Why Feminism Matters: Women at Work

This is the second of a 3-part series dealing with only a few of the reasons feminism matters. Feminism matters for many diverse reasons, but the three topics I chose reflect some things closer to my life today.

ImageThe nitty gritty truth is, on average women make $.77 for every dollar men make for equivalent work*. This is despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963. And pay is even lower for women of color.

This causes some serious ramifications for women. For example, if you have two recent college graduates who paid for school using student loans–one male and one female–and they find work that is equal in almost every way (requires the same degree and education level, same number of hours per week, same work load, etc.) more than likely, the woman will be paid less. This means that a larger percentage of the woman’s income will go to student loans, thus she will bring home less money than her male counterpart, despite that they are doing the same work, have the same degree, and are equally qualified to do the work.

But things get more serious if, say, you are single mother. Or living below the poverty line. Or have severe medical expenses. The absence of those dollars adds up. On average, women make about $11,000 less than men annually. $11,000! That is astronomical. $11,000 can easily be the difference between enough to eat and constant hunger pangs. It can be the difference between clothing your children or making them wear the same ragged shoes. It can be the difference between a decent place to live and a rundown apartment. $11,000 is a lot of money.

The disparity between men and women at work extends beyond the omnipresent pay gap (again, its presence exists despite the Equal Pay Act). Women are often put under fire for how they look. A woman can be too big, too small, too ugly, too pretty, hair too straight or too curly. Rarely is a woman allowed to just be her without judgement from someone else.

In the case of Melissa Nelson, she was too sexy. And being too sexy resulted in job loss that was upheld by Iowa courts. Nelson was fired because her boss couldn’t control his thoughts, which were–according to him–damaging his marriage.

This is a big deal. It sets the precedent that a woman can be fired for her appearance and that men in power can do what they want. This also contributes to rape culture, like so many other things.

Women at work have made all kinds of gains over the years. The fact that we can go to school and seek employment is grounds for celebration. But we still have a ways to go.

Even women in the spotlight still experience fewer opportunities and gendered stereotypes.

ImageZooey Deschanel (actress,singer/songwriter, producer, co-founder of HelloGiggles.com) has, in multiple interviews, complained about how there are questions asked of her that would never be asked of a male actor. Namely, the very personal, no one’s-business-but-her-own question of if she’s planning on having kids and when. She responded,

That is so personal, and it’s my pet peeve when people press you on it. And it’s always women who get asked! Is anybody saying that to George Clooney?

And she’s right. Whether or not a woman wants to have kids or when is hyper-personal. And it is only ever asked of women. Last I checked, men are capable of procreating, too!
I’m not one to buy into the idea that Hollywood reflects real life. More likely, it creates illusions of what we think life should be like, not what is really happening. That said, I do think what is happening to women in Hollywood could be reflective of the opportunities other women have (or more accurately, don’t have).
In a recent Huffington Post article, eight actresses are detailed who had to create their own complex, interesting characters because quality roles just aren’t there otherwise.
I am all for making your job be what you want it to be instead of waiting around for it to change. But the fact is, most roles for women in both TV and movies are very two-dimensional filler roles, lacking in substance and depth. Therefore, these women had to create their own roles or else risk being cast as the same boring, stereotypical character over and over again.
Now relate that back to non-Hollywood life. Are women viewed as fillers at work? Thankfully, in a lot of cases this isn’t true. I know plenty of women who are valued members of their workplace, bosses even.
But, I once had a job where I was literally expected to stand around all day and do nothing. If any work came in, the guys would prevent me from doing it or take it from me. Usually with some degrading remark to boot. And you know what? I am capable of so much more than standing around looking pretty.
And that leads me into my next topic: boys’ clubs. Boys’ clubs still exist. The aforementioned job is a great example of that. Not only would these guys not let me do any work, they would leave me out of every single conversation and ignore me if I tried to join in or gather information. It was as if instead of being a solid human being I was an invisible ghost.
And our male clients were no better. They would come in to ask questions or deliver work to be done and treat me like a poster on the wall.
And all this doesn’t even begin to touch on how often women in the workplace are denied the same opportunities and treatment of men. It’s true there are plenty of women up-and-coming in the business world. But most of what are considered by society to be “prestigious” or “leading” fields are dominated by men.
ImageWhat I find to be probably the worst of all this is representation in congress. We have yet to have a woman president in the United States. And women represent a mere 18.3% of congress. So, with 51% of the U.S. population being female, I’d say that’s pretty representative. Right? Right? Wrong.
I don’t want to chalk this all up to taxes, but remember that little thing called the American Revolution? And remember how one of the key points was “taxation without representation?” Well, I can say that if only 18.3% of congress are female, we certainly suffer from taxation without representation.
More to the point, however, is that without equal representation, it’s a hard road to better and equal work opportunities for women. Not an impossible road, but one that shouldn’t still be trudged in 2013.
So how do we change this? After all, there really isn’t a point in talking about it unless we do something about it.
ImageWell, in light of next week’s Women’s Suffrage Day (93 years of voting! Woo hoo!) it is worth mentioning that we should, you know, vote. Don’t vote for a candidate just because she is a woman. Voting or not voting for someone because of their gender kind of defeats the purpose of equality, and therefore feminism.
But vote for the candidate who is aware of and concerned about women and women’s issues.
I feel like there could easily be an entire post about female candidates and how society views them. But another thing to consider when choosing a candidate is: don’t consider her appearance. It really doesn’t matter. All the mudslinging at Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008 was horrendous. It doesn’t matter which party you favor, everyone suffers when female candidates are targeted for their appearance.
Another thing to do is to realize for yourself that your gender does not determine your capabilities. And then spread the word, particularly to young children. The cliche is that our children are our future, but it is true. Teaching young girls that they can have aspirations to be members of congress or the president instead of a fairy tale princess is a huge step toward equality in the future (note that I love fairy tales and there is nothing wrong with playing princess, but there is a problem when girls think they are only capable of waiting for Prince Charming).
And finally, get to work! Apply for jobs in those male-dominated fields. Acknowledge your female co-workers or employees as your equal. And do whatever you can think of to create equality. Equality isn’t going to just show up. We–both men and women–have to fight for it and refuse to stop fighting until it’s won.
*While the actual percentage varies depending on different studies/sources, the fact remains women still make some percentage less than men do for equal work. 

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