41 Comments

FAQ: What is the "Gender Gap"?

Updated 10 November 2007

The term “gender gap” generally refers to the observed inequity in earnings, whereby men earn significantly more than women both on average and when performing the same job, although there are also discussions of gender gaps in representation in certain areas of society such as education and politics. This gap varies between countries, so obviously social factors are crucial.

There are a ton of sexist rationalisations for why it is right and proper that the gender earnings gap should continue to exist. The most common one is that men are more willing to work in risky professions which pay their workers a risk premium. A problem is, that argument assumes a perfect market in which a risk premium actually is paid to workers in more danger of bodily harm, but there is absolutely no evidence that there generally exists a large enough risk premium paid to certain workers to account for any significant fraction of the gender earnings gap. The empirical evidence simply doesn’t support it.

art02.gif
Image Source: US Dept of Labor,
Knowledge gets the biggest pay premium

The Dept of Labor’s article from which the above image is sourced states:

In sum, the duties most highly valued by the marketplace are generally cognitive or supervisory in nature. Job attributes relating to interpersonal relationships do not seem to affect wages, nor do the attributes of physically demanding or dangerous jobs.

Second problem is, most examples of high risk professions are those “glamour” risk professions which pay well over a living wage. The arguments brought up usually fail to include the workers on low wages who are truly most at risk of fatal injury, as seen below:

art04.gif
Image Source: US Department of Labor, Fatal occupational injuries by industry, 2003

I doubt that anyone believes that agricultural labourers are paid a risk premium despite experiencing more than twice the risk of fatality of construction workers, do they? So, there’s obviously more going on in how well remunerated some professions are than just the perception of bodily risk and hard, dirty work.

So, if men choosing jobs which compensate them with a risk premium is not the explanation, what is it? Cue the gender essentialist arguments about how women just naturally choose less financially rewarding jobs for various reasons that are allegedly innate and immutable (despite the fact that the gender gap in earnings is much less in other countries and even virtually non-existent in a few). However, the empirical evidence again does not support the argument that work patterns alone are sufficient to explain the gender earnings gap [link].

Let a minor Greek Goddess explain further why those rationalisations are made and why they are wrong: Echidne of the Snakes did an excellent 3-part series on the Gender Gap last year (1. Theory, 2. Empirical Evidence and 3. Addressing the Wingnuts).

Addendum: Further Reading
(actual books)

Joyce P. Jacobsen, The Economics of Gender
ISBN10: 0631207279

Jane Humphries, Gender and Economics
ISBN10: 1852788437

Francine Blau, Marianne Ferber and Ann Winkler: The Economics of Women, Men and Work.
ISBN13: 9780131851542, ISBN10: 0131851543

Many more books on economics and gender listed here.

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About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

41 comments on “FAQ: What is the "Gender Gap"?

  1. Independent Woman’s Forum gives a more credible account of the gender gap than this “Greek Goddess”

    http://www.iwf.org/campus/show/18948.html

  2. You haven’t actually read Echidne’s posts, have you? She addresses all those claims.

    It’s easy to say that women “just don’t go in for” the dirty and dangerous well-paid jobs when you don’t take into account how strong the opposition to women entering the trades and the mining/emergency worker jobs is in the first place.

  3. thats not my point.
    my point was about source credibility: I believe that Warren Farrell a three-time board of directors member of the National Organization for Women New York City is a more credible person than a self proclaimed Goddess.

  4. Dearie me, have you never heard of this esoteric concept called “humour”? The goddess thing is a joke, Jesse.

    Echidne cites primary sources in her articles, she is not just presenting her opinion. These are rigorous articles even if the writer is guilty of having a sense of humour.

    Warren Farrell’s history with NOW is not nearly as illustrious as he makes it out to be, y’know. The NYC chapter was quite small when Farrell belonged to it, and was not particularly influential (the national office of NOW has always been in Washington DC). If he was that important and all, how come he never made it onto the board of the DC chapter when he moved from NYC to Washington DC in 1973 (years before he openly broke with NOW)? Perhaps NYC was just a chapter that really needed officeholders, and Farrell just happened to volunteer.

    BTW, have you read statements he made in this article in the November 1977 issue of Penthouse: Incest: The Last Taboo – Previously Suppressed Material From The Original Kinsey Interviews Tells Us That Incest Is Prevalent And Often Positive, promoting his book on “positive incest” which never ended up being published?

    “… [M]illions of people who are now refraining from touching, holding, and GENITALLY CARESSING [emphasis added] their children, when that is really part of a caring, loving expression, are repressing the sexuality of a lot of children and themselves.”

    Farrell has apparently hurled charges of libel around at people on the Internet since the days of newsgroups for quoting his own words from this article, claiming that he said “gently caressing” rather than “genitally caressing”, but he has also never sued either Playboy or the journalist for printing it. Why not? No judge is ever going to rule against somebody else quoting the Playboy article if Farrell can’t show that he sued them way back when it was first published.

  5. Echidne is a self-proclaimed expert, essentially she is proclaiming that she is Omnipotent or at least superior to regular human thought by saying she is a Goddess and referring to her self int the third person she comes off as thinking she is superior than every one elce. that aside

    my argument is about credibility as a statistician. I believe that a well funded moderate organization like IWF that has received wide acclaim is more likely to have the correct view than some arm chair statistician. idol speculation on complicated matters like statistics by amateurs like you and I is not a good idea. Instead we should deffer to people who have credentials. so the question i ask is: is there anybody you could site who is in the public spotlight with credentials as a statistician on this subject? A proper recommendation with proper credentials is need for a proper consideration of truth.

  6. Tosh, Jesse. You really are obtuse.

    She is not claiming any sort of omnipotence, not even as a joke, and only someone woefully ignorant of Greek mythology and the likely attributes of “a minor Greek Goddess” with the name “Echidne of the Snakes” could claim such a thing. Also, in the Greek myths the gods and goddesses are distinctly NOT superior in thought to humanity in any way – they are often presented as monumentally flawed, just with power that mortals do not possess, and which they often misuse.

    I assure you that Echidne not only knows all this but expects her readership to take that on board as part of their interaction with her generally – she has a sense of humour about inflated claims, including those surrounding deity. The third person stuff is a stylistic choice, again to maximise a humorous effect.

    As to statistical credibility, Echidne links to peer-reviewed studies, particularly in Part II re the empirical evidence. It is not just her word. Follow the links.

    (P.S. Nothing to say about Farrell, this time?)

  7. For the record, on this thread, I will do some homework for you, Jesse. Echidne links to this study done by the General Accounting Office in 2003 for a Congressional Committee.

    WOMEN’S EARNINGS
    Work Patterns Partially Explain Difference between Men’s and Women’s Earnings

    [...]
    In summary, we found:

    Of the many factors that account for differences in earnings between men and women, our model indicated that work patterns are key. Specifically, women have fewer years of work experience, work fewer hours per year, are less likely to work a full-time schedule, and leave the labor force for longer periods of time than men. Other factors that account for earnings differences include industry, occupation, race, marital status, and job tenure. When we account for differences between male and female work patterns as well as other key factors, women earned, on average, 80 percent of what men earned in 2000. While the difference fluctuated in each year we studied, there was a small but statistically significant decline in the earnings difference over the time period. (See table 2 in app. II.)

    Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings, our model could not explain all of the difference in earnings between men and women. Due to inherent limitations in the survey data and in statistical analysis, we cannot determine whether this remaining difference is due to discrimination or other factors that may affect earnings. For example, some experts said that some women trade off career advancement or higher earnings for a job that offers flexibility to manage work and family responsibilities.

    In conclusion, while we were able to account for much of the difference in earnings between men and women, we were not able to explain the remaining earnings difference. It is difficult to evaluate this remaining portion without a full understanding of what contributes to this difference. Specifically, an earnings difference that results from individuals’ decisions about how to manage work and family responsibilities may not necessarily indicate a problem unless these decisions are not freely made. On the other hand, an earnings difference may result from discrimination in the workplace or subtler discrimination about what types of career or job choices women can make. Nonetheless, it is difficult, and in some cases, may be impossible, to precisely measure and quantify individual decisions and possible discrimination. Because these factors are not readily measurable, interpreting any remaining earnings difference is problematic.

    So, yes indeed, work patterns are key and were extensively studied by the GAO, and even when that was taken into account there was still a gender pay gap where women earned only 80% of men’s earnings in 2000.

    There are some women who do make a good living in the dirty/dangerous professions, and there are many more women who would be happy to earn the money, but they find it difficult to gain employment in those industries. Would it ever be a 50M/50F workforce in those industries? Quite possibly not, as brute strength plays a part. But it would quite likely be a 70M/30F workforce, or maybe even 60M/40F as more and more work is done by machines. And the current ratio is generally more like 90M/10F or 95M/5F in those industries. Ludicrously inequitable. The men in these industries may be very good at subtly discriminating in ways that cannot be legally addressed, but it’s a prima facie case that they are indeed discriminating against women who would be happy to work in these well-paying jobs.

  8. This FAQ has now been updated with extra sources and further reading recommendations.

  9. [...] in our so-called “equal” societies where sex discrimination, sexual harassment and the glass ceiling are alive and [...]

  10. “So, yes indeed, work patterns are key and were extensively studied by the GAO, and even when that was taken into account there was still a gender pay gap where women earned only 80% of men’s earnings in 2000.”

    Yes, but my understanding is that Farrell controlled for more variables. In particular, I don’t see anything in the GAO study about occupational hazard or physically demanding jobs, and there doesn’t appear to be a very precise breakdown by occupation. The study is careful to conclude that the gap is unexplained. In other words, this study emphatically does not show that women are paid less for the same work.

    By the way, no one is arguing that physically demanding jobs pay the most, but that, all other things being equal, a physically demanding job will pay more than one that is not physically demanding.

    It doesn’t surprise me that unions would discriminate against women. And that needs to change. But the claim that women earn 20% less for the same work is a very profound one; it means that a rational, non-discriminatory employer could easily destroy competitors just by paying women what they’re worth and hiring up all the best women. Claiming that employers would pass up such an opportunity demands evidence, and you haven’t provided any.

    And, finally, asking whether women earn less than men because of their choices is not a “sexist rationalisation.” It’s a legitimate question. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that things “should” be that way.

  11. Bari

    ‘…asking whether women earn less than men because of their choices is not a “sexist rationalisation.” It’s a legitimate question. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that things “should” be that way.’

    More a case of both/and. Sexist generalisations often lurk within legitimate questions.

    Perhaps it might be a more legitimate question to ask ‘why’ women earn less than men because of their choices.

  12. Seeing as today was Equal Pay Day in the USA (the day in 2008 where earnings for women finally catch up with average earnings for men during 2007) there are a slew of posts around about the Gender Gap in earnings. Do a google blog-search on “Equal Pay Day” or “Fair Pay For Women”.

    As to occupational hazard and physically demanding jobs, the most dangerous workplace with respect to injury in the USA is agricultural work, for both men and women. A particularly highly paid line of work, is it, agricultural work? The most dangerous workplaces for homicide are street prostitution (way ahead), liquor store workers, and taxi drivers: again, not particularly well-paid work.

    Here’s a good post on Equal Pay from Teh Portly Dyke.

    I also question your folk wisdom here:

    it means that a rational, non-discriminatory employer could easily destroy competitors just by paying women what they’re worth and hiring up all the best women

    That would depend on consumers/clients being rational consumers i.e. having the same confidence in a business run by women as they have in a business run by men. The way in which earnings in vetinary science have plummeted since women came to be the majority of practitioners, and similar patterns in other professions, shows that as soon as a profession/business is dominated by women it loses social status, and thus is less well remunerated. Your thought experiment fails in the real world, unless gendered attitudes change.

  13. By the way, no one is arguing that physically demanding jobs pay the most, but that, all other things being equal, a physically demanding job will pay more than one that is not physically demanding.

    I’m also pretty sure that this is flat out untrue. Nurses require extensive educational qualifications, for a physically demanding job, and earn not much more than office clerks who only need a high-school education and perhaps a night-school diploma. All through our society, jobs (for men) which are “indoors with no heavy lifting” have higher status than jobs which require the worker to sweat, and are remunerated accordingly. How can you explain a sudden switch in status from “indoor/no lifting jobs are superior” to “outdoor/physically demanding jobs are superior”, simply by changing genders of the compared employees, other than by sexism?

  14. It would seem also that many definition are rigged as well. For example, regarding the term physically demanding, most of us have been trained to think in terms of jobs requiring sheer muscle mass, such as operating heavy machinery or being a firefighter.

    A job can be physically demanding in other ways though. For example, caring for young children and some areas of home care nursing are physically demanding as well. Sure theses jobs don’t require a person to be hercules, but there is stamina and physical endurance involved.

    It’s no mistake that the jobs that were once exclusively the domain of the wife and mother are indeed some of the lowest paying. People would rather spend more money on a fancy house than pay someone a living wage look after their own child or aged parent. These are supposed to be “labor of love” jobs, get it?

    Contrast this with the amount of money some women in the sex industry. Looks like not much has really changed.

  15. Marian:

    Bari:

    ‘…asking whether women earn less than men because of their choices is not a “sexist rationalisation.” It’s a legitimate question. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that things “should” be that way.’

    More a case of both/and. Sexist generalisations often lurk within legitimate questions.

    The author of the post seems to be implying that any explanation for the pay gap is a sexist rationalization, not a generalization. First of all, labeling a statement as “sexist” implies that it is biased and therefore untrue. (Or is the truth sometimes sexist?) Secondly, labeling a statement as a “rationalization” implies that it is justifying something. In fact, some people may even want to eliminate the pay gap despite thinking that women are just as well-paid as men for the work that they do.

    Perhaps it might be a more legitimate question to ask ‘why’ women earn less than men because of their choices.

    I don’t see why it’s more legitimate. They both seem like legitimate questions to me.

  16. Seeing as today was Equal Pay Day in the USA (the day in 2008 where earnings for women finally catch up with average earnings for men during 2007) there are a slew of posts around about the Gender Gap in earnings. Do a google blog-search on “Equal Pay Day” or “Fair Pay For Women”.

    On June 10th, women will also catch up in the number of non-fatal injuries and illness. They’ll catch up with men in terms of workplace fatalities on August 10, 2015.

    tigtog:

    As to occupational hazard and physically demanding jobs, the most dangerous workplace with respect to injury in the USA is agricultural work, for both men and women. A particularly highly paid line of work, is it, agricultural work?

    Again, the claim is that all things being equal, physically demanding job pays more. It’s tough to measure, but that’s the claim. Feminists have legitimately pointed out that coal miners may make more partly because of the industry they work in. The same standard must be applied to agriculture workers.

    The most dangerous workplaces for homicide are street prostitution (way ahead), liquor store workers, and taxi drivers: again, not particularly well-paid work.

    Do you have a cite? I’d be interested to see if the military was included as a workplace. Also, if we’re including criminal occupations, it might be interesting to take a look at drug dealers.

    I also question your folk wisdom here:

    it means that a rational, non-discriminatory employer could easily destroy competitors just by paying women what they’re worth and hiring up all the best women

    That would depend on consumers/clients being rational consumers i.e. having the same confidence in a business run by women as they have in a business run by men.

    That’s true. That’s what I think the discussion is really about. Are people behaving mostly rationally, or are they discriminating based on gender? If they are discriminating, on the balance, are women more affected than men?

    The most convincing way to demonstrate discrimination is with positive evidence. For example, here is a site claiming that, while most men don’t have a preference either way about whether to deal with a man or with a woman at a car dealership, most women prefer to deal with another woman.

    Another way to demonstrate discrimination is to consider one or two variables and say, “These variables don’t completely explain the pay gap. Therefore, the pay gap is based mostly on discrimination.” But it would be very surprising if the pay gap were due only to a few well-understood variables. So just considering one or two and saying they don’t explain the whole thing does not justify a claim of discrimination.

    The way in which earnings in vetinary science have plummeted since women came to be the majority of practitioners, and similar patterns in other professions, shows that as soon as a profession/business is dominated by women it loses social status, and thus is less well remunerated.

    No, it doesn’t show that. It’s an interesting observation, and I’ve heard the same explanation for the decline in bank tellers’ salaries. I’m not tossing your argument out, I’m just saying it’s overly simple. There are lots of other possibilities. Did the demand for veterinarians go down, for example? Did the competition for these positions increase, flooding the market with labor? I’ve been told that becoming a veterinarian is actually harder than becoming a doctor simply because of the competition. And then you have liability for doctors, which could have increased over that time, etc.

    By the way, no one is arguing that physically demanding jobs pay the most, but that, all other things being equal, a physically demanding job will pay more than one that is not physically demanding.

    I’m also pretty sure that this is flat out untrue.

    maybe. I don’t know. If it is untrue, it doesn’t mean the pay gap is due to discrimination. It just means that men aren’t being compensated for risky work. In fact, maybe the pay gap should be bigger!

    At any rate, there are two propositions that this post is attempting to prove:

    1. Women earn less for the same work and
    2. All things being equal, jobs that are physically demanding pay the same or less.

    But there is no evidence provided for either claim.

  17. Nurses require extensive educational qualifications, for a physically demanding job, and earn not much more than office clerks who only need a high-school education and perhaps a night-school diploma.

    According to payscale.com, salaries for office clerks are about half of those for nurses.

    All through our society, jobs (for men) which are “indoors with no heavy lifting” have higher status than jobs which require the worker to sweat, and are remunerated accordingly. How can you explain a sudden switch in status from “indoor/no lifting jobs are superior” to “outdoor/physically demanding jobs are superior”, simply by changing genders of the compared employees, other than by sexism?

    Once more, the claim is that all other things being equal, a physically demanding job will earn more. Obviously a CEO’s job doesn’t require anyone to lift stuff. That’s not the point.

  18. Bari

    In response to my previous comment: ‘Sexist generalisations often lurk within legitimate questions’, you wrote:

    ‘The author of the post seems to be implying that any explanation for the pay gap is a sexist rationalization, not a generalization.’

    I’m saying that your legitimate observation that women earn less than men because they choose lower paid work carries within it a sexist generalisation – i.e. that most women prefer, or are better suited to, jobs that just happen to be lower paid (or not paid at all). And for most men, vice versa.

    On reflection, your choice of wording – ‘sexist rationalisation’ – equally applies here. Because ‘job choice’ places responsibility entirely on individual women, society’s entrenched gender inequality of job remuneration is then let off the hook.

  19. I’m saying that your legitimate observation that women earn less than men because they choose lower paid work carries within it a sexist generalisation – i.e. that most women prefer…

    Well, that’s not my observation. I’m saying there is a question here: to what extent are women’s salaries determined by their choices? (as opposed to their employers’ and consumers’) And if happens to be true that women’s salaries are lower partially or fully because of their choices, how would it be sexist to point that out?

    … or are better suited to …

    I never said that.

    jobs that just happen to be lower paid (or not paid at all). And for most men, vice versa.

    On reflection, your choice of wording – ’sexist rationalisation’ – equally applies here. Because ‘job choice’ places responsibility entirely on individual women, society’s entrenched gender inequality of job remuneration is then let off the hook.

    I’m not sure what you mean. Even if someone believes women are choosing lower paying jobs, that doesn’t mean their choices are occurring in a vacuum. Women in my life have made decisions based on their fertility and interests that were shaped by their gender role. And I’ve made decisions based on my gender role. To be honest, I’m not sure who made the better decisions; my decisions seem to have led me to a career choice which will require longer hours than I’d like, while some women I love have sacrificed some of their income-earning potential for their families.

    I don’t know what the solution to that is, though. Do you? I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to find a solution. I’m just saying we should understand the nature of the problem first.

  20. Bari

    ‘To be honest, I’m not sure who made the better decisions; my decisions seem to have led me to a career choice which will require longer hours than I’d like, while some women I love have sacrificed some of their income-earning potential for their families.’

    My husband and I can certainly relate to that scenario. And I would say it probably applies to most men and women.

    You could also argue that there is a ‘gender hours gap’ – that (1) men still work longer hours than women and that (2) work chosen mostly by men demands longer hours overall than work chosen by women. It’s just that men don’t seem to be identifying or addressing this as a gender issue (when it definitely is).

    In fact, this is the kind of self-help, male-discrimination issue that I would love to see the Mens Movement concentrate on, instead of directing so much negative energy into ‘fighting’ feminism.

  21. It’s just that men don’t seem to be identifying or addressing this as a gender issue (when it definitely is)

    Sometimes it’s appropriate to generalize about the views of political groups like feminists or mens’ rights activists, but this seems like an over-generalization to me.

    And again, I’m not sure who is making the poor choices. I don’t think anyone has an obligation not to work so that the rest of us can catch up.

    In fact, this is the kind of self-help, male-discrimination issue that I would love to see the Mens Movement concentrate on, instead of directing so much negative energy into ‘fighting’ feminism.

    The fact is that discussion requires more than one person: interdependence, in other words. And when a discussion is dishonest and driven by rhetoric and activism–as I think the discussion around the pay gap, including this page, has been–it’s not “fighting” anyone to point that out.

    I also think you’re painting a false dichotomy between self-help and politics. The personal is political, right?

    And, finally, when feminists push for policies like the gender tax in Sweden and Spain that could affect 100% of the population, it’s unreasonable to expect that 50% of the population will just hush up about it and not oppose anything. I’m not part of any mens’ movement, but you had better believe that I’d be calling my representative if they tried something like that on this side of the Atlantic.

    unless you know of a self-help book that explains how to get around those taxes. (without surgery)

  22. Bari

    ‘[Re gender hours gap] I’m not sure who is making the poor choices. I don’t think anyone has an obligation not to work so that the rest of us can catch up.’

    Why not?

    It seems to me that you are vigorously dodging my suggestion that the gender hours gap is a men’s ‘self-help’ issue, and choosing to ignore the many subtle rewards, encouragements, punishments and pressures that are brought to bear on men as a group to CHOOSE to devote so much of themselves to their careers in general, and to working long hours in particular.

    While most individual men don’t like the idea of compromising their families and relationships for the sake of their work (or remain oblivious to it), society’s overriding message is that working long hours is a badge of honour that men can wear proudly despite the negative effect on their personal lives.

    We live in a turbo-charged society that is rushing us all to nowhere. It’s well-documented that Western society is increasingly overworked, putting more and more strain on families. As the workplace becomes more feminised, some institutions are being forced to address this problem. However, nothing will substantially change until men as a group are willing to admit that many of them have a work addiction, and that this addiction dominates the workplace, the economy, the political system and society in general.

    I strongly suspect, of course, that you will dismiss this as another one of these ‘deceitful’ generalisations that feminists make. If so, that’s not my problem.

  23. Marian:

    Right, men just love to work. We never have wives/girlfriends who expect a certain standard of living from us, and no man is ever under a court order to pay a certain amount of $ to a woman for alimoney. Nor are there any jobs that really need to be done 24/7 such as, say, guarding the President.

    Dang us men and our work addictions. Thanks to you for pointing out that we should
    A. Throw out our court orders (for those that have them)
    B. Ditch the wife or girlfriend if she likes living in the suburb and wants to play stay at home mommy or just enterain the right kinds of parties
    C. Totally restructure our economic system. Hey! Maybe we could go to robots!

    Why, the reason men work more is all our fault and all our choice, and never ever necessary at all. Thanks for opening my eyes, Marian.

  24. Clarence, here in Australia court orders on child support tend to be stated as percentages of income earned, not a set amount. I’m astonished to hear that it’s different where you live.

    I would be even more astonished if those on security detail for the President do not work strict shifts (just like firefighters, police officers, nurses and miners). You don’t want someone overtired when their effectiveness depends on alertness.

    As to women expecting a “certain standard of living” that you feel the need to live up to, if the level of work required to sustain that standard of living is unreasonable (and it often is) then yes, why not downsize to a work style that allows family time? If your partner truly cares for you rather than social status then they will want you to be happy and healthy rather than an overstressed stranger to your own children. If what she wants most is social status as you claim then perhaps she should go out and earn the big bucks with lots of overtime herself while you do the househusbanding? Why not?

    Of course, if you really like having the social status yourself, including the wife who is at home to keep the house nice and prepare dinner parties to whom you can invite people who will boost your career, then perhaps you need to rethink who’s actually pushing whom here. If she was happy to live in an inner city loft and have her own career as well, would you have still been happy to marry her or would you have considered her insufficiently supportive of your ambitions?

  25. tiptoq,
    Why do you assume that a woman would want to be stay-at-home only because of Clarence’s ambitions?

    On the work addiction side: I can proudly say that I haven’t worked overtime since they made me salaried. My wife does most of the overtime work, in big part because her job requires it. Of course she has also justified a lot of spending with the excuse “I’ll just put in another 30min a week” (because she is paid hourly). I have decided to put an end to that excuse the next time she brings it up. But then this brings another problem: she will still insist on doing it. There have been numerous occasions where I have expressed my stress over our money situation, and her response has been that she’ll just wait tables (or even strip, which I think is her passive-aggressive response when she considers my stress to be an attack on her). I suppose you could say that we live in a relationship that has the gender “roles” reversed in the money aspect.

    My point here is that there are relationship issues that do not fall well into the patriarchy model, and therefore are not conducive to recruiting the men (including Clarence & I) into the feminist movement. Even when we feel like we are doing all we can, we get the feeling we are not doing enough.

  26. Clarence,

    The issues you bring up are all gender challenges that men could address as a group. For example:

    • Do too many men assume that their wives want social status, when they (the wives) might prefer more time as a family?

    • Does society condition women to be successful ‘through’ a man rather than achieving fulfillment in their own right?

    • Does society place too much importance on winning as a substitute for success or fulfillment (e.g. the school system, sport, the corporate world)? Does this pressure particularly target boys more than girls?

    • With a lot more mothers now working, is it either fair or practical for men to keep assuming they (men) must work long hours?

    As for your point about court orders and alimony, there is no inevitable connection between divorce and men choosing to work long hours. Children’s financial needs do not automatically increase on divorce.

    Traditionally, society puts pressure on both women and men to assume that mothers become the principal child-carers after divorce. Yet, this also locks divorced mothers into limited work options, increased domestic overheads and continued financial dependence on an often hostile ex-husband.

    If anything, the ability for women to work and support themselves after divorce is just as important an issue for men as it is for women.

    Not only is there a gender pay gap and a gender hours gap, there is also a gender child-care gap.

  27. Marcus,
    I can’t speak for all feminists here – and no feminist can, really – but I’m never all that interested in “recruiting” men into feminism, like it’s an army or a club. Feminism is a system of ideas… You can explain it, learn about it, understand it, appreciate it, disagree with some interpretations of it, etc., but you can’t belong to it or recruit people to it.
    Feminism is specifically a system of ideas about cultural patterns involving gender. Patterns, not generalizations. If you don’t fall into the pattern, then it isn’t about you.

  28. Marian:

    Bari:

    I don’t think anyone has an obligation not to work so that the rest of us can catch up.

    Why not?

    because I believe they have a right to do what they want to do. And even if they didn’t, I think you’re missing the fact that other people working hard benefits us in some ways. Although the increased competition may drive down the wages of labor, it’s not a zero-sum game. I’m glad emergency room surgeons and medical researchers work hard; I’ve benefited from that. Cheaper labor can also result in cheaper consumables for the rest of us.

    It seems to me that you are vigorously dodging my suggestion that the gender hours gap is a men’s ‘self-help’ issue, and choosing to ignore the many subtle rewards, encouragements, punishments and pressures that are brought to bear on men as a group to CHOOSE to devote so much of themselves to their careers in general, and to working long hours in particular.

    I don’t think I’m ignoring that at all. I’m directly questioning whether it’s a self-help issue at all. Some people really do enjoy their work or the money it brings in. If they’re happy, who cares?

    It’s well-documented that Western society is increasingly overworked, putting more and more strain on families. As the workplace becomes more feminised, some institutions are being forced to address this problem.

    I have no idea what “feminised” means, but I think there is some pressure on companies to offer maternity leave now that there are families with two income-earners. However, I suspect that part of the reason for stagnant wages is the increased reliance on two incomes in a family. Less married couples can’t help, either, since people are willing to accept lower wages. Again, even assuming this is the case, I don’t think non-providers have a responsibility to stay out of the workforce just so wages go back up.

    I strongly suspect, of course, that you will dismiss this as another one of these ‘deceitful’ generalisations that feminists make. If so, that’s not my problem.

    Since you’re quoting me, would you mind telling me in which comment I referred to “deceitful” feminist generalizations?

  29. tiqtoq:

    Clarence, here in Australia court orders on child support tend to be stated as percentages of income earned, not a set amount. I’m astonished to hear that it’s different where you live.

    Apparently it’s more complicated than that. In addition, after the value is set, it tends to stay static. You’ve also got to take into consideration that people are probably getting booted out of the house, so now they’ve got two housing expenses, and that’s the most expensive budget item for most people. And you can get thrown in prison if you don’t pay, unlike any other type of debt in the U.S. So, while I would take a different tone in making Clarence’s point, the point seems valid to me: there are strong legal and social incentives for men to work harder, and these are not within the control of “men as a group.” They are certainly not within the control of individual men, much less the average individual man paying child support.

    In terms of womens’ preferences, again, you’re missing his point. Of course women may be conditioned to prefer certain traits over others. And of course men as individuals can do their best to choose partners who will respect them even if they earn a little less. (And of course they won’t always find such a partner.) But, as a group, women’s preferences too tend to be a little different. And this can affect the behavior of men as a group.

    I don’t exactly know what Clarence’s point is, but my point would be that it’s neither a “self-help” issue for men or something that men “as a group” can solve. It’s a big, tangled mess, and I’m completely uninterested in assigning blame and responsibility to either men or women. It’s just more complicated than that.

  30. Court ordered child support (which is not alimony, which is almost unheard of in Australia):

    after the value is set, it tends to stay static.

    Here either parent can apply for a child support order to be reassessed in light of changed in financial circumstances (better or worse).

    And you can get thrown in prison if you don’t pay, unlike any other type of debt in the U.S.

    We don’t have that either.

    In terms of womens’ preferences, again, you’re missing his point. Of course women may be conditioned to prefer certain traits over others. And of course men as individuals can do their best to choose partners who will respect them even if they earn a little less. (And of course they won’t always find such a partner.) But, as a group, women’s preferences too tend to be a little different. And this can affect the behavior of men as a group.

    Actually, you’ve fully missed mine. I don’t argue at all that perceptions of the group-preferences of men and women strongly affect the behaviour of both genders. The problem is that the perceptions may often be far from the reality. I’ve known too many couples who didn’t even discuss the issue of *if* they would have children, let alone how many, to have faith that most people actually ask their partners nearly as much as they should about what each of them actually wants rather than what they think the other wants.

  31. tiqtoq:

    The problem is that the perceptions may often be far from the reality.

    Well, that’s the whole question. Do women prefer men who are higher income-earners, and is it more of an issue for women (as a group) than men (as a group)? It’s a difficult thing to quantify, but my guess is that, yes, women tend to prefer higher income-earners, and, yes, it’s probably more of an issue for most women than it is for most men.

    I’ve known too many couples who didn’t even discuss the issue of *if* they would have children, let alone how many, to have faith that most people actually ask their partners nearly as much as they should about what each of them actually wants rather than what they think the other wants.

    We’re not just talking about couples. Single men would have an incentive to earn more, too, if women really prefer higher-earning partners. And again, the original claim was that working long hours at dangerous jobs is a “self-help” issue for men. That is a claim about a society-wide issue, so you’ve got to talk about behaviors on average, not the behaviors of one or two individuals.

    And none of this addresses Clarence’s observation that, even if there are absolutely no social norms strengthened by women that encourage men to be providers, there certainly are legal norms that do so. So men do have a stronger incentive than women, at every point in their lives, to be financially independent, and that is neither within the control of men as individuals nor as a group. (I’m not sure how men would really help themselves as a group, either–did I miss the man-group meeting and the man-vote? I want in on that.)

  32. Bari, I’m bewildered why you are asking feminists (who are questioning, rejecting, deconstructing and attempting to restructure rigid gender roles) to argue against the idea that traditional gender roles that encourage women to depend upon a man as the breadwinner are a bad idea.

    The primary feminist emphasis may well be one of women ensuring their own independent financial security, but the fact that such a change on women’s family/work balance would also benefit men’s work/family balance has always been part of the argument as well. It’s a win-win situation for both sexes.

  33. tiqtoq:

    Bari, I’m bewildered why you are asking feminists (who are questioning, rejecting, deconstructing and attempting to restructure rigid gender roles) to argue against the idea that traditional gender roles that encourage women to depend upon a man as the breadwinner are a bad idea.

    Am I asking that? I don’t think so. The issue being discussed here is whether or not men working more dangerous jobs/longer hours is a men’s “self-help” issue. That’s what I’ve been addressing with my past few posts. I took that to mean that men, collectively or as individuals on average, without any change in the behavior of women on average, could change the situation by ignoring societal pressures and doing what is in their rational self-interest.

    My point is purely the following: first of all, there may be some people who work more or do more dangerous work because they like the work or the money. If they’re happy, its not a self-help issue. For better or for worse, if you’d rather have these people slow down, you are potentially asking them to engage in self-hurt. And secondly, even if we consider individuals who would rather not work long hours or at dangerous jobs, I don’t think the incentives that pressure men into those lines of work are entirely within their control, either as individuals or collectively. Part of those incentives are certainly under the control of men and women stronger than them, and others are, quite frankly, exclusively under the control of women, feminists or not. That’s not to say that women are evil or anything like that–it’s just saying that the gender system isn’t simple enough to assign goodness and innocence to one sex and blame and badness to another. Frankly, I’d be bewildered if you thought people working in poor conditions were entirely in control of their circumstances, but your and Marian’s earlier comments seemed to indicate that you did.

  34. tiqtoq:

    The primary feminist emphasis may well be one of women ensuring their own independent financial security, but the fact that such a change on women’s family/work balance would also benefit men’s work/family balance has always been part of the argument as well. It’s a win-win situation for both sexes.

    The real way to benefit both sexes is to address issues that affect both sexes: for example, by fixing the disparities in family law. If the emphasis is on affirmative action, gender taxes, etc., then one sex is clearly benefiting at the expense of the other. And, quite frankly, if men are asked to compete harder for the same jobs or the same amount of money, the underlying pressure on men to provide is likely to get worse.

  35. The issue being discussed here is whether or not men working more dangerous jobs/longer hours is a men’s “self-help” issue. That’s what I’ve been addressing with my past few posts. I took that to mean that men, collectively or as individuals on average, without any change in the behavior of women on average, could change the situation by ignoring societal pressures and doing what is in their rational self-interest.

    As the feminist self-help movement has done exactly that, gradually changing and expanding once restrictive gender roles through ignoring societal pressures and doing what is in their rational self-interest, then yes: why can’t men gradually work on changing unfair work expectations for men in exactly the same way?

    It is going to be easy? Hell no. Will there be otherwise very attractive people of the opposite gender who simply don’t get it and therefore, for the sake of your own integrity to the principles of working for change, you will have to regretfully decide not to pursue? Hell yes.

    Is an examined activist life worth the harder struggle to find a compatible partner, acknowledging that indeed it may never happen? Feminists say yes.

    The real way to benefit both sexes is to address issues that affect both sexes:

    All rigid gender role expectations restrict the options available to both sexes and stifle the possibilities for both sexes. There is no one “real way” to address all the issues: there are many equally valid ways to chip away at the mountain with our teaspoons.

    quite frankly, if men are asked to compete harder for the same jobs or the same amount of money, the underlying pressure on men to provide is likely to get worse

    Not from women who are willing to pull equal or greater income-earning weight than their partners it won’t.

  36. haha okay. I guess we just have a different definition of self-help. I don’t consider many parts of feminism self-help because they involved changing policies and unexamined attitudes in society. (e.g. attaining suffrage, working for financial independence for women, etc.)

    I was mostly jumping onto Clarence’s point, which is that disparities in court orders for child support and alimony could certainly create a strong incentive for men to be financially independent. Some men will undoubtedly ignore these incentives, but not all will. If that’s right, those things would have to change for equality in the workforce, whatever you want to call the process of changing them.

    I’m sure other commenters here know more about those issues than I do, though. My impression has been that fathers rights’ organizations really are fighting for more equality in family law courts (which is self-help, I guess) and that they are quite fiercely opposed by womens’ rights organizations like NOW. Of course, because that’s not something I know a lot about, maybe my impressions are just wrong.

  37. The real way to benefit both sexes is to address issues that affect both sexes:

    All rigid gender role expectations restrict the options available to both sexes and stifle the possibilities for both sexes. There is no one “real way” to address all the issues: there are many equally valid ways to chip away at the mountain with our teaspoons.

    Yes, I think there are lots of ways to address issues that affect both sexes. Affirmative action and gender taxes, two examples I listed, fail to do that. They both ask employers and men to engage in charity for the sake of all women.

    quite frankly, if men are asked to compete harder for the same jobs or the same amount of money, the underlying pressure on men to provide is likely to get worse

    Not from women who are willing to pull equal or greater income-earning weight than their partners it won’t.

    You keep thinking of everyone as being married. Most people are single. The two examples I gave, affirmative action and gender taxes, both increase pressure on men to compete harder. In many cases, advocates want men to slow down, but they’re simultaneously making the treadmill go a little faster for men.

  38. Bari, will you please stop conflating radically different concepts by writing of them as pairs?

    Affirmative action and gender tax: one concept is mainstream progressive thought, one concept is an extremist platform of minor political figures in only one or two countries. Very different things.

    Child support and alimony: one is the necessary financial support of children through their dependent years, the other is so archaic a concept that the Family Law system in Australia ceased to recognise it decades ago.

    I am certainly willing to discuss child support and affirmative action with you. I am not going to waste my time and yours discussing gender taxes and alimony.

    Affirmative action doesn’t only apply to women. AA asks only that if an employer has several equally qualified candidates for a position, that they choose the applicant who “looks” least like the rest of their staff rather than the one who “looks” most like the rest of their staff. No charity, simply diversity.

    Child support is paid for the benefit of the children. Most couples who separate without taking it to court presume that the mother will remain as the primary child carer, because that is how they have structured their relationships before the separation. The presumptions of the courts reflect this practice in the broader society.

    Most people are single.

    Perhaps I wouldn’t have assumed that you were speaking of men as half of a couple if you didn’t keep on using the term “provider”.

  39. tiqtoq:

    Bari:

    Most people are single.

    Perhaps I wouldn’t have assumed that you were speaking of men as half of a couple if you didn’t keep on using the term “provider”.

    I probably didn’t make myself clear. Here’s what I said:

    Bari:

    And none of this addresses Clarence’s observation that, even if there are absolutely no social norms strengthened by women that encourage men to be providers, there certainly are legal norms that do so. So men do have a stronger incentive than women, at every point in their lives, to be financially independent

    I’m arguing that there is more pressure on men to earn at every point in their lives. Even if a man is single, he will feel the pressure to provide. Just take a look at a personals site sometime and see how many women specify in the ad that they don’t want a man who is living at home, unemployed, etc. Then see how many men ask for something similar in their ads. You’re right that this is a norm that many feminists want to change. So we agree, right??

  40. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2009/06/womens_minister_used_misleadin.html

    I like how everyone has their own personal anecdotes that they feel somehow disproves the statistics and their specific situation is even remotely representative of social trends. For the record, I work full time, so does my boyfriend, I don’t earn as much, and when we get married and have children which one of us do you think will be forced to switch part-time in order to raise the blighters?

    While everyone is happily decrying Harman as a ‘man-hater’ for publishing perfectly accurate statistics (just not the ones you find more comforting), only one person has managed to point out the underlying problem that everyone likes to ignore – which is that the pressure is still on women to go home and look after children. Direct all the blame you like at women for ‘choosing’ badly paid work, but think for a second about why they do this. It’s all about children. The pay gap is actually very small, right up until marriage and suddenly women don’t fare as well as men.

    Take, for example, the recent enlightening research that shows while there is no discrimination between a childless man and a father, the discrimination between a childless woman and a mother is 100%. A woman with no children will always get a job before a woman with children. If a couple decides to have children, it is the woman who will be pressured to give up her career, both by societal expectations and the structure of the job industry that targets most child-related benefits and breaks at women.

    Even if you want to ignore the wider issues of sexism and discrimination that has pushed so many women into part-time work and deny this has any relevance to the pay gap issue, and want to focus instead on the pay gap just in full-time work, that’s still a significant gap. While people are busy raging at Harman and simultaneously denying sexism is a problem while calling her a Harper or a man-hater or any other sexist insult we can think of for a woman who’s vocal about gender equality, the actual issue passes without hardly a remark at all.

    -taken from a commenter-why not explain this instead of using “the biggest number you can find” as is used by dodgy PR people everywhere-how can feminism be taken seriously if we don’t use numbers appropriately?!

    I am a feminist, and I hate this-puts the movement back and prepares people to lash back-disappointing.

  41. My main deficit of understanding on this issue is what qualifies as privilage and what does not?

    There was a BBC report about a year ago that asserted that a portion, not all but a portion of the British gender pay gap is due to a greater tendancy in men to demand more than in women.

    Hypothetically, were this the case, would it constitute male privilage?

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