Thursday 21 February marked the day that New Zealand women effectively stopped working for free – in comparison to their male counterparts.
This was marked on the Green Party’s Facebook page, and almost instantly a very common argument was raised:
I am 100% in favour of equal pay, but the problem with measuring the overall pay difference is that men, on average, have longer careers than women, as more women than men leave the work force to raise children. It’s a very difficult thing to measure properly.
I quote the comment not to hint that you should all descend in pack formation and tear the dude in question to pieces, but to illustrate: this is the problem with trying to speak about individual issues of patriarchy.
You talk about the pay gap, and people (not just dudes) say, “Oh but women take time off to have babies.”
You talk about women still being the predominant raisers and carers of children, and people say, “Oh but women are generally more nurturing.”
You talk about socialisation and constructed gender roles and peer pressure and people say, “That’s true, but in a [assumed hetero/cis] couple the woman probably earns less anyway so it makes sense for her to be the one to quit work.”
Lather, rinse, repeat. (Issues not shown: lack of flexible working arrangements because managers refuse to adapt to the 21st century; employer assumptions that all women are cisgendered, heterosexual, fertile, and planning children; differing levels of respect and accommodation given to men who chose to actively parent; etc.)
It’s all the same problem. It all comes down to patriarchy. And it means that when we say “effectively, women are paid so much less than men on average that they’ve been working for free until today” someone gets to just State The Facts about women’s shorter/interrupted careers … without being forced to consider why women’s careers are the ones that get shortened and/or interrupted.
Oh, and also? There are plenty of douchebags in this world who do, absolutely, deliberately pay women less for the same role as men because they’re sexist pigs and because they know that they can play the “but what if she gets knocked up?” card whenever they like. And good common-sense just-how-the-world-works people will nod and carry on letting patriarchy (and don’t forget capitalism, because there’s a reason it’s hard to consistently quantify the pay gap) screw us all over.
Thanks for that.