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Kay Hymowitz strikes again. In a new article,  “Do Women Really Want Equality?“, the author of a book with a sensationalist title – Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Is Turning Men Into Boys – is trying to convince us that women don’t really want equality. Her article is peppered by the statistics of the gender gap in various fields and professions, yet her tone is very dismissive. While offering no counter-statistics or rebuttal, she skirts the issue by saying that numbers are just that and don’t tell the whole story.

Although Hymowitz’s M.A. is in English literature, she has fashioned herself an expert in sociology, psychology, and American history, writing extensively about parenting, marriage, and gender roles. This pasty-white culture warrior was even brave enough to tell black Americans why they are so poor (the death of traditional marriage of course) and what exactly is wrong with their culture in her book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age.

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With these credentials, why do we have to read her sensationalist reactive ramblings in Time? (Possibly because Time has ceased to exist as legitimate news source a while ago, remember this piece of ground-breaking journalism?)

So, after reading Do Women Really Want Equality? I have a few things to say to Ms. Hymowitz.

1. Gender Gap is Not a Fucking Joke

Clearly I’m a feminist with no sense of humor, because I fail to see how getting paid less for the same amount of work is funny. Yet Ms. Hymowitz seems to think so. This is how she starts her article:

The fall season in gender-gap news has started early and with a bang.  A study released yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that male doctors earn over 25% more than female doctors. Why am I not surprised? There is a constant stream of stories showing gender disparities like this: that Obama gave only 35% of Cabinet-level posts to women, that men still write 87% of Wikipedia entries, that they are approximately 80% of local news-television and radio managers, and over 75% of philosophers.

From her light-hearted and condescending tone, it is evident that these data do not phase her. It’s just part of the “fall season” routine news, because if we hear about a serious problem more than once, it must not be that important. And what conclusion does the author make from these numbers? Why, women must not want it badly enough.

After decades of antidiscrimination laws, diversity initiatives and feminist advocacy, such data leads to an uncomfortable question: Do women actually want equality?

As we all know from experience, wanting something a lot makes it happen. Like how I got into Stanford, won the lottery, ventured into space, and became a faculty member at 25. Oh wait, that didn’t actually happen.

In fact, there’s good reason to think that women don’t want the sort of equality envisioned by government bureaucrats, academics and many feminist advocates, one imagined strictly by the numbers with the goal of a 50-50 breakdown of men and women in C-suites, law-school dean offices, editorial boards and computer-science departments; equal earnings, equal work hours, equal assets, equal time changing diapers and doing the laundry

Silly me, and here I thought the reason women now comprise 57% of college graduates, 52% of Doctoral degree recipients, 47% of law school students, and 47% of medical school students because they want to be in leadership positions, and because they want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, scientists, editors, and business leaders.

It is a tremendous leap of judgement (that requires a great amount of willful ignorance) to suggest that because women aren’t in leadership positions, they love changing diapers and doing laundry. Or even more preposterous, that they don’t want equal earnings and equal assets. I wonder if women in poverty (13.8% of women in America as compared to 11.1% of men) would see it the way Ms. Hymowitz does.

In all seriousness, though, the gender disparities have real consequences for women in this country. These disparities stifle creativity, decrease productivity, wastes human capital, diminish quality of life, and bring real suffering to the most vulnerable women in our society. So yes, Ms. Hymowitz, gender pay gap is not a joke and I find your tone highly offensive.

2. Is Socially Constrained “Free Choice” Really Free?

The author argues that there is nothing wrong with gender disparities because women “choose” to go into lower-paying fields.

There are reasons for this particular wage gap that are gender-blind. Surgeons need more years of training, perform riskier work (at least that’s how malpractice insurers see it) and put in more unpredictable hours. Unsurprisingly, according to surveys, women who become doctors approach their work differently than men. They spend more time with each patient; when choosing jobs, they are far more likely to cite time for family and flexible hours as “very important” and to prefer limited management responsibilities. Male doctors, on the other hand, are more likely to think about career advancement and income potential.

My question is, does the desire for family time and flexible hours arise in vacuum? In other words, do women “freely” choose to spend more time with their families or is there something outside of women’s control driving this choice?

Now, as a non-robot, I do not see anything wrong with wanting free time or wanting to spend time with your family. I think this is natural, non-workaholic human desire. But then we look at the gender disparity, and it begs the question: do men care less about their families than women? I think this kind of thinking does a disservice to men who can be wonderful fathers, caring sons, friends, and partners. Obviously it’s not that men care less and women care more, it’s just that society has demanded that men and women take different roles within a family.

We’ve all received social messaging that men are providers and women are homemakers. And we constantly shame men and women that fail to perform their gender roles. We look down on men who choose to stay at home, or who opt out of a lucrative career to pursue a passion, or who earn less than their spouses. Likewise, we demonize women in leadership positions, those who opt-out of childbearing, and those who don’t conform to the cult of domesticity.

So, how does this social messaging play out in real life and how does this affect women’s career choices?

housework stats

Weekly hours of housework, by gender and marital status, no children in the house, 2005. On the x-axis is # of hours spent on housework a week. Single men and women spend a similar amount of time on housework (men: 8hrs, women: 11 hrs). Married men did less housework than single men, married women did more housework than single women (men: 7hrs, women: 17hrs).

Women still do at least two-thirds of the housework, even in homes where they are the main breadwinner. Childcare duties also fall heavily on women. HuffPo writes about division of housework in various European countries here. If you think women have a choice, and can just dump some of the housework and childcare duties on their partners, but for some reason choose not to, read this infuriating Capitain Awkward blog post.

In addition to social messages about importance of family and domesticity, women get bombarded by messages of inadequacy: women are bad at science, women are bad at math, women are bad drivers, women are too emotional to be world leaders, etc. According to Miss Representation,

When they’re seven years old, an equal number of boys and girls want to be President of the United States, but by the time they’re fifteen, the number of girls who say they would like to be President drops off dramatically as compared to the boys.

It is no wonder that women don’t “choose” certain careers. Just look at how badly women who were running for public office were treated. How much harder it was for Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, and Michelle Bachman than Newt Gingrich. Even outside the public sphere, sexism closes doors. One of our DDP editors did not pursue a career in computer science because of the bullying and sexism she encountered at computer camp as a young girl. I, myself, never considered engineering as an option simply because it wasn’t even on my radar. It’s not something girls did. It’s not something my parents or councilors offered up as an option.

So please don’t tell me how women just choose not to be engineers who work on some of the world’s most interesting problems, or computer scientists that are indispensable in this day and age, or CEO’s that make a metric shit-ton of money. The choice here is nominal — it is not freedom of choice when choosing one option confers censure and societal disapproval.

3. Why is “Women’s Work” Undervalued?

If we accept the argument that women make free choices that land them in lesser paying jobs, another question arises. Why are certain professions valued over others?

Kate wrote about this issue in the context of childcare (emphasis mine):

But, of course, as care of children is traditionally female work, traditionally work we expect women to do for free, or that is done by women of color and migrant women, we don’t value it very highly at all. As the New Republic article points out, the median salary for childcare workers is lower than that of parking lot attendants. Yes, we pay people more to watch after our cars than after our children.

In general, “women’s work” is  is considered less important than “men’s.” Research consistently shows that occupations dominated by men are more highly valued than those dominated by women. Sociologists have come up with several theories to explain this wage gap: undervaluation, queuing, and human capital. Undervaluation theory states that the wage gap is due to undervaluation of women’s work. Queuing theory posits that men get the most desirable jobs, and therefore there are more women competing for less desirable jobs which drives down the wage. Human capital theory seeks to explain the wage gap by different career paths for men and women, where women may have different incentives that lead to less investment in raising their human capital (eg. job training, education).

In one study, Asaf Levanov and collegues examined longitudinal US Census data and found evidence for devaluation theory, but not queuing. Similarly, this study that looked at the pay gap in UK, did not find support for human capital theory. The authors found that:

An individual working in an occupation in which all workers are men has wages which are around 10% higher than those of an otherwise identical individual who works in an occupation in which all workers are women. The segregation of men and women intro different lines of work explains around 15% of the gender pay-gap.

So, from the quick overview of sociology literature on gender pay gap, there seems to be a broad agreement that women’s work is undervalued and it at least partially explains the pay gap.

Here are some good examples of the ways in which women’s work is undervalued:

Employers may have overlooked the manual skills needed by a word processing operator while recognizing and valuing the manual skills of a machinery repairman’s job.

Employers may not have valued the effort of lifting patients by nurses, or children by daycare workers, but valued the lifting of heavy objects by workmen on a construction site or in a warehouse.

Employers may not have valued the responsibility of caring for children by daycare workers, while the responsibility for equipment, finances or other material resources were valued and paid for.

Kay Hymowitz’s argument that the wage gap is not a serious issue we should be addressing because it’s not caused by some sort of unfairness but by women’s free rational choices is flawed. There is no rational reason why work traditionally done by women is not viewed as valuable, other than historical precedent. There is no logical way to explain away why a parking lot attendant is doing a more important/arduous job than a childcare provider. Contrary to what Hymowitz says, we should be trying to close the gap. We should be striving for more equal division of housework chores. And we need to reevaluate our priorities as a society, so that we’re not relying on 1800’s precedent for 2013 solutions.

TL;DR

1) Gender disparities and gender wage gap is real.

2) It is caused by an unfairness in our system.

3) We should be trying to fix it.

4) Hymowitz is full of it