It’s just so hard to measure sexism, because, you know, sexism

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.

One comment

  1. Chris Miller

    Capitalism, or at the very least neo-capitalism, actually requires this kind of sexism embedded in it to function. It assumes everyone acting in their economic best interests but still needs someone to be at home raising children and doing chores, which will NEVER be in anyone’s economic best interests (unless they’re raising the children of and doing chores for an extremely generous rich family). It’s the same thing as the so-called full employment NZ had during the middle of the 20th century. There might have been only five people on the unemployment benefit but many women didn’t work outside the home because that’s how it was structured – it was only ever full male employment. You can’t have wages being pushed so low that people need three jobs to pay their bills and expect them to raise families and keep a house going (though some people, incredibly, manage it, which is seriously astounding), and you can’t have the white collar office jobs where the unspoken assumption is that you’ll work 70 hour weeks to show your dedication if everyone needs to maintain a more realistic work-life balance. You can only do that if the presumed household structure has someone not doing that. Which, of course, just screws over the women who want to work more, the men who want to stay home, anyone who thinks 40 hours a week should give you a perfectly adequate income, etc. It’s all pretty much bullshit.