They want babies. Lots and lots of babies. More babies than any single cradle can hold! It’s the men who want money. No gender discrimination at work! No glass ceiling! No wage gap! Just ask Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and he’ll tell you that, after a lifetime of working, if a woman is making less money than her male counterpart, it’s simply because “there was a different sense of urgency in each person.”
What he’s getting at is that there isn’t a glass ceiling or gender discrimination if the women in question just don’t really want money. Unfortunately, he’s mostly wrong. The labor force is full of women who want money, and…wait for it…babies too! Isn’t that weird? Men want money, and some men want babies. Lots of men have money and lots men have babies. They don’t hit a glass ceiling. I wonder if it’s because babies have to come from somewhere and that somewhere usually ends up being a woman’s body?
Taking into account the six to twelve weeks a woman usually takes off from work to have a child, women are still making less money than men. Those weeks shouldn’t really account for the discrepancy between salaries. Part of the argument is that women never start making as much as men, and sure that may be because employers are assuming they’ll lose a woman (and her productivity) from the labor force to gestational tendencies…however, I’m not so sure that’s the case. The glass ceiling and wage gap exists because we believe they exist. You can’t see either one. You don’t touch the glass ceiling even when you’ve reached it. It’s imaginary, and our imaginations are powerful tools.
According to Hilary Lips, “If women and men continue to accept the notion that the domestic and caretaking work traditionally classified as “women’s work” is not important enough for employers to accommodate, the gender gap in wages will never close. A few individual women may be able to evade the gap by choosing to be childfree, being fortunate enough to have a supportive spouse, and carefully following a model of career advancement that was developed to fit men’s needs. However, to make the wage gap disappear will require that we stop buying into the idea that the rules are gender-neutral and that men just follow them better than women do. One by one, employers must be convinced to re-examine assumptions that unwittingly place higher value on the type of work men do than on the type of work women do. The most important step in closing the wage gap is for all of us to give up the notion that, to be paid fairly, a woman must “make it in a man’s world.”
In short, because we accept the notion of a glass ceiling, and because we accept a wage gap as part of the natural order in the labor force, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. And people like the good Governor in Wisconsin can assert that a wage gap only exists because women prefer it that way. Women do not prefer it that way and Ms. Lips is correct that in order for it to stop, we have to choose for it to stop. The labor force needs women, women need money, and gender discrimination will only end when we end it.