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.