A few weeks ago I was contacted by a representative of a national regulatory agency who liaises between their community outreach arm and local college and universities. As part of giving back to the community, experts at the regulatory agency donate their time to provide workshops on financial literacy, financial planning, leadership and negotiation to women preparing to enter the workforce. They hoped that as director of a women and gender studies program I would be interested in partnering with them to bring their workshops to women students on our campus.
Initially I was very excited and called some of my colleagues from around campus together to discuss the possibility of arranging a half-day set of workshops to coincide with Equal Pay Day.
[This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages.]
After an initial phone conference call between my colleagues on campus and the representatives from the regulatory agency I received the following email:
“We are concerned that as the Equal Pay Day event is currently structured, it may be perceived that [regulatory agency] is sponsoring and/and or supporting the event and associated interests. Our speakers’ presentations are geared towards educating young women. We do not feel comfortable promoting these topics as it relates to equal pay, as it is not our area of expertise.”
I toyed with many responses to their email, much of which is not fit to print, and finally, after several days, settled on the following:
“I had no idea that pay equity was so controversial! In any case, because inequalities of gender, but also race and sexuality, are at the core of the primary mission of Women and Gender Studies, a program that is not designed to address these inequalities does not align with our mission.”
What I really wanted to say was, “how can you possibly have as a goal the enlightenment of women around financial literacy, leadership and negotiation and not include a mention of the wage gap? How can you possibly target young women to prepare them for the workforce and not be comfortable promoting the concept of Equal Pay!”
Even Sheryl Sandburg, who initially advised that if women would just “lean in” they would get more promotions, rise up the ladder to lead corporations, and see their wages come closer to their male counterparts, later recognized that opportunities for women, including equal pay, would only come when laws and policies were put into place to guarantee protection from pay discrimination. [Yes, and though President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act on January 29, 2009, the act is so convoluted that it makes actually filing a discrimination case extremely difficult and remote.]
I realized long ago, that though the feminist movement needs male allies, until women, all women, understood their shared self-interest, equality would never be achieved. When women don’t see their own oppression, and worse yet, when they refuse to even discuss the possibility that gender inequality exists, for themselves or for any women, we will never convince men that we are worth investing the entire $1 in us.
And, I’m among the lucky ones, as a White women, my pay is far more equitable than that of my sisters who are Black and Hispanic. As a White women, I have an obligation to fight for the equal wages of all Americans, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or sexuality.
Patriarchy is a machine that is so deeply entrenched in our society that even when a few women, like Sheryl Sandburg or the women from the regulatory agency, hold one handle on the machine, the machine does not change its course a single inch. The machine of patriarchy is so deeply embedded in every aspect of our culture, that it continues to operate with women operators or with no operators at all.
I [continue] to need feminism because I will never by fully valued, I will never be equal, I will never be paid what I’m worth, I will never count, I will never be free, until the machine of patriarchy is dismantled!
So, I will not invite the nice ladies from the regulatory agency to talk with my students about financial literacy and leadership and negotiation. I want my students to know the truth and to be supported in seeking and developing tools to dismantle the system of patriarchy so that they have a chance of earning the same wages as their male counterparts and achieving equality in all parts of their lives.
For a funny video on the wage gap, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm3YfMtgEdI