Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gender Pay Gap Woes

My Christmas Eve started with this depressing article on the stagnating Gender Pay Gap. The Times surmises that there are two main sources of the narrowing Gender Pay Gap: discrimination and women's choices. I would say that the latter is tied up with the former. Mabye it was just me, but I got the impression that the Times thought women's choices to stay at home in larger numbers was a more important factor in why they earn less than men. They lead with that analysis and it fits a great deal of their "trend" stories on highly educated women opting out. The analysis of discrimination was weak: no bold assertions of discrimination really, some suggestion and pointing to the lack of federal iniatives to close the gap. But, what bugged me above all was the explanation for discrimination: i.e. that men have internalized their role as breadwinner and might be more committed to their job. Barf!

There is no shortage of rationalizations for why we treat women unfairly in this country. Furthermore, all rationalizations tend to blame women for their own setbacks. But, I think above all, what the Times failed to take into consideration is why women would opt to stay home with children. Some of them opt to stay home because they can afford it. Some of them opt to stay home because there is no affordable, high quality day care. Some of the opt to stay home because men still stay peripherally involved in the day-to-day maintenance of the home and raising of children. Some of them opt to stay home because they have internalized the message that they alone are responsible for the excellence of their future children. Some of them opt to stay home because they want to be the most important influence on their child's life in the midst of otherwise out of control American chaos.

Whatever the scenario, it always follows from total lack of creativity on the part of the State about parenting and public policy. Raising children is, no doubt, one of the most important endeavors that any human being can undertake. And, yet as a country we wholly undervalue it. The state takes no substantial interest in its future citizens: no quality day care, no subsidies for parents, no guarantee of a high quality school in their neighborhood, no guarantee of health coverage--damn it, you are on your own. No, wait, the woman is on her own! Afterall, men have internalized the image that they are the breadwinner--that's their contribution according to the Times.

The Women's Movement will be unnecessary the day that women are not caught between choosing a career and chooing motherhood. Let's not forget why so many women wanted to enter the professions in the first place: because they too wanted to contribute to the greater good, they wanted to exercise their talents, and they wanted to enlarge their world. A smart, capable, worldy woman is an excellent mother. She is someone her children can look up to and emulate, just like their fathers.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am all for division of labor. It's just that when I hear that phrase, I guess I have a little more imagination. It doesn't mean: women consign themselves to all domestic details and men dedicate themselves to the public sphere. So 19th century! It means that parents figure out how to share both the labor of childrearing and their careers. Perhaps both scale back a bit during the early years? Or, it means that Dad does the diapers, dishes, nighttime duties while Mom does feeding and laundry? Division of labor means that each person does what they do best and contrary to entrenched public prejudice women don't always do the domestic details best, nor do men always do the breadwinning best. But, beyond this silly discussion of divison of labor, how about someone get some real vision about how to actually support families in this country in ways that brings out the best talents of both parents? Why not take seriously the labor of raising children and the recognition that no nuclear family can do it well without total insanity unless they have real help and real support.

Above all, why not restructure the workplace not around the archaic understanding of what a man's role is, but rather around the understanding of what a parent's role is--mother and father.

Enough of my diatribe! Now go enjoy your holiday feast!