Feminism, Personal Choice, and the Gender Gap In America
Why do Women Still Make Less Than Men In The Modern Day Workforce?
Today, studies exist indicating that, on average, women in the United States make $0.77 on the $1.00 to every man. This “gender gap” as it is called, has raised real concerns amongst feminists and non-feminists alike. The parameters of the study included all women in America versus all men in America, and did not take into consideration work parity or differences such as full-time or part-time work. Many individuals felt that the lack of parameters in the study immediately debunked it, arguing that when analyzing males and females in similar positions, the gender gap dissipates, falling within the margin of error. However, this leads to an even bigger question-why are all the women in America making less than all of the men? Furthermore, who is accountable for this “gender gap,” and why does it exist?
As a female business owner, I often feel like a minority. Indeed, women are still a minority in the workforce, and even more of a minority when it comes to business ownership. Being the owner of a successful business requires razor sharp accuracy, overwhelming commitment, and unmeasurable sacrifice. My days are long, my stress levels high, and the responsibility often daunting. Yet, I choose to continue because, ultimately, I truly enjoy having a career and a life based upon achievement. This, however, is not for everyone. This then begs the question: Do American women, on the whole, choose less stressful, lower paying positions, often eschewing business ownership or higher paying positions, because of the heavy toll it can take on themselves and their families?
An analysis of the positions in my own company reveals a possible answer. While the majority of the managers in my company are women, the sales department is comprised entirely of men, save for myself. Why is this? Years ago, I asked my father why he did not have any female sales representatives in his company, of which he is CEO. My father, a proud “honorary woman,” who has championed me every step of the way in my career, sat back in his chair and answered me candidly. “Katherine, dear, I tried hiring a female sales representative a couple of years ago, but before she could start, her husband got transferred. I simply have not had any other women apply.” I heard him loudly and clearly. In this day and age, nearly sixty years after the advent of the feminist movement in the United States, the careers of wives often still take a backseat to that of their husbands.
Indeed, my company has employed female sales representatives in the past. The last one employed simply could not make it work, primarily because of issues relating to childcare. Sales jobs are typically low paying unless the sales representative produces. However, a successful sales representative often earns the most of anyone in a company-sometimes even the owner. Nevertheless, just like business owners, sales representatives work long hours, live under a cloud of stress, and sacrifice a great deal in order to make a hefty paycheck.
For many women, the jobs that pay a consistent salary or a consistent hourly wage, often represent a better alternative than the uncertainty of potentially higher paying positions. This is consistent because of societal responsibilities placed upon them. For example, if children are involved, women are often expected to be the family member retrieving the child from school, or the one to stay home if the child is ill. Women are also, on average, the primary family member expected to monitor the child’s homework, and take them to after-school activities. These responsibilities, one could assert, have contributed significantly to the gender gap.
Another issue contributing to the gender gap, is women opting out of the workforce entirely. I have some female family members and friends who have chosen to be full-time mothers and/or housewives, eschewing a career outside the home. Decisions such as these, arguably, also contribute to the finding of women making $0.77 on the $1.00 to men, since men in America very rarely have the luxury of making such a choice. However, the very fact that this statistic has been identified, means that women as a class are arguably hurting other women, albeit unintentionally, by choosing to make what they view as a “personal choice.” The saying, “The personal is political,” likely comes into play here. Essentially, their “personal choice” contributes to the gender gap, disheartening women who are battling it out in the workforce.
When individuals argue that women staying home is a personal choice, with little to no consequence on other women, one needs to look no further than “Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka,” 347 U.S. 483 (1954) where the Supreme Court ruled
“separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.” Simply put, segregation in our society based on race is illegal. Consequently, one can also argue that segregation in our society based on gender is illegal. Perhaps this is an extreme example, but if a certain amount of African Americans decided to remain enslaved, would not other African Americans find this unacceptable? Following this logic, when a certain amount of American women decide to remain at home, should not other American women find this unacceptable? The assertion that women staying home is equal to men in the workforce is arguably a violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States. Separate is not equal-ever. It is not equal in race, and it is not equal in gender. Following suit, tax breaks for families with a mother at home are probably a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and a society that demands women to be the primary caregivers to children is a violation also. Equal is equal-period. As my husband puts it, equal rights means equal financial responsibility as well as equal pain and suffering.
It is fair to say, for the gender gap to truly disappear, deep seated changes in our society must take place. What are the solutions? Perhaps tax breaks for daycare, or expanding public education to six weeks of age. Another possibility is businesses receiving tax breaks for providing on-site daycare. Most significantly, women must be instilled with the desire to work, and to value the freedoms that a career provides them, such as economic independence and buying power. Furthermore, families must learn to share the burden of raising children and not expect mothers to be the primary caregivers. There are a plethora of ideas one can put forth that could help alleviate or even eliminate the gender gap. As a feminist, and as a business owner, I search for these solutions on a daily basis. However, today, in 2018, the gender gap still exists, and the struggle for gender equality is still very real and ongoing.
In conclusion, as a female business owner, I am in a unique position to help other women in the workforce, while also observing the societal forces that continue to hold us back. In order for the gender gap truly to be overcome in the United States, it can be argued that we must abandon the thought that women staying home is a personal choice of no consequence to working women. Instead, women must start viewing themselves as a class of individuals, deserving of more than “separate but equal.” Equal rights for all means equal responsibility for all. Only when we as a society make this paradigm shift, will the decidedly disappointing gender gap truly disappear.
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