Putting yourself in a woman’s shoes

The Thinker by Rodin

Okay, not literally. I vaguely member trying on my mother’s pointy shoes when I was a lad and that definitely felt weird. I have learned a lot about women since then, mostly by listening to them. I now know that I was lucky to be born male. Recent news reports show some of the violence against women, including the planned execution of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death after refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Just murdering her is not enough though; she first is to endure a hundred lashes for the “adultery” of marrying a Christian man. In Sudan, only marriages between Muslims are considered legitimate, hence “marriage” to a Christian man must be adultery. (If this outrages you, take action here.)

Maybe you are thinking, she’s a weird exception. Just like that woman in Pakistan who was recently stoned to death by her own family is a weird exception, although it happens all the time in less public spaces in Pakistan. Except violence and discrimination against women is widespread. I recently wrote about pay disparities between women and men, which rarely results in lawsuits simply because it is so hard to prove. The gap in the United States is 23%, in that women earn on average 77% of what men make. Think about the lost earning power that represents over a lifetime. It’s no wonder that more women are in poverty than men.

Blacks know what it is like to be guilty of being black. Women are guilty of being women. Even if they are not particularly attractive, it’s not like they get a free pass from the likelihood of sexual assault. Sexual violence statistics against women are frightening. One in 6 women have been raped or have been sexually assaulted. A majority of women say they have been harassed or have been worried about violence because of their gender.

Think about what it’s like to spend your life with these realities. As a guy, when I go outside I don’t give any thought to any kind of assault, least of all rape, unless I am in a really bad neighborhood. (It doesn’t hurt to be 6’2”.) Unless I end up in prison, there is virtually a zero chance that I will be raped. Nationwide, three percent of men have been raped, and my guess is almost all of these happen in prison. For a woman, pretty much any strange man is a potential rapist. So they keep their purse clutched close to their chests. They try to travel in groups and avoid running alone or in the dark. Danger could lurk pretty much anywhere. It never stops.

Having relationships with men is dangerous. You never know what some guy you are dating may do to you. Will you be date raped? Will you be stalked? Will he turn out to be emotionally, mentally or physically abusive? What if you spurn his requests for sex? Typically the man is taller and stronger, so overpowering a woman is not too hard. You have to hope that men you date are civilized, and can remain civilized under stress. It’s a tall order, given these sexual assault statistics.

Then there are all these people treating you like a second-class citizen. Not only are you likely to be paid less, you are considered impulsive and unreasonable. If you are emotional by nature, it’s attributed to being that time of the month. Many politicians want you to get pregnant by making it hard to get birth control. They will bend laws to make sure you can’t terminate an unwanted pregnancy. They want you to bear children of men who raped you. They will even write condescending laws that require doctors to tell you lies about abortion or make you wait for days before having an abortion, assuming you can get one at all in your state. They will even write laws requiring that you to be penetrated against your will by an ultrasound wand before having an abortion. All of this is because you are a woman, and not to be trusted. You are a second-class citizen.

Not only are you paid less; you have more expenses than men. Before Obamacare, you paid more in health insurance because you have breasts and a uterus. Your clothes cost more. You need a wide variety to escape scorn. Try to find a decent bra for under $30. Okay, it’s not a problem if you are a guy, unless you are a cross-dresser. Need your hair cut? You will likely pay twice what a man pays. Men just put on the same kind of pants and shirt, and maybe change their tie. Women bear all these additional expenses while making less money.

More often than not, you are not seen as a person, but as an object. If you like to have sex casually, you are not a woman who happens to have a strong sex drive, you are a slut or words much worse. This doesn’t happen to guys. They get slaps on the back instead.

If you decide to run for public office, you will face higher standards than men. Just how good a mother were you anyhow? Did all your kids avoid drugs and get straight A’s? If not, don’t think about running for anything. Hillary Clinton knows what it’s like. People will watch your hairstyles and clothes and critique them ruthlessly. They will question your choice of spouse. They will count the number of times you go to church. If you are a male running for office, these simply are not concerns. No one thinks to ask such questions.

If you decide to take time off to be a mother, when you go back to work you are at the bottom of the promotion chain again, and at an entry-level salary. You will earn less social security because your wages were lower and your time in the workforce less.

In the workplace you are likely to suffer sexual discrimination, but also likely be doing work that is more menial and less engaging. Next time you visit your doctor’s office, look around. Look for a man on the clerical staff. You probably won’t find one. My wife worked in a doctor’s office for years. It’s a topic for another blog post, but suffice to say these women work like dogs, are vastly underpaid, and are treated very badly. The turnover in these offices is huge and the work is grinding and relentless. All their discounted hard work simply goes to feed the doctors’ bottom lines.

So, yes, I was lucky to be born male. So much of that humiliating and toxic crap is simply not part of my experience. Sadly, women have a long way to go to become full partners and truly equal before the law and within society. What’s holding them back is mostly us men. We have to evolve. Will we ever? Will you?

For women to actually get equal pay, the sun must shine in

The Thinker by Rodin

The stay at home mom is now almost legend. Women are at the cusp of being a majority of the workforce. One reason may be that women earn on average 77 cents on the dollar that men earn. All things being equal, that’s a considerable discount if you are an employer. Why wouldn’t you want to hire more women if you could pay them less?

Few believe that the wage gap is entirely due to sex discrimination. Women after all have babies, and this can inconveniently take them out of the workforce for a while. When they rejoin the workforce, often it is in a new position that comes with an entry-level salary. This is unfortunate but is not illegal. Many conservatives will argue that this alone explains the wage gap.

Traditionally fewer women have had college degrees than men. Now women form the majority of college students, so that suggests this will change in time. Some professions such as in science and engineering have traditionally been unrepresented by women, and these jobs often pay more than jobs on average, which might skew the average salaries higher for men. Still, hardly anyone who has studied the issue will dispute the assertion that some of the pay gap is due to sex discrimination. The discrimination may not be overt. It may simply be women setting their salary requirements too low and employers discreetly pocketing the savings. It’s also hard to ask for a fair salary when you don’t know what a fair salary is.

A lot of people resent sharing their salary information. It’s not hard to see why, as one of two things are likely. First, others will discover you are paid a lot more than they are for roughly the same work, which might engender feelings of hostility and resentment toward you. Second, you will realize others are paid considerably more than you while doing the same work, and that’s embarrassing. Regardless, employers can and do use the confidentiality aspects of salaries to their advantage. To truly get equal pay for equal work, this has to change.

But how? Who is going to want to disclose their salary when it engenders feelings of shame or anxiety? On the other hand, how can women have confidence that they are getting paid equivalent to a man without some disclosure?

The tools to find out how much your market wage should be are rudimentary at best. The Department of Labor keeps statistics on wage rates for a variety of professions, but of course wage rates will vary substantially depending on where you live and the local cost of living. The statistics are also highly bracketed. What you really need to know is what does someone in my profession, hopefully at the same company and at the same location, with similar time at the company and similar responsibilities earn? Companies are under no obligation to provide this information.

One way of course is to demand what you consider a fair salary and if your employer does not agree to it to quit. It helps enormously of course to have another job offer waiting before trying this. But it doesn’t necessarily tell you if your other offer is fair either.

I have a potential solution to the pay gap issue. What are needed are independent third-party labor assessors that would collect and verify pay data. Here’s how it could work.

Each community would have one person designated as an occupational salary and benefits assessor. I’m not sure how many would be needed, but let’s say it’s one person for every 10,000 employed people. Ideally the person would be funded by non-profit agencies, but it would also be reasonable for the person to be someone guaranteed to be impartial, such as a government employee, perhaps an employee of the Department of Labor, either for the federal government or for the state and county government. Their task is to make sure that there are no major pay discrepancies in various local companies based on categories that are clearly illegal, such as by sex. Employees could schedule meetings with their labor assessor to input their salary information, or send them documentation electronically on a periodic basis.

These labor assessors would need credentials of course and they would be sworn to maintain the confidentiality of information provided by an employee. The employee would provide the assessor with pay stubs and other related information so the information could not be faked. This might include employer 401-K contributions, employer pension plans, a resume of their work history, evidence of their certificates, diplomas, SAT scores and GPAs. Of course it would also be important to know key information like age of the person, time in job, their gender, their race, the position title, a description of their duties, etc.

The assessor would take the information, verify it, and put it into a database that would anonomize the employee’s information. The assessor may even have the duty to audit a particular company, particularly one suspected of practicing pay discrimination. Interviews would be done off site and perhaps in the privacy of someone’s home if needed. Periodically, perhaps annually, the employee would be asked to update information regarding salary, position and current job duties. It might even require compelling the employee to provide the information. I realize labor assessors could also demand the information from the company, but there is the possibility that an employer might lie or inflate benefits. It is better to get the information directly from an employee.

Eventually this would allow an understanding of how employees in similar skills and positions are paid within the same company. Perhaps the information could remain confidential and the employer could be given some time to rectify pay inequalities that are discovered. If that does not occur the bulk information could be publicly disclosed and if not corrected legal action initiated. This would move the feelings of shame from the employee, where they do not belong, to the employer, where they do belong. It would likely reveal other pay disparities that are illegal: perhaps disparities based on race, age or handicaps.

Lacking any of this, it is hard to see how the situation will change. This is because pay disparities will be purely anecdotal in almost all cases, given the lack of information. Given the undeniable fact that women in general tend to make much less than men, such a system could fundamentally transform pay fairness in the workplace, as well as increase the standard of living for tens of millions of women across the country.

If someone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it.