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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Falling into feminism

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MCT
(Bay Area News Group)

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, so I was in my happy place — on a porch, smoking a cigar and reading the news — until one story soured my mood.

The New York Times’ analytics page, The Upshot, reported on a new study from Cornell University that showed that as the number of women in a field increased, their pay decreased.

I’d always been skeptical of the wage gap — and I’d never considered myself a full feminist — before this article. It always seemed like too strong a label. I blame my conservative upbringing, making me feed into sexism through avenues I’m not proud to admit — my words.

I can remember my father mentioning while driving that “women have a bad sense of direction,” or that “women and men just think differently” when I talked to him about a crush at school.

Comments like those contribute to the world’s underlying sexism. And as long as old faux-truisms exist, we will live in a society that thinks women’s work is worth less money.

I never believed the value society places on women’s work was so low compared to men’s, as exemplified in that oft-repeated number of 78 cents to the dollar. I thought it was political grandstanding and bad statistics. If you just compare medians to medians, of course there will be differences. Men may work longer hours or simply end up in higher paying jobs by having different interests.

I thought the biggest underlying issue was social pressure that kept women from pursuing their dreams in high paying fields. And against this, I didn’t think there was much I could do besides support my friends no matter what they pursue.

But then I read how wages fell for entire professions when they became female dominated — a 34 percent fall for designers, 21 percent for housekeepers and 18 percent for biologists. The worst was among officials at recreational camps. As women took over the field, wages were cut in half.

And even when controlling for the things that make me doubt the 22 percent wage difference, there is still a 9 percent difference between men and women’s wages.

But what could I do about that?

I’m not a CEO — I can’t make a company hire women and pay them fairly.

The government had already tried to address the issue with two bills, the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The former made paying less for equal work illegal, while the latter extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits related the first. However, proving a firm broke the Equal Pay Act has been difficult in court and hasn’t eliminated the gap as a whole.

But there are some other ways to help. Passing a law to ensure better record keeping by companies gives more hard numbers to researchers to analyze the pay gap, as well as assists in any lawsuits that may arise.

Paid maternity leave would help pad women’s pay statistics, as well as put America on the same level as every other developed nation.

According to a 2014 study published in an Elsevier journal, women also don’t try to negotiate prices for employment — while most men do — because it’s much harder for them to negotiate a fair price. This leads to lower entry level wages for women and a longer climb into higher pay rates. With fewer mentorship relationships to teach them how to effectively win better working terms, many women never complete that climb.

In the study, the authors show how just walking into a salary negotiation as a woman puts an applicant at a disadvantage. Even though men were more likely to use excessive leverage, negotiators held such missteps against women more severely. Women receive “pushy” and “moody” labels for asserting their value.

The problem, then, is deeply cultural, and the only way to change the culture is to change who created this problem — men, including myself.

A month ago, I was at a bar, having a conversation with some new acquaintances, all female. Everything was swell, and we talked for hours. But as the night drew to a close, and they prepared to leave, I hazarded a question.

“You know how to get home?” I said to one of them, legitimately concerned. They were in a new city for a night, and I don’t want anyone to get lost.

“Yes, I know. I have a good sense of direction,” my conversation partner replied.

“Oh, great, because, you know, a lot of times women don’t have the best sense of direction,” I said, repeating the line fed to me in the course of my life.

The jovial tone of the whole evening dissipated like bar smoke.

“Excuse me,” she replied, rightfully angry.

I quickly tried to explain, but there was no explaining to be done. That was sexist, and I knew it.

By saying this, I was part of the problem I so reviled. If everyone repeats that women have a bad sense of direction, then why would a little girl ever dream of being a cartographer? And even if she does reach that dream, she’ll be earning less money and credit for her accomplishment — not a great reward for proving years of baseless generalizations wrong.

I’m not big on the idea of perfect turning points. Humans are fallible. I’m sure I’ll make other mistakes. You will, too. But be firm and call out these statements when you see them.

I can tell you the shame I felt after that night was intense. It soured new friendships for me for many weeks until I worked up the nerve to apologize.

To paraphrase Tim Minchin, an Australian musician and social commentator, be hard on your own thoughts. Take them out to your porch and beat them around with a baseball bat. Leave them battered and bruised, for all to see.

This is why I write: to lay my thoughts out, good and bad.

It’s not easy, but the only path to social change comes when everyday people stand up together and say, “we can’t tolerate this any longer.”

My argument is not that inherent differences don’t exist between men and women, and in the Upshot report that started this personal change, one of the researchers argued for their existence.

But we shouldn’t translate those differences into harmful generalizations. As a study from Tel Aviv University declared last year, “brains do not come in male and female forms. The differences you see are differences between averages. Each one of us is a unique mosaic.”

Saying “women have a bad sense of direction,” or “women are overly emotional,” or any of the other statements circulated through society doesn’t contribute to the real conversation on gender differences. They’re just stupid things people say to assert patriarchy.

When we do this, we also assert the system that, to my dumbfoundment, pays women less than men and discourages women from lending necessary voices to male-dominated fields.

We need to keep fighting until we fix this. So, if you need me, I’ll be smoking my cigars and leafing through Ms. Magazine.

Stephen Caruso is a senior columnist at The Pitt News. He mainly writes on economic and social issues. Email him at [email protected].