Equal Pay Day

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 was Equal Pay Day. This is an awareness raising event, which calls attention to the wage gap between men and women, positioned on the calendar approximately when a woman’s total wages from 2009 and 2010  would catch up to a man’s wage from 2009.

Many people believe we live in a post-feminist age where things like inequitable pay is a result of the choices of women. Women choose careers that pay less than men. Women choose their careers for something other than money. Women choose to not ask for raises, or to not go after the promotions. Women don’t get the same level of education as men. Women choose to quit their jobs and become stay-at-home moms. And, besides, these post-feminist thinkers would tell me, there’s now a federal law with a long statute of limitations that says that women can sue their employers if there is real wage discrimination.

I was struggling with what to say about this topic in this post, until I remembered my theme for this blog: stories, and recording activism.

As an AmeriCorps member, my yearly living stipend is determined by federal law. I make 11,400 dollars before federal income taxes are taken out of the income that comes from the federal government.  AmeriCorps is designed to allow people to serve, and for those who are privileged to experience poverty. (Not a perfect correlation, but we can discuss that in a future post.) I applied to and interviewed for the job in early January 2009.

Professionalism is marked, at least partially, by pretending that you do not have a family to whom you owe responsibility. I wasn’t my professional best at this particular interview, though, partially because I was already friends on facebook with my potential boss — she was a friend from college.  The interview went really well — until my potential boss walked me out and asked me, “When you get married, you’re not going to quit or anything, right?”

I was actually more ready for this question than I would have guessed. Rather than stumble, I had guessed on some visceral level that it was coming. “No,” I said. “Of course not. Not only am I not that girl, but Tim is really good about helping me make my career important. We’ll probably live between our two jobs, and I can commute.”

It wasn’t until later that I realized that this question was, in fact, illegal to ask. But you can’t very well point that out to potential employers — it makes everyone uncomfortable, and it makes it seem like you’re a pot-stirrer. No one wants to hire a pot-stirrer. But the fact that I was female and I was about to get married, another female thought it was appropriate or even necessary to ask me about my post nuptial career plans.

And then I got married. And I’ve been wary, ever since, of my new boss asking me about my plans to have children. (To his credit, and my unending gratitude, he hasn’t asked, and seems to have no plans to ask.) This question is also illegal. But I’ll go back to my previous comment about it seeming necessary to ask this question.

So, even in a situation where no one is going to change my rate of pay due to my familial obligations, my employers seem to be worried about my productivity due to my family obligations. How will you serve your community and put dinner on the table every night?

We may have federal laws that state that women cannot be paid differently from men for equal work, but the culture surrounding women and work hasn’t changed yet. Women do more housework than men. And when women work outside of the home, there are assumptions about who will break first when it comes to work inside of the home.

This isn’t even dealing with motherhood, yet. And let me tell you, I am terrified of that prospect in conjunction with my professional career.

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4 thoughts on “Equal Pay Day

  1. These post-feminist thinkers should spend a day where I work. If the old man says something that upsets a female employee, he will give them this talk:

    “You think you’re upset about (whatever he just said), but you’re actually upset about something in your past. It’s okay to cry. Tears are poison and your body is trying to get rid of them. If you want to talk about it, my door is always open.”

    I’m not making this up! He thinks of women as irrational, emotional wrecks, as opposed to humans who can be hurt when you insult them.

    I don’t know what anyone actually makes, but I do know that the woman who does all of the HR stuff has a Master’s degree and makes (somewhere in the vicinity of) 60% of what I make, and her job is more difficult than mine.

    However, there is one woman who I know makes as much as me: the lady who pushes around spreadsheet margins all day. The old man values his spreadsheets more than the quality of his software… 🙂

    Even at that, I’m probably the lowest-paid male at the company, so it’s not much of a victory for women.

  2. I’ve been talking to my parents about this a lot because it really bothers me.

    When I first heard about my company, it was from my current roommate and coworker, Randel. Randel told me that they were looking to hire another chemistry student and that I should apply. I had actually already sent them my resume in my first sweep of jobs as an incoming student, but sent an updated resume and a much more focused letter and was hired.

    When Randel first told me about the job, he told me his hourly rate. So I was surprised when the call came in saying I got the job. They told me my pay rate as 80 cents below Randel’s (which he told me he earned for the previous term – his Freshman I work term.) I questioned it, as I was also a term ahead in credits. “As a sophomore, that is my pay?” “Yes.”

    I have worked here for over a year now. Randel has received a 20 cent raise every term. We split the rent and utilities evenly. I am a term ahead of him in credits. He has worked here three months more than I have (though my total time is catching up, as he never works Zero Week.) We work in the same department doing the same job with the same responsibilities. After asking about it specifically, my supervisor supposedly talked to HR and I got a 25 cent raise this term (which didn’t go into effect when it was supposed to, but instead when I questioned it again a week after my first paycheck.) Next term, Randel and I will be making the same hourly wage, but in the meantime, he has made a total of $1608 more than I have in the time I have been working here, assuming only 12 week terms. How is that fair?

    No one will tell me the people to approach in HR and they are only available during my work hours, when I am expected to be doing the job for which I am being underpaid. Fair deal, right?

    • All I can say is: What the fuck. I ❤ You, Christina, and I hope you keep fighting the good fight. (This is you being a feminist, and standing up for yourself. Maybe you don't believe it, but I believe in you.)

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