar-brush all feminists as liars and whiners. Consider how research by Claudia Goldin is spun in very different ways by NPR, The New Republic, and then The Washington Examiner.

In The New Republic, Goldin is clearly quoted as saying the often cited “77 cents on the dollar” figure is accurate and a good “thermometer,” especially in lower paying jobs. Despite this, she notes that this figure doesn’t tell the full story. Likewise, Goldin’s interview with NPR clearly states that the gender wage gap persists, although it varies by profession.

While NPR and The New Republic faithfully represent Goldin’s research, The Examiner slaps on a juicy headline, “Harvard Economist Takes Down Gender Pay Gap Myth.” The editors certainly know their readership, I’ll give them credit for that.

Of course, The Examiner story couldn’t be more reductive. The writers cherry-pick parts of Goldin’s research that suit the conservative anti-feminist narrative, and then ignore everything else.

Such misinterpretations of academic research make my soul melt, because they cause a chain reaction of faulty arguments. This video by Christina Hoff, recently shared with me by someone who spends a fair deal of time online combating “feminist propaganda,” is the product of such chain reactions. Here, Hoff talks through each of the four points listed above, then concludes with a declaration that feminists are hurting women by distracting them from “real issues,” whatever those might be.

It’s no surprise that Hoff is employed by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in D.C. In her attempt to call out the fallacious thinking of feminists, Hoff engages in her own particular form of flawed thinking that reflects the logic of the trolls I see on a daily basis.

The trolls I debate with online raise these exact points to me. But a funny thing happens when I call them out on their bullshit:

  1. First, I ask how someone decides if a woman is “less experienced” for a given job and therefore deserves a lower salary. How do we know for sure if equally qualified employees receive equal pay unless we build exactly the kind of national salary database that the Obama Administration wants? How can a woman be “under-qualified” if they have the same required qualifications as her male colleagues?
  2. Second, I ask if it’s a coincidence that areas of medicine which just happen to be dominated by women also just happen to pay less. In other words, why do the careers women pursue often carry lower salaries? Do we just crave to be undervalued?
  3. Third, I ask if the 70-77 cents figure is just an average of wages and salaries by gender, then isn’t that the very point feminists are trying to make in the first place? That it’s the average figure that is so skewed and unfair?
  4. Lastly, I ask if it’s unreasonable for a woman to expect equal pay as well as a family, a family that depends on her paycheck in order to lead a safe and happy life. Should women really be expected to accept an indirect salary penalty for having children (since, you know, cisgender men can’t procreate and the survival of our species kind of depends on us)?

The trolls tend to ignore my point about systematic pay gaps. They either can’t or won’t tell me why pediatricians are paid less than other doctors. Who among us would argue that pediatricians are less valuable or require less expertise than a general practitioner? The idea that pediatricians might earn less on average than other doctors because they’re largely women must blow their minds. On the fourth point, anti-feminists flat out tell me that women don’t deserve equal pay if they work fewer hours due to childcare needs.

Here’s the funniest part: Instead of attacking their views, I concede to them, and admit that perhaps the best solution to the problem involves more men taking equal responsibility for childcare. If that happens, then women won’t need to work fewer hours or take as much leave. Instead of agreeing with me, anti-feminists tend to say that child nurturing is an evolutionary imperative for women, and that challenging evolutionary principle “just for the sake of it” makes no sense. Even though we go against evolution every day in other areas of human life, easily.

So let me sum up. Sexist apologists for the wage gap begin by trying to prove that it’s a “myth” by giving misleading and erroneous statistics, or downright lying. When that doesn’t work, they admit that women do earn less, but wait, there’s a good reason for it! And when that doesn’t work, they resort to their real views, that women are “designed” by some higher force (God/Evolution/The Wizard of Oz) to raise kids and should just accept their lot in life.

Fortunately, some good resources exist in case you ever have to prove to an anti-feminist why the wage gap is a genuine concern. First, John Oliver tackled this topic in 2014. I highly recommend watching and sharing once again, because apparently, some people still don’t get it.

Another accessible resource is a blog post by Heidi Hartmann, Barbara Gault, and Ariane Hegewisch for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In this post, the authors discuss 5 key points you can use in response to any trolls you might encounter.

We may never fully understand why anti-feminists feel the need to dispel the pay gap “myth.” We may not know the full extent to which it exists. We may not know how far it reaches. Probably, it’s not a universal gap. However, enough evidence exists that we should talk about it and research it. If you spend even five minutes trying to tell me otherwise, then you’re part of the problem.


Featured image by katrinaelsi via Flickr.