Monday, September 05, 2005

Vive la non-différence!

In today NY Times, Warren Farrell wrote that despite the well known statistics showing that women are paid only 76 cents to men's dollar for the same work, there are fields where they earn more than men and “only by abandoning our focus on discrimination against women can we discover these opportunities for women”.

What Mr. Farrell is advocating seems to be a strategy tailor-made for women, who are supposed to be less competitive than men, less demanding in their needs, more docile and receptive to authority. The reasoning is thus: granted, there is discrimination, but instead of worrying their pretty little heads over it, women should leave these less rewarding jobs to men and instead choose those fields where they can make as much if not more than men. In other words, the message is what women have been hearing all their life: “yield and sacrifice”. Remember what was said to the first women who expressed the wish to become priests? «A woman can be just as influential in church, if not more, by virtue of her sex, for isn't Mary, our Lord's mother, a woman?». When I was small, I was constantly reminded to defer to my brothers, to let them have the last piece of chicken, the first turn on the pony ride: «You wouldn't want to make them sad, would you, pumpkin?».

I’m obviously not qualified to counter Mr. Farrell’s theories. After all, he is the author of the book "Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap - and What Women Can Do About It", and I’m not, so I won’t try. What I notice however is that, in his article, Mr. Farrell never really clearly describes the mechanism of discrimination against women, or even acknowledges that there is discrimination, answering his own question with: “yes and no”, and explaining wage disparities by the differences in the jobs themselves. The fact is, the 76 cents figure is an 2004 average (which gets worse for African American women [66 cents] and Hispanic women [54 cents]), and if one wanted to, one can always find some jobs where a woman makes more than a man. Mr. Farrell himself gives such examples: “There are 80 jobs in which women earn more than men - positions like financial analyst, speech-language pathologist, radiation therapist, library worker, biological technician, motion picture projectionist. Female sales engineers make 143 percent of their male counterparts; female statisticians earn 135 percent.”

Even in fields where pay equity has been achieved, there are ways and means to ensure that women earn less than men. We all know of some trades or professions traditionally «reserved» to men, such as teachers or doctors, which once women are «allowed» into, begin to lose their prestige and authority. In Russia, the majority of physicians are now female and except for specialists or surgeons, doctors in general are less respected. As for teachers, we are all aware of how well regarded they are nowadays by the students, the parents or the government. There is also the reverse phenomenon. In Bangkok, where I used to work, most of the secretary positions, normally a female fiefdom, are occupied by men when the employers are the prestigious United Nations. And I can still remember my previous (male) boss explaining to me why I cannot have a promotion, all the while acknowledging that my productivity and the quality of my work are superior to my male colleagues’: “You have a rich husband, you don’t need the money”.

Notwithstanding all this, if one is to use simple logic and common sense, the key question should be: why should anyone, man or woman, be forced to limit their career choices in order to avoid discrimination? Why should a female motion picture projectionnist be paid more than her male counterpart? Or why should she be paid less, for that matter? Wouldn’t it make more sense to eliminate such discrimination and ensure pay equity for everyone, regardless of sex or race?


Nebu Pookins said...

Obviously, to say "I'm paying you less because you are a woman" is discrimination.

But to say "I'm paying you less because you don't perform as well" makes sense, assuming the boss is unbiased.

The problem is, of course, determining how biased the boss is.

How do you know whether the female projectionist is getting paid less (or more) because of her gender as opposed to her performance?

Buddhist with an attitude said...

FIlm projectionist is one of the professions mentioned by Ferrell where women are paid more than men (he doesn't say why).