Most of us who read this site probably missed the fact that Saturday 10 November was Equal Pay Day. According to the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), because women earn less than men they start working for free for the rest of the year.
The WEP would like women to put something like this on the door of their office, or in their email auto-responses, for the rest of the year:
Subject line: Out of Office. For the rest of the year.
Not really. I’m just making a point. Today is effectively the last day women in the UK are paid to work. Because of the gender pay gap the average woman is working for free until the end of the year. So, if women aren’t getting paid, why should they work? The pay gap on average is 17.9% but for some women it’s even worse. If like me and the Women’s Equality Party, you think it’s not ok, you can help show your support by copying this message and switching on your Out Of Office too.
The Institute of Economic Affairs has made a good job of demolishing the campaign’s arguments.
Paying men and women different amounts for doing the same job is illegal, and has been since the Equal Pay Act of 1970. In a sane world you might think that would be the end of the discussion. In other words, the differences arise because men and women are doing different things, with different levels of skill and experience, and with different preferences.
To get a closer look at what drives the statistical differences between men and women, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) breaks the data down by age. Its overall figure, which looks only at full-time earnings, shows a gap of 8.9%. But if you look at the age breakdowns, it’s interesting. The median hourly wage gap for women aged 22-29 in full-time work is 1.3%. For women aged 30-39 it is only 0.8%. Extraordinary. So the statistical gap comes through as people get older. A major contributing factor is motherhood. Remember the ONS figure covers only earnings for full-time work, but as women make their way back into the workforce after having children, they may choose to work in less demanding roles and may have missed higher-earning opportunities that rely on unbroken years of experience.
So here is what depresses me about the Equal Pay Day campaign and why I believe it is so damaging.
The first thing is the assumption that in a fair world all differences must be eliminated. The WEP, the Fawcett Society, the TUC, all spend their time calculating how long it is going to take for the gender pay gap to be eliminated. That’s right – they want it eliminated. To achieve that, we would pretty much need men and women to be the same – any differences coming from our different biological natures must be trained out of us. What a depressing aspiration.
The second is the under-valuing of women’s traditional preferences and roles. Many women choose to stay at home and bring up their children. Many describe it as the most rewarding thing they have ever done. (Yes, like anything, it has its grim moments.) Many women are grateful when male partners make the wearying commute to the office. But for some reason that I can’t quite fathom, feminist campaigners are bent on weaning women off this most life-affirming of roles.
The third depressing feature is the reliance on misleading statistics and narrative. The Women’s Equality Party have chosen to highlight a higher pay-gap figure of 17.9%. Obviously they want it to look as high as possible. So they have chosen to use a figure which includes part-time workers – and more women work part-time.
Meanwhile the Fawcett Society have chosen a figure of 13.7% which is a mean figure and includes the skewing effect of a very small number of extremely high mostly-male earners. We could argue about statistics all day. But what stands out is this. Nowhere have these campaigning groups made any real effort to highlight what they should want all young women to know: firstly, that no one anywhere is claiming that women do not get paid the same as men for like-for-like work. Secondly, if your goal is income equality, women have made extraordinary strides in recent years. It’s a great time to be female.
So that leads me on to the most depressing and damaging thing about this campaign and these Women’s Groups. They seek to fuel a Victim Narrative. The Fawcett Society says
‘There’s no one cause of the gap – important factors are discrimination, undervaluing roles predominantly done by women, dominance of men in best paid positions and unequal caring responsibilities.’
What? Where is the evidence of discrimination? Who is doing the undervaluing? Well if it’s not the women, it’s the men! Women are presented as passive victims who are being ‘done to’ by men. And the problem with positioning women as victims so relentlessly is that it harms women. Adopting a personal narrative of victimhood literally changes how we think about ourselves and changes the expectations and hopes we have for our lives. An attitude of victimhood has direct negative implications for our mental health and can lead on to depression and a sense of helplessness. It makes our lives worse. Writing for Quillette magazine, Lisa Marchiano says this:
‘Thinking of ourselves as oppressed or infirm may inadvertently cultivate what psychologists call an external locus of control … Those with an internal locus of control experience themselves as able to influence outcomes that affect them. Those with an external locus of control feel that most of what happens to them is beyond their ability to affect. Research has shown that having an internal locus of control is associated with less stress and better health, whereas having an external locus of control is correlated with anxiety disorders.’
Thinking about yourself as a victim makes you into a victim. Assuming you have control over your life gives you control over your life. Never complete control of course – we are not islands and should not want to be.
I have two young daughters and here is what I want for them. Never to think of themselves as victims. Never to assume men and women are not of equal goodwill and equal moral worth. That is why I want to keep them as far away as possible from a feminist or victimhood narrative. Am I going to stick an Equal Pay Day notice on my door? No, it’s November 13 – only three weeks to make my Christmas wreath . . .