The majority of people living in poverty are women. The United States currently ranks 65th in pay equality, and with the recent defeat of the Paycheck Fairness Act, it is unlikely that there will be significant progress in eliminating the gender pay gap any time soon.
There is a wealth of information describing just how much less women make when compared to men. (Jana Kasperkevic, Jana. Equal pay fact sheet: beyond the gender gap of ‘77 cents for every dollar.’ www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 15 February 2015.) Experts disagree on the root causes and which statistics best represent the pay discrepancy between men and women. Nevertheless, they agree that significant gender pay inequality exists.
For socialist feminists, many of these explanations are pathetic and deeply rooted in the patriarchy of our society. The pay gap does narrow, but never disappears, when women go into traditionally male-dominated fields. What we should be asking is why male-dominated fields pay more in the first place, and why many women doing the same jobs, with the same education and experience, still make less than their male counterparts.
Women who choose to either delay or not have a family also fare better. Yet, why should we accept that the choice to start a family should naturally result in a life-long pay cut for women? Why does a culture that holds family in such high regard punish women for having children? The US remains one of the only countries in the world without mandatory paid parental leave.
There are more women in the workplace than ever before, yet women still make up the majority of caregivers and stay-at-home parents. Women who choose to take time off work or work fewer hours in order to care for children or the elderly are said to skew pay-gap statistics, as they decrease the average total hours worked by women. This assumes that labor traditionally taken on by women shouldn’t count as “work.” However, caregiving for family members is work that is both unreported and unpaid. Thus the pay gap would actually be much larger than the 77 cents on the dollar, if the work of women caregivers were factored in. Instead of blaming pay inequalities on working women and their choice to put others before themselves, we should be asking why work that has been traditionally done by women is underpaid and undervalued by society, and why women are penalized for performing it.
Worldwide trends show that narrowing gender inequalities are useful in closing the pay gap. Currently nowhere in the world can women expect their gender to be irrelevant to their income. But countries with greater gender equality tend to have a smaller pay gap as well as less wealth inequality overall. The gender pay gap indicates that we are far from an egalitarian society and that there is a lot of work to be done. We as socialist feminists should be leading the way towards both pay equality and gender equality.