Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there have been significant improvements for women’s rights and large steps have been made towards more equality between the genders. In the past century, women have gained the right to vote, certain reproductive rights, taken on more prominent roles outside the home, and it has become more socially acceptable for women to work full time. Despite these accomplishments, women are still the victims of discrimination in the gender-based wage gap. For every dollar a male earns in the workplace, women earn seventy-seven cents, thus creating a wage gap of nearly twenty-two percent. In addition to this, women of different ethnicities and aboriginal women in Canada make roughly ten to twenty cents less than white middle class women (“Pay Equity & Discrimination”). Although many men and women alike believe that we have achieved the highest means of equality among the genders, the current presence of the gender-based wage gap proves this to be untrue. It is arguable that this wage gap is a result of systemic discrimination and outdated notions of gender binary-based roles (“Pay Equity & Discrimination”).
A few weeks ago, on Tuesday March 17, 2015, a group of Utah-based high school students held a bake sale to raise awareness for the ever-persisting gender wage gap (Carlisle). During the bake sale, male students had to pay one dollar for two cookies, while female students had to pay only seventy-seven cents. The differences in prices were reflective of the average differences in earnings between male and female workers (Carlisle). Although the bake sale raised much controversy among students and in the news, the students responsible were able to get their point across in an effective and safe manner (Carlisle).
One student, Jake Knaphus stated, “I believe in what they’re doing. I believe in their standing for a cause, but I just don’t believe the statistics they’re using are correct.” In addition to this comment, the news article on the web page was filled with hundreds of comments echoing disbelief in the fact that women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man earns (Carlisle). Most of those who commented were quick to state that the wage gap was a myth, or chose to blame it on differing interests based on stereotypical gender roles, discrepancies in education or they blame it on the fact that women are responsible for raising children and caring for the family (Carlisle). What I find most horrifying about this situation is the fact that so many men and even some women today think that there is no gap at all. Moreover, I found it appalling that many of the comments resort back to arguments based on the ideal family, ideal femininity, and ideal masculinity. It is these arguments that allow for the systemic discrimination of women to continue well into the twenty-first century (Carlisle).
The persisting wage gap is an example of systemic discrimination because it exemplifies the fact that patriarchy, defined as a male dominated society, is extremely prominent in the world today and has been for centuries (Aulette and Wittner 7). By executing such blatant misogyny in the workplace, it enables men and society to remain functioning in a patriarchal fashion. Misogyny is most commonly defined as the hatred or dislike of women and girls, and it can be manifested in various ways, including discrimination in the workplace (Aulette and Wittner 95). These ideas of patriarchy and misogyny are not inherent to human nature, but rather, are taught to children in the form of gender socialization. Gender socialization is the process by which children are taught the dos and don’ts of gender binary, boy and girl (Aulette and Wittner 58). From gender socialization, norms of emphasized femininity and hegemonic masculinity are instilled throughout society. Emphasized femininity is an exaggerated form of femininity in which girls are expected to conform to the needs and desires of men (Aulette and Wittner 8). In addition, girls are taught that they must be soft-spoken, dress nicely, and adhere to certain interests such as dancing, Barbie Dolls and the colour pink. Hegemonic masculinity is the idea that men must always be the superior gender, and therefore, they should be the more educated, breadwinners of the family (Aulette and Wittner 8). Moreover, this relates to the wage gap, as it is these ideas that society has normalized that resulted in women being paid twenty-two percent less than men. These norms have also enabled society to attribute the wage gap to differences in education, interests, and ideals of who should be responsible for childcare.
This wage gap becomes increasingly more complicated with the intersectionality of race and gender (Aulette and Wittner 7). While Caucasian women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar their male counterparts make, women of ethnic minorities and aboriginal women on average, make ten to twenty cents less. The fact that women of different ethnicities make less than white women is another example of systemic discrimination against both women and race. Moreover, it clearly demonstrates the idea of white privilege, which can be defined as social privileges that benefit white women (in this case), in Western societies (Aulette and Wittner 117). Additionally, in situations like this, the idea of a glass ceiling comes into play. A glass ceiling is described as the seen but unreachable barrier that keeps women and minorities from reaching the highest corporate rankings, despite education and achievements (Aulette and Wittner 527).
To conclude, the bake sale carried out by the teenaged Utah students, and the wage gap among women themselves, are prime examples of male privilege, as well as white privilege. Those who are generally the best off within society are white, middle-class men, as they earn the most and have the best education available to them. While this has changed for women, and continues to do so, it is important to remember that the fight for women’s rights and wage equality is not over and will not be for some time. As long as outdated notions of the gender binary (male-female) are persistent in society, one can expect systemic discrimination against women; especially women of aboriginal descent and those who are ethnically diverse.
Aulette, Judy Root., Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
Carlisle, Randall. “Gender Equality Bake Sale Causes Stir at Utah High School.” Good4Utah. Nexstar Broadcasting Inc, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.
“Pay Equity & Discrimination.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2010. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.