In the world we occupy today, there are currently fewer women executives in the workforce than there are male executives named John. While this seems like an optimal moment to use the now infamous Hillary Clinton, glass ceiling metaphor, it turns out that getting on to the same level as this plethora of John’s is only the beginning of a women’s struggle in the work place. Surprise! More glass ceilings. Not only does there need to be a fight for a women’s success to equal that of John’s, but the false pretense that the struggle ends there only causes a woman to stop and say, “Wait!” when she looks down at her paycheck and compares it to that of her male counterparts.
The gender-wage gap is not a new phenomenon. In fact, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James discuss in their writing “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community,” how capitalism pushed women further and further out of the workplace to the point where men were the primary wage earners and a women’s skills were wasted as she is reduced to her domestic work. However, discrimination in the name of gender is a complex animal and, of course, one glass ceiling would have been far too easy for a woman to break. Even when women shed their soapy, latex dish-washing gloves and join the work force, the system tells them that they are still not worth the same as men.
In fact, society tells women that although they can escape the home to the equally restrictive shackles of a desk, a woman still belongs to her chores. Men label women as distracted or inefficient, because clearly she must be focusing on the housework left undone at home, rather than the office tasks at hand. All in all, this justifies our wage gap. The perception that a women’s output cannot compare to a man’s when he has the ability to push home, family, and relationships out of his mind and focus in a way that, apparently, a woman cannot. The placement of men in the workplace and women in the home is so deeply ingrained in our society that now, in 2018, there is no need for a spoken justification for the gender-wage gap, this inequality lives, unquestioningly accepted, just below the radar of injustice.
My initial reaction to this idea was one of disbelief. In my experience, stereotypes surrounding women rely less on us being unfocused and stretched too thin, than on our ability to multitask, listen, and empathize. However, as I continued to read about the gender-wage gap, the more I was engaging with this justification of inequality. While the stereotypes that I associate with women are definitely informed by my own background, I generally view the ability to listen and other ‘female’ traits as skills of importance in the workplace that need to be fine-tuned in order to achieve success. However, while my stereotypes of women may be the polar opposite of those listed above, they still hold some sort of negative connotation in a work environment. While empathy is a trait that makes someone a decent human, it is hardly seen as valuable in the dog-eat-dog, masculine depiction of the business world.
Consequently, I began to question why I even associate these words with what it means to be a woman. Wait. Aren’t multitasking, listening, and an ability to empathize all traits assumed to be important in order to raise a child? Have I fallen back into the trap of connecting a woman to the home, her family and her domestic work? If these definitions of womanhood are circular, revolving around the home, can a woman not be anything, free to choose her own identity and how she manipulates it; or is anything really just synonymous with nothing? The fact of the matter is that a woman can be anything and should mean something different to every person, but society’s ability to understand women is still bound by the harsh limits of stereotyping as evidenced by the ongoing gender-wage gap.
So how do we combat this? How do we, as women, band together to change the fate of our bank accounts? How do we prevent another glass ceiling from forming right above our heads right before we successfully push through the one directly in front of us? While I do not have the answer to this question, I can only hope that by the time the John’s are equal to or outnumbered by the Emily’s, Hannah’s, or Julia’s in the workforce, we can finally push forward so that a women’s seventy-something cents can finally be equal to the man’s dollar.
Talia Clark interned at Rape Crisis in April 2018. She is currently a B.A candidate at the George Washington University studying International Affairs. In her third year at university, she decided to partake in a study abroad program in Cape Town to study multiculturalism and human rights which led her to her internship with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.