Equal Pay. It’s hard to really wrap your head around the concept. There are so many excuses for un-equal pay: women ask for salaries on the lowest end of ranges; they don’t have as much training; they work in fields that just don’t pay as much. Never do the people putting forth these arguments consider that women are systematically taught to devalue and question themselves; that training is not as readily available because of the socio-economic difficulties and social obstacles (i.e. overwhelmingly male-oriented schools, lack of advising and support for women); the hostility and outright misogyny many women face in traditional male-dominated, higher paying fields.
I have come up against these obstacles time and time again. I am privileged as compared to many women, enough that I have been able to get accepted into a pretty good undergraduate institution, and have my choice of the six law schools that accepted me. However, I went into law school with the express purpose of going into public interest law, the lowest-paying sub-field in law. This sub-field also happens to employ many more women than men.
Part of the reason for my desire to go into this area of law is my need to do work that I find fulfilling, work that extends the path I took previous to law school. It is also because I don’t want to work 60+ hours a week, or feel that I am expendable.
Does this mean that I deserve to be paid a third of what my classmates will be paid? I’m not really sure, since I am getting certain things in terms of work environment and other benefits in exchange for making less.
The problem is with the value assigned to this work. I have heard people say that I should get a real job, that I just want to do this work because I can’t hack it, and all sorts of other offensive shit. It’s not just that my work is valued as less in the capitalist marketplace, since it is at a nonprofit and is funded by grants and private donations. The clients can’t pay for the services. It is valued as somehow less in terms of skill and talent required, just as women’s work is routinely devalued and thought of as less important.
That’s were the unequal pay comes in. It’s not always that two people who do the same job are paid differently because of gender. It’s that the work that is traditionally done by women is seen as less consequential and worthy of less payment. That’s why it can always be explained rationally by bloviating dudes who like to tell women how much they know about things they know nothing about.
P.S.: I would like to note that pay is even less equal for women of color, yet the woman on the Equal Pay Day logo provided by the National Center for Women is white. Let’s not forget about all the women who are not white, middle- and upper-class, Western, and straight.
Also, check out equal pay lolcats.