The Paycheck: Still Fighting For Equality

The following is a guest post written by Maggie Kurnyta, LWVNJ spring intern

As a college student, vocal feminist, and future member of the American workforce, I find myself anxious about what is to come. Currently, white women earn 80 cents to every dollar a white man earns, a drastic disparity that is often overlooked or rationalized with ludicrous theories.

What’s even more ludicrous than that is women in minority groups earn close to 80% of what a white women makes. No, you weren’t reading that wrong. Women of color earn even less than white women, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone with even the smallest bit of knowledge about our country’s history.

I know, it seems like we’re back in 1919 still fighting for our right to vote or in 1963 yearning for bodily autonomy and freedom from the domestic sphere we were pushed into, but we’re not. This is 2016, and while the “equal pay for equal work” motto is one I am proud to support, it’s also one that I have never seen put into practice.

A few days ago, I came across a quote from Maya Angelou, and as an English and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, Maya Angelou is a woman I deeply admire. Her quote was “I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” More often than not these days, women are realizing the injustice that is the gender wage gap and are actively fighting against it.

Pay equity shouldn’t even be a fight, but the most basic rights are often disputed and debated over as we have seen time and time again. However, if you were to ask me two years ago if men and women were being paid and credited equally for the same amount of work, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Of course.” It is truly amazing what some time, education, and disillusion will do to a young feminist.

I think that would be the word to characterize my emotions best: disillusion. I cannot fathom a society that would enforce and perpetuate a cycle of gender discrimination because I have met some of the most hardworking, ambitious women in my first two years of college. How can I tell them to try their best when their “best” is only going to be worth about 80% or less than what they really deserve? Pay inequality is a reality that we can no longer run from. That’s not to say that people won’t try.

Here are a few ludicrous theories we have most likely heard at least once in our lives:

“Women are more likely to take lower ranking positions because they want to start and maintain families.”

“Men earn more because they are smarter and work harder.”

“Women are not as skilled in negotiating for higher salaries as men are, so they are stuck in a perpetual state of wage inferiority.”

If you aren’t rolling your eyes yet, there are still dozens of other myths used to justify the wage gap. However, the term is “equal pay for equal work,” not equal pay for different fields and quality of work. Some employers may even claim they do not see gender while they are hiring workers, which in my opinion, is just an excuse to hire more men and promote less diversity.

Therefore, while the majority of myths are fabricated, there still lies some truth to them. Why would women be more likely to take off from work for a sick child instead of splitting time with their significant others? Why would women feel uncomfortable negotiating their salaries? How is it that female students can outperform male students, but still earn less than them on average when they enter the workforce?

I think before any work can be done to solve this injustice, we need to reach a consensus about the problem. Women are paid less than men for completing the same type and amount of work. This is not a myth; it is an institutional issue that can only be changed through legislative change and institutional enforcement. As I learn from and work with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey on this particular issue, I am pleased to say that I see pay equity coming to the forefront instead of being on the backburner. By denying women wage equality, we solidify their place as the inferior sex, a notion that is replicated in every other aspect of their personal lives.

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