By Janeece Woodson, Staff Writer
When I hear the gender pay gap denounced as a myth, the critic typically claims that the gap is imagined by those who like to play victims. If the critic is rather well-read, he or she might argue that the pay gap is a fact, but it is driven by various factors based on individual choice. They claim that some women may earn less than their male counterparts because they make decisions that directly lead to lower pay, regardless of gender.
The problem with denouncing the gender pay gap as a myth or as a consequence of personal preference is the lack of consideration for the cultural factors driving the gap. Every policy and quantifiable pattern can be explained by cultural influences; for every argument that the wage gap is imaginary or inexorable, there is a culturally-based explanation for why it is not.
Perhaps the problem is not that the corporate world is driven by men hell-bent on undermining female society (an idea I find almost too ridiculous to write); instead, I would suggest that the wage gap is the result of our culture convincing women that they have the right to do whatever they want. They have the right to do whatever they want, so long as they keep in mind that they really shouldn’t get their CDL’s because they don’t want to get raped or murdered on the road, and they certainly should go into the STEM fields, but they need to know their social lives are likely to be slightly more fulfilling if they choose a less intense major. I will refrain from explaining how I feel about these points, but I do want to make it clear that these points do not justify the wage gap.
For those who say that women should choose careers with higher pay, how is this even an argument if you look at the representation in these fields? In 2009, the national census found that women made up only 24 percent of the workforce related to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There must be a cause, and since we all agree that it is not some legal or social restriction, it must be something understated. Thus, I would imagine the cause is rather difficult to address; it is unsaid, and often denied, but the evidence is there. The many campaigns encouraging women to pursue the sciences and embrace their logical sides have somehow convinced the naysayers that the problem has been solved. It is almost as if they have forgotten that even worldviews, like feminism, can be and often are sold for a profit.
Some say that women choose lower-paying careers because the higher-paying choices are more dangerous, labor-intensive, or both. At the surface, it seems that this is caused by personal preference, but I know from experience that women are often dissuaded from career paths in which they are generally interested, because those industries are not known to be kind to their sex. After college, I had hoped to go to trade school and study welding, since the hobby had really grown on me, and I see no problem with pursuing it as a career. I was immediately informed from all channels that I was going to be sexually harassed and that I would not want to deal with working in a male-dominated field. But if I listened every time someone said that about every male-dominated hobby of mine— backpacking and hiking, streaming video games, etc—I would not be the woman I am.
So, females make less because they value their own safety, thus creating a wage gap. Let us, for a moment, agree with this statement: some fields are just more dangerous from women, not always, but sometimes. Whose fault is that?
Others point to the wage gap as a direct result of women working fewer hours than men. A professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that women make four percent less after having a child, while men make six percent more per child. Women stay home to care for children and are not wholly compensated, while men are rewarded financially for having families. During high school, I had several girl friends who were told that getting married and starting a family was much more important for them than going to college. They were told this lovingly; they were told to embrace their abilities to create and nurture life. However, they were encouraged to do so at the expense of education, a factor directly relating to one’s earnings. How can the wage gap be justified because women have the choice to turn their backs on these pressures?
Women have the choice to say no to the wage gap; they can pursue high-paying careers, be assertive and chase leadership roles, and silence the voices calling them to be caregivers. Men are not stopping them; American culture is not stopping them. Still, the pressure is there, and it is great enough to keep some of us who consider ourselves equal to our fathers, brothers, and male friends from having the same jobs and responsibilities as they do.