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The Pay Gap Is Real, but Blame Gender Roles

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Maybe the wage gap is not about sexism in the workplace. It probably has more to do with our society’s different expectations for men and women when it comes to childcare.

The gender wage gap has been categorized as three different things in the media: real, fake, or just a plain old myth.

But the fact is women truly do make less than their male counterparts.

Let’s take it step by step:

  1. The gender wage gap shows that in 2015, women made 81% in wages in comparison to their male counterparts.  
  2. The gender wage gap also takes into consideration all the jobs that men hold and all the jobs that women hold.
  3. The gender wage gap exists because more men hold higher positions in the workplace that come with higher wages than jobs that women hold. This creates an “obvious” and devoid-of-sexism wage gap.

Joseph William Singer, a professor at Harvard Law School, addresses the issue of inequality towards women in the marketplace within his book Entitlement: The Paradoxes of Property. Singer suggests that the wage gap isn’t something that can simply be “debunked” because its existence, unfortunately, is deeply-rooted in American culture.

Singer describes the 1997 case, Upton v. JWP Businessland. Joanna Upton, a single mother was hired at a job and agreed to work a standard eight to five schedule with the occasional later hours. She still needed to get home in the evenings to care for her child. Her employer, however, kept her at work later and later, sometimes even until ten at night. The woman informed her employer that working these late hours were not possible because of her obligations as a mother. But rather than receiving a change in her hours, she was fired. 

Ms. Upton took this case to court and lost. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court believed that employers shouldn’t have to be subjected to lawsuits every time an employee has, essentially, scheduling conflicts. Her termination, in the eyes of the court, was completely lawful. However, the most jarring aspect of the case was the Court’s reasoning, which suggested that Ms. Upton’s responsibilities as a mother did not serve a “public purpose.” In other words, the Court seemed to conclude that being a mother was not benefiting society as a whole. 

The fact is that women undertake most of the responsibilities of parenting. This isn’t a criticism of men. If anything, it’s a further condemnation of our society’s strictly bifurcated gender roles. “Paternity leave” still isn’t a completely social acceptable notion. Allowing a man to take a few weeks off of work to care for his child is not the custom in the United States. Men are expected to be the breadwinner and work outside of the home while mothers take leave to care for their children. 

Women have to put their careers on hold because juggling two sets of responsibilities simply isn’t doable. Sometimes women must also take on part-time and low-paying jobs to make ends meet, which helps to explain also the gender wage gap.

It isn’t because women are less intelligent, less capable, or less educated. Now that idea has been completely debunked. So other than addressing potential sexism in the workplace, why haven’t we been able to tackle the fact that women get paid less? That’s because the gender wage gap stems from a truth that makes everybody uncomfortable to talk about. What exactly can we say about the way men and women divide roles in terms of childcare? What exactly is the solution to fix the way society pushes gender roles in regards to childcare?

The fact that women perform a type of uncompensated labor in the form of childcare has a huge effect on economy, and it’s about time that society begins to recognize it. Once again, it’s not necessarily a critique about men needing to be more involved parents. In fact, I’m sure many do want that for themselves, but society would rather push the responsibility onto women.

Why are citizens paid for jury duty for trials that extend over ten days, but women aren’t compensated for childcare that extends at least eighteen years? Sure, jury duty is regarded as one of the most important civic duties. What about the societal expectations of mothers? Mothers spend countless hours attending to their children, but this role isn’t regarded as the sort of labor that warrants pay.

The battle between genders within the gender pay gap isn’t just about sexism in the workplace anymore. It’s about an accepted family dynamic. The gender wage gap isn’t fake; it was never “made-up,” and it certainly isn’t a myth.

This inequality isn’t just about how men have received better jobs. It’s about how the job of motherhood is not one than is legally or socially considered to be as important.

Ashley Wang is a student at Rutgers University. 

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