Uh, sorry, I mean Why Men Earn More. 😉 It’s a fascinating read. In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this article, Warren Farrell, is actually the disenchanted feminist I mentioned back in my primer to men’s rights. He’s certainly on my watch list for future reading. I say it’s a fascinating read- that doesn’t, however, mean I entirely agree with it. In fact there are some prominent assumptions he makes that just don’t check out.
He’s absolutely right to point out that that women have some excellent employment opportunities. There are a lot of fields, such as administrative support, teaching, linguistics, translation, psychology, speech analysis, transcription, etc… where women dominate the field, or earn more on average than men in comparable conditions, and that making women aware of these choices actually empowers them to consider what they want in a career and pick out something where they feel confident of success.
He’s also absolutely right to point out that male-dominated fields still discriminate against women- and that the reverse is also true, despite public awareness of the fact being much lower. It makes sense though- women will sometimes see men as taking away “their” jobs, rather than adding male perspective to their fields. As long as we manage the economy well, there should be jobs for everyone. If more people are interested in a field, it will likely expand to accomodate them so long as the work is valued and the economy has a focus on providing employment as well as earning shareholders a return- part of the reason that balanced employment law is so necessary.
Farrell is wrong to say, however, that there are no cases of exactly equal work with pay disparity. Work environments are highly social places, and sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters, or even whether you’re viewed as one of the guys. Your contributions are often viewed through the lens of your relationship with your collegues- whether responsibility for that lies with you or not. This can lead to a freeze in raises and promotions, and in fact a specific, well-argued case spawned a draft law (Named for one Lilly Ledbetter) in the United States. Sadly, that law has met with staunch opposition from Republicans in the US senate, who feel it would generate too many lawsuits. Apparently, smooth operation of the courts and businesses is more important than equal rights.
Similarly, some of the tactics Farrell uses to explain away low wages in certain parts of society are quite disturbing to me. For one thing, he considers factors like working hours, extreme weather conditions, toxic materials, and so on, that are traditionally associated with male labour. I notice a conspicuous absence of workplace stress, level of discrimination, unnecessary delegation to support roles and other unfair devaluation, glass ceilings, and abusive work environments. These things matter, and are likely to explain away some of women’s pay advantages when- as Farrell points out- they “act like men”. It’s likely that due to overcoming these types of discrimination that are hard to prove, women who do act like men are overqualified for the positions they occupy, having to prove themselves more than comparably qualified men would. This is frustrating, but not a case of devaluation of her labour- just her qualifications. Farrell cheaply ignores this, assuming that money is the primary motivator for employment in all cases- however once people reach a certain level of salary, the money is likely to matter to them a lot less than job satisfaction and feelings of achievement and self-worth.
I disagree that there is no devaluing of women’s labour, too. Many of the careers traditionally dominated by women are largely underpaid or undervalued, which skews the average pay for women as a whole downwards- good examples are the recent strikes by hospital cleaners, our teachers who are largely regarded as undervalued and underpaid, the struggle nurses went through for equal pay, and especially the voluntary community work done by women. Essentially, women operate from support positions far more frequently than men, yet support staff are often demeaned by both management and front-line staff, despite their critical role in the economy.
I think he’s right to point out that the pay gap lines up quite well with the fact that women are dominantly primary parents. That explains some of the discrimination, even if it’s not necessarily acceptable. It would be nice if parents’ skills were valued in the workforce, where transferable, and resulted in fair pay for returning parents, and a desire to accomodate workers who will want to take time off, or merely need work for a shorter time, because of their plans for parenthood. I’d be deeply skeptical of anyone who claims this is already the case, as primary parents seem to be sacrificing more of their career than is necessarily fair when they choose to take care of the kids. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for that sort of literature.
I most certainly do not agree with him that women are “privileged”- in the technical feminist sense, which refers to a demeaning, dominant advantage over another group- because they are protected from discrimination by the (US) government. Rather, I think it can be quite harmful to them, with protections against discrimination making their employers overly suspicious of women who might try to game the system, (employers are much less likely to hire women they think are even likely to get pregnant, let alone ones that are actually honest with their plans for a family) with actual sexists trying to turn themselves into the victims to take advantage of backlash. Add to that the fact that because sexism is seen as unidirectional, (only women are seen as victims of it) actual sexist behaviour against men causes resentment instead of being resolved through the official channels open to women, and you see women taking a lot of low-key war-of-the-sexes type discrimination due to that. All because of Patriarchal attitudes that women “need to be protected”.