Stop Saying Women Choose To Earn Less Than Men

As yet another disturbing update emerges on the pay gap, columnist Lucy Vine asks what we can do

erin brockovich

by Grazia |

I have a feminist hangover (actually, I have a real hangover, but that’s not the important point right now). My feminist hangover is the result of too many shots of sexism this week and now I feel queasy and sad and paranoid and poor, because I’m not a man (and I spent all my money on actual shots).

A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found this week that the pay gap on hourly wages between men and women currently stands at an average of 18 per cent – with the extreme edge of that hitting mothers worst. They found that after having a child, the pay gap gets progressively worse every year for 12 years, until you’re earning 33 per cent less than your male counterpart. A third less. That is painful to write.

And while women everywhere were wincing over those figures, certain sections of the internet have been rounding up their side eyes, to declare the situation to be a WOMAN’S CHOICE. Because women choose to have a baby - apparently the man has nothing to do with it. It's as if a woman choosing to become a mother means she never really cared about her career anyway ('Honestly, Samantha, banking was just a lady hobby I took up because the local knitting club was only open Thursdays and I already painted my toenails like seven times today...')

Listen, Side-Eye-Dudes, this is what we're referring to when we speak of male privilege. Because men will never have to make that ‘choice’. If you want a baby, there is no consideration that you would be choosing that over your career. Men know they can have both and it is gross and unacceptable that women feel they have to pick one or the other.

I guess, on some level, I at least understand it. Obviously it’s dumbasfuck and I hate it, but after thousands of years of ingrained sexism – teaching us that women and babies belong together and the male populace should just not get involved – it’s at least vaguely explainable. But what about the women who haven’t had a baby? Because the pay gap there is still at 10 per cent. My favourite part of an interview with the author of the report, Robert Joyce, on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, came when the host (and my hero) Jane Garvey asked him about that; Why on earth do women without families still get paid so much less than men?

A flummoxed silence followed, before Joyce eventually replied: “We don’t know why.”

I feel you, Rob. Let’s catch up about this sitch over drinks when I’m done with this hangover.

By the way, just so we’re clear, this is majorly illegal. The 1970 Equal Pay Act is meant to protect us from unequal pay and Prime Minister Theresa May specifically said she wanted to tackle the problem of gendered salary when she took office. But research continues to show time and again that women, and particularly mothers, are thrown overboard at work. Some of it is to do with the part-time penalty – where being away from the office means you’re less likely to request a pay rise or are generally overlooked when it comes to promotions. Some of it’s down to occupational segregation because women dominate the lowest paid areas of employment. And of course some of it’s just plain old sexism. But whatever the underlying cause, it needs to be fixed.

Jessica Bennett, author of Feminist Fight Club (out in September), was talking workplace sexism on The Guardian’s 'What Would A Feminist Do?' podcast last weekend. She says we need to fight issues like these with the help of other women – plus a few of her “battle tactics to deal with all the crazy bulllshit we face every day.” So she advocates females helping females. Have a work wingwoman who will have your back. When you’re interrupted yet again by the office Manturruptor (Bennett’s term! Don’t you love it?) in a meeting, she can speak up for you. When some guy is bro-ppropriating (another Bennett gem) your ideas, she can confirm it was yours. And when it comes to wages, encourage each other to share numbers. Find out where you stand and then speak to your boss and say you would like to be made commensurate with your colleagues. We have to look out for each other in all places – not least the office.

Let’s cure this hangover with a bit of feminist Berocca, yes?

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