If you’re as awesome as I am, you’ve seen Jurassic Park (the first one) about a million times. Aside from being the best entertainment dollar you’ve spent in years—men getting eaten while on the toilet, a T-Rex chasing jeeps, an epic tune that pumps you up like the best locker room pep talk you’ve ever had—the movie itself was also chalk full of interesting characters and information as well. And so, as many times as I’ve watched that film, the one thing that has always stayed with me was something I didn’t fully understand until years later.
In the movie, Jeff Goldblum plays the hilariously quirky Dr. Malcolm, and somewhere in the middle of explaining how the dinosaurs were made, he warns the Jurassic Park scientists that despite their efforts to control breeding within the park, life would “find a way”. This prophecy reveals itself to be true when Dr. Grant finds eggs in the park, thus revealing that even in a same-sex environment, the dinosaurs had found a way to breed (they spontaneously changed their sex like some west african bullfrogs do in a same sex environment). That one moment meant to push the obvious lesson: despite all conscious human efforts to deliberately prevent something, it happened anyway because natural laws mandated it.
So what does dino-sex on the big screen have to do with why women get paid less than men in a modern society? Everything my friends. Everything.
If one considers that humankind and the modern systems we’ve created are also bound by such natural laws as those that allowed a population of females to mate in Jurassic Park, one can also understand that the real reason why women get paid less than men has nothing to do with a deliberate sexist agenda.
Now before we get into this, I want to get a few things straight because the discussion about this topic is frequently misguided. So, in order to make the complex details a bit more palatable, I’m going to lay out some simple statements in an effort to help maintain the focus of this essay.
This essay DOES NOT mean to deny that women’s salaries are lower than those of men.
This essay DOES NOT mean to JUSTIFY that difference.
This essay MEANS to merely explain WHY women continue to get paid less than men.
The next part of this essay will break down the pertinent factors related to the issue of WHY women are paid less than men.
So here we are in 2012 where women work, women vote, women have sexual independence, and could spend their whole lives without ever even looking at a man and still make the rent. Now, more than ever, do both men and women openly speak about how they feel that a woman is every bit as capable as a man, and that women should be treated equal to men. Well, I’m here to tell you that statement is absolutely correct: women are every bit as capable as men, and should be treated as equals. Go ahead, say it again. And again. Hell, say it once more. The fact is, you could say it a million times, but the words themselves would only be an expression of HOPE for an ideal—not an accurate reflection of how people truly behave in regard to gender roles. The fact is that while both men and women shout these phrases at the top of their lungs, they continue to operate (whether consciously or unconsciously) under the guidance of traditional gender expectations. I know, crazy right?
But actually, there was a similar phenomena identified in the realm of politics where Americans were (I think correctly) identified as being operationally conservative, but ideologically liberal. The paper exhibited how Americans will often get behind a liberal discussion for its symbolic appeal, despite acting on conservative ideologies deep down. How this relates to the calls for women to be treated as an equal among men can be summed up in an article by Tim Kowal: “A lot of Americans say they eat healthy, and like to believe they eat healthy, but put a bunch of tasty junk food in front of them and, Bob’s your uncle, they turn out to be pretty unhealthy after all.”
This example is meant to highlight the all-too-common practice of proclaiming one set of ideologies while still operating under another. Similarly, both men and women, while symbolically backing the issue of equality for women, continue to invest in more traditional gender expectations that keep both sexes from ever truly being equal. Two of my more liberal male friends believe in women’s rights across the board, yet still admit to feelings of pride and responsibility for providing financial security for the women in their lives. In the same way, many of the liberal women I’ve met will go on ranting for 30 minutes about how they don’t need men to pay for their dinners or an engagement ring, and yet, when confronted with a man who insists on splitting the bill every outing, they will defect and call him a “cheap skate”. Better still, if given a choice between dating a wealthy man who will pay for their meals and one who insists they split expenses equality, most women would choose the wealthy man (even though they truly believe in equality). These are the same women that believe in equality, but will attend “ladies drink free” nights at local bars and clubs, conceding to the very gender expectations which imply that “women don’t need to make as much money as men because they don’t spend as much”. These are also the same women that want to be treated like men when it comes to paychecks, but when a fire or hostage situation breaks out, will invoke the privilege of “women and children first”.
Let me be clear here: This does not mean to say that these men and women are purposely being deceitful; they truly do believe in equality for both genders. However, in the moments where it counts, they often employ actions and beliefs that are more congruent with traditional gender roles.
Anyway, at this point, people often make the arguments: Well who wouldn’t want a free dinner or drinks? It doesn’t mean women don’t deserve equal pay.
Right. It doesn’t mean women don’t DESERVE equal pay, but it also doesn’t mean that women can have their cake and eat it too. Saying that free drinks and dinner don’t matter in the grand scheme of things completely overlooks the implications of actions over words, and the fragile nature of true equality. You can’t have true equality among women and men by picking and choosing. This isn’t a buffet; it’s all or nothing. You can’t say that women can have “drinks free all night” every weekend and chose to date men who will pay for their expenses, and then also have equal pay. The natural laws of equal exchange and socialization don’t allow for any gender to have a disproportional arrangement of perks and drawbacks. For every collection of perks, there will be one drawback that offsets them all. This very principal influences every system of modern civilization.
In the case of men, we’ve come a long way from ONLY being the breadwinner in the family. We’ve become attentive fathers, more sensitive husbands, and genuinely responsive to the idea that women have just as much influence in society as men (though perhaps the mediums differ). But what hasn’t changed, neither in the minds of men nor the minds of women, is the expectation that men should make money. In a modern society that now acknowledges the equal education and earning potentials of women, men are still expected to bring home that check—no matter what. Even with all the new flexible definitions of what it means to have a healthy family, in the eyes of society, if a man has no job and no income, he has no value. And this is true wether a man has a family or not. Yet, under the same examination of gender expectations, women retain their value no matter what their situation is. Should a woman choose to marry, have children, have a career, not have a career, not have children, just never move out of her parents house—there is no such stigma attached to her as would be to a man. I’m not sure anyone can remember the last time fights were had and playstations were thrown over a woman not having a job. Being unemployed as a man makes you worthless. Period.
Now these are important points, because while both men and women WANT true equality for both genders, they continue to ACT in ways that express traditional gender expectations. And, it is this single most important subtly that continues to create a discrepancy in pay between men and women. Saying we want equal pay isn’t enough to make it happen as long as we continue to operate under traditional beliefs. As long as men continue to feel like they need to take care of women and bring home money for their families, and as long as women continue to place value on a man who CAN provide for her and fulfill the expectations of being male, there will be no equality in pay. The reason for this is because: despite what slogans we coin or political actions we take to equalize men and women, the daily ACTIONS of the majority continue to reflect a loyalty to keeping male paychecks higher because they are still considered the main breadwinner. This expectation is then communicated to the facets of commerce and the economy at large. To put it more simply: the discrepancy between the salaries of men and women are not the result of a sexist political agenda unwilling to grant equality, but rather, it is a reflection of the true nature of our society which—despite explicit outcries for equality among both genders—continues to subscribe to traditional gender roles.
The most common objections to this reasoning demand the recognition of the gay community, or women who choose not to marry—basically people who supposedly “don’t” have traditional gender expectations for men and women. My answer to this is a three-part answer:
A.) Expectations about being a breadwinner or a more financially dependent partner need not be specifically assigned to a man or a woman.
B.) Choosing not to marry does not mean that one does not still subscribe to traditional gender roles
C.) The beliefs and actions of the majority will always triumph over the minority
Whether it be a gay, straight, or lesbian relationship—each of the partners involved in a long-term relationship of either brand will be assigned a role that resembles some form of the traditional gender expectations of men and women. And, for those who don’t marry, their actions and words may still convey a belief in traditional gender roles.
The truth is that even in the realm of alternative lifestyles, there still exists role assignments that place unequal expectations upon men and women (even if their roles are sometimes reversed). But even when there exists a true minority which doesn’t subscribe to the actions or beliefs of traditional gender expectations, they are still a minority. Now, unless that minority population has significant influence to change the majority’s established practices (as in the animal kingdom, possessing some unique feature necessary for the majority’s survival, or threatening the survival of the majority directly) they will not convert the majority.
Complex social systems, and indeed all natural systems, do not survive by serving the minority. Catering to the minority without good cause for the majority will spell death for the system as there is not enough resources to accommodate for all minority needs that may arise.
Many years ago, before the Federal Reserve decided that fiat money was worth something, gold was the standard backing for the U.S. dollar. Our currency was merely a representation of the value of a commodity that every human being on the planet agreed was valuable. But how did everyone come to agree that gold was valuable? The answer may shock you: naturally. Many thousands of years ago, people began to value gold from the moment they discovered it. Over such time, a consensus naturally grew amongst civilizations everywhere that gold had a natural value due to its inherent qualities of being divisible (you can divide it up), portable (you can move it and transport in anywhere), durable (it can’t be easily destroyed), and it’s uniform quality (all natural gold has the same quality). So, by the natural selection of the free market, gold became the agreed upon standard commodity for measuring the value of currency.
If you’re not already familiar with the modern currency system, gold is no longer used to determine the value of currency. Today, while you can buy gold as an investment, gold is not considered legal tender for the direct payment of debt. Gold would have to be converted into currency (and therefore subjected to the penalties of inflation) so that you could “pay” your debt with currency. The point of mentioning this is to show that despite the falling value of the dollar, gold has remained unaffected and has risen to its highest price per ounce. The free market doesn’t care about laws of currency or legal tender, the people’s consensus determine values within the market.
So what does gold have to do with paying women the same as men? Well, everything really; it illustrates that the conditions of free markets—which include job markets—are not necessarily dictated by any political or governing body. Indeed, the prices, wages, and products that exist within the free market are all dictated by those natural laws of supply, demand—and most importantly—the current values of a society at any given time. Take the personal computer for instance; before the 1970’s no one had conceived the idea that personal computers were even a valuable idea, let alone a sellable product. In fact, nearly all major banks and computer companies turned down guys like Steve Jobs when they suggested that computers were the future. Essentially, PC’s had ZERO market value…until…the values of society changed in order to make it possible for PC’s to flourish. Look at the iPad; nearly 15 years ago they developed the technology that could make a tablet possible, but they had no market value because the post-pc market hadn’t yet matured (the everyday activities and beliefs of people’s lives didn’t ALLOW for post-pc market). The desktop PC and laptop markets were flourishing because that’s what the values of society allowed for at the time.
Today, the consensus of American society which continues to invest in the very real, albeit quiet, belief in traditional gender expectations will not allow the market to pay women the exact same wage as men. This is because the macro-psychology of a population, which includes the actions it takes in reflection of majority beliefs, influences the free market, and in turn, the wages paid to both men and women. Again, simple put: men get paid more because the expectations for a man to support a family are held by the majority of BOTH men and women, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY PREACH FOR EQUALITY.
Okay sure, there are some complex subtleties by which the larger economy is affected; societal beliefs influence free market prices and wages. I can dig that. But let’s think even more simply than that. Remember that supply and demand dictate the value of anything at any given time in a free market—including the value of employees and their paychecks.
That being said, according to one study by the Department of Education, nearly 60% of all degrees were awarded to women in the 2008-2009 academic year, while men lagged behind at a mere 40%. Since that time, the gap has only widened.
In the past two decades, job markets have been so overcrowded with BA graduates that the free market will not allow employers to pay them a decent base salary anymore. BA salaries have plummeted, and now, you need an MA in order to have any hope of living on your own. Likewise, as the market floods with a larger number of female job seekers over men, the salaries for women will go down. (If your wondering why gender matters and not only BA degrees overall, the answer is that most U.S. companies have gender quotas, and therefore, must hire a certain number of male and female employees). This means that as the “supply” of female graduates in the market increase over male graduates overall, the value of female salaries will decrease while male salaries stay buoyant.
The other two most important factors in determining the salary of women vs men are:
A.) paid maternity leave
B.) the possibility that a woman may get married and not have to work
Look, it’s not personal; from a purely economic point view, maternity leave and losing a valuable employee to a sudden marriage is a liability. As an employer, it’s impossible for a company to know whether or not a woman has plans to have a child, get married, or even if she’s a lesbian. (there’s also the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy) The point is: shelling out 2-months pay for work missed or loosing an experienced employee is a serious risk that—within the rules of basic economics—requires some insurance on such an investment as hiring a woman. This riskier investment is counter balanced by paying women a lower salary. With a man, there is zero chance of him becoming pregnant, and getting married only means that he is more likely to stay committed to his job (in accordance with society’s traditional gender expectations that he is a breadwinner).
WHY GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION WON’T HELP.
It’s been suggested that government should take action to create and enforce laws that would mandate equal pay for men and women. People really believe that this will equalize salaries between men and women. Well, allow me to put your mind at ease: it won’t. If you need proof, one only needs to acknowledge the illegal sales of illicit drugs, prostitution, and black markets—all of which are banned by legislation. When the desires and beliefs of the collective population are outlawed, such desires will find a way to manifest themselves anyway, despite prohibition. All the legislation in the world will not equalize men and women on the job front as long as the majority consensus expresses a desire for traditional gender expectations. Here’s why:
Let’s imagine that the government passes legislation that forces an unwilling market (supported by the continued embrace of traditional gender expectations) to pay women the exact same wage as men. In this scenario, against the economic rules of risk and return, employers would be forced to hire women and pay them the same as men. Remember that in today’s society, women are NOT ONLY wanting the privileges of men (equal pay), but ALSO the privileges of women (paid maternity leave and possibly the option to not work while married). When faced with this choice, it would be more economical and less risky for employers to just stop hiring women altogether and hire mostly men (where the risk of having to pay maternity leave is zero).
So while you might “solve” the inequality of wages between men and women through wage laws, the free market would offset this unfair disadvantage of employers (the disadvantage of being forced to take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t take) in two ways: employers would no longer hire women, or perhaps, they would hire women in positions with no healthcare benefits. Most likely though, women just simply wouldn’t be hired because the risk of losing employees and revenue through paid maternity leaves would be too great. Employers would be forced to hire mostly men because the risk of having to pay maternity leave is zero, and the risk of losing him as an employee due to marriage is virtually zero. From all of this, the new picketing issue would be about how women aren’t being hired or given healthcare.
The inequalities we face between the wages of men and women go WAY beyond just a simple quick fix—mostly because the continued belief in gender stereotypes remains so subtle and lost amidst the screams for equality. The majority of both men and women in today’s society DO NOT believe that men and women are exactly the same all across the board.
I can here the cries now: “We know women and men aren’t EXACTLY the same across the board, that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that there’s no reason that women should get paid less than a men just because they are women”
If this is your rebuttal, start reading this article again from the top; you haven’t learned anything. “SHOULD” AND “SHOULDN’T” HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS ESSAY. The fact is that women CAN’T be paid the same as men because the natural laws of macro-psychology and free market economics will not allow it under the CURRENT VALUES OF OUR SOCIETY. Basically, only when society starts putting its money where its mouth is, will we start to see wage gaps close. When BOTH men and women start believing in TRUE equality across the board, and acting on those beliefs, will we start to see changes.
Let’s be clear, society would have to agree that the following were completely acceptable, and subsequently, act accordingly:
1.) women can go and check if the murderer in the house has a knife
2.) “men can drink free tonight as well”
3.) men can take paternity leave or chose to stay home with his children
4.) there’s no reason for men to make sure that women get out of a burning building safely; those women can take care of themselves
5.) a man can be interested in children without being seen as a pedophile
6.) women are just as likely to rape men
7.) women should spend 3-months pay on an engagement ring for her husband to be
8.) men can get paid alimony and get 50% of his wife’s estate should they divorce, regardless of his income or lack there of
And on, and on…
You see, the belief in male and female equality has to be uniform overall for it to happen because, as I’ve illustrated, one discrepancy influences the whole pie. That’s the reason most people miss this argument about why women get paid less than men. They truly believe that having a “ladies drink free” night, being awarded the majority of college degrees, and getting paid maternity leave have nothing to do with why they get paid less money. People have actually said to me: “those things have nothing to do with why women can’t be paid the same as men”. I’m saying it does. The economy of our nation, as well as many other systems of civilized society, are a reflection of our values. If our values continue to view financial earning as being essential to the role of men as breadwinners, women will be paid less. The really tricky part about all of this is that it’s not solely about the traditional expectations held by men; they are held by women as well.
In the end, there’s no getting away with double talk or double dipping in the natural order of things; you can’t “fool” the natural connection between systems of influence. You can’t facilitate change for the equality of women if you still view and treat men with traditional expectations, all while trying to reap the traditional privileges of BOTH men and women. Neither free market economics nor natural selection will allow for any one species or gender to have all of the perks and none of the drawbacks—no matter how much picketing you do. It’s just not going to happen. People should be more careful to just play the hand they were dealt to the best of their ability; bluff to hard without the right cards in hand, and sooner or later, someone’s going to call you.