Feminists are not your enemy

As an economist and a feminist I can’t tell you irritating I find articles like this one from Lucy Kippist in The Punch, “Screw equal pay; what do women really want?”

Academics and feminists who continue to prioritise the closing the gender-oriented wage gap disregard the huge list of unmanageable priorities that come with a top job.

Kippist is getting so many things wrong here. Mainly she is conflating two problems, the gender wage gap and workplace inflexibility, and then deciding that campaigning for one comes at the expense of campaigning for the other.

The gender wage gap persists, and we’re not talking about the fact that average weekly hours worked by women (for pay) are less than the average weekly hours worked by men – which is on account of the fact that women are more likely to be working part-time than men. The gender wage gap is based on comparing the pay rates of men and women with the same qualifications, working the same number of hours, with the same level of experience in the same jobs. In other words, the gender wage gap is the gap we can’t otherwise explain between identical male and female workers. So, let’s head off at the pass the first stupid counter-argument to gender wage gap discussions, which is that women work fewer hours and so of course earn less money, and feminists should stop saying this is about discrimination. (Because anyway, there is a bigger argument to be made here if one wished to, and that is that we do in fact have a problem of discrimination on a much broader scale when the typical life course for women leads to such inevitable short-changing of financial security in comparison to that which occurs for men in their typical life course, but I’ll leave that for another day).

It seems unnecessarily simplistic of Kippist to generalise about women’s priorities to the extent where she contends that we all want work-life balance over more demanding, higher paid career opportunities.  Not to mention, higher paid career opportunities may actually afford their recipients greater real choice about arranging work-life balance.

Yes, women still earn approximately 17.5 per cent less than male counterparts in full-time work. Actually, it’s been that way for about 25 years.

And yes, only a handful of women sit on boards of the ASX 200 companies, and only six of those companies have a female CEO. But maybe that’s an accurate reflection of just how few of us actually want a slice of that pie.

An accurate reflection? I’d be happy to bet that there are more than six women in this entire country with an ambition of being CEO, and that there are many more than six women with the skills and qualifications to do that job. And while I don’t think work-life balance is only about parents, many non-parents would also like the flexibility to meet needs and responsibilities outside work, I do think it is ridiculous for mothers to wipe their hands of those women who do want a career above all else. Even if I don’t want to be in the highest reaches of executive management, I care about fair pay and career progression for those women who do.

Really everybody should care about the gender wage gap, men and women alike, because discrimination is a form of market inefficiency, if nothing else. More than that, the gender wage gap hurts our chances of introducing proper workplace flexibility for all. We need women to progress to high places in workplaces because some of those women will know first hand how hard it is to juggle work and family responsibilities, and they, being at the top will have the actual power to institute change.

Kippist says that:

Most women – and probably many men would feel the same way too – don’t want to sacrifice everything for their career. So companies have to stop demanding total sacrifice.

It won’t be companies that stop demanding total sacrifice, it will be employers. Let’s make some of those employers women.

Contrary to Kippist’s arguments, the feminist fight for gender wage equality doesn’t come at the expense of the fight for workplace flexibility. Who does she imagine fights for the necessary workplace changes to accommodate caring work and paid employment? Feminists. Feminists fight for parental leave. Feminists fight for affordable childcare. Feminists fight for the right to return to work part-time. Feminists fight for lactation breaks. Feminists fight for the recognition of elder care responsibilities.

Finally, Kippist notes:

Sixty per cent of Australian women employed by the public sector say their current working conditions let them balance their life and family commitments.

That’s according to this year’s annual Community and Public Sector Union survey that shines a rare light into the realities of life for working women. And it’s largely ignored by the tired chants of the equal pay debate.

The public sector outcomes weren’t ignored by academics and feminists, these are the workplaces that have instituted some of the most progressive family-friendly policies in the country, and some of the more formal gender equality measures, too. Coincidence?

Cross-posted at blue milk.

Categories: economics, gender & feminism, parenting, work and family

Tags: , ,

5 replies

  1. Strewth, blue – that’s one of the worst op-eds of this ilk I’ve seen, and that’s saying something. It’s not just that Kippist didn’t accurately summarise the work that feminists have actually done, it’s like she looked at it through Bizarro-World magnifiers and saw everything arse-about.

  2. Wow, that is so disheartening… I should *not* have looked at the comments.

  3. Don’t ever look at the comments on the Punch, Alien Tea. The Punch is a platform specifically designed to take the national conversation backwards. It’s like an immense trollumn (although they occasionally let a token leftie publish a piece). It’s a sewer.

  4. Did our mothers wince at the smugness of young women in the 1970s after women had just
    1. won the legal right to equal pay – 1973
    2. been permitted to remain as permanent public service employees after marriage – 1966
    3. been granted access to safe abortion – 1972
    4. gained access to reliable contraception, even if single – 1972
    5. gained access to no-fault divorce – 1975?
    6. gained access to single parent pension – 1974?
    I can’t imagine the straight jacket of life for women in 1950s Australia. In fact one grandmother’s professional fees were paid to her father’s firm. Imagine dad going through the monthly accounts able to question the money spent on shoes or a dress or hygeine products. In fact a friend remembers her father paying the accounts in the 1960s. He never questioned the chemist’s bill, so as a child she used to buy gift items at the chemist.
    God help a woman whose husband was a poor provider or a mean one.

  5. Helen, such a good description of The Punch.

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