Blaming the Paid Victim

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This struck an interesting nerve.

The gender wage gap is real—and hurts women across the board by suppressing their earnings and making it harder to balance work and family. Serious attempts to understand the gender wage gap should not include shifting the blame to women for not earning more. Rather, these attempts should examine where our economy provides unequal opportunities for women at every point of their education, training, and career choices.

It’s part of the introduction to yet another new study on the gendered wage gap. The findings aren’t that surprising to me; roughly a year ago, I took a deep dive into the subject and concluded there were three components to the gap:

  1. Unequal burdens of unpaid work, consisting primarily of household chores and secondarily of care work, force women towards part time work with flexible hours which offer lower salaries than other jobs.
  2. Unequal care burdens for kids steer employers away from hiring women, or valuing their labour less. While technically illegal in North America, when it’s done subtlety and subconsciously it is almost never caught. 
  3. Outright or indirect discrimination based on sex.

Studies to support the above abound and go back decades in some cases

No, what surprised me was the connection to victim-blaming; I hadn’t thought if it that way before, but in hindsight it makes sense. If you think women are inherently attracted to low-paying jobs, for whatever reason, you’re implying they are less capable of accurately assessing financial matters than men. If you think women take flexible jobs to care for kids, you are implying that men are either incompetent at childcare or have less interest in having kids or place less value on being a parent. In each case, the victim of the discrimination shoulders some of the blame.

To give credit where it’s due, I didn’t stumble on that report by random. It was the cornerstone of an excellent article on Rewire. 

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement.

You can check it out over there.

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