Yesterday, I talked about how the problem of “choice” feminism—trying to assert that because a woman decided between available options, that means that no one should engage in critical analysis of that process—is giving cover to Republicans denying that the wage gap is a problem. Of course, that in no way means the wage gap is attributable mainly to women making choices that are considered off-limits for analysis, such as the entirely coincidental fact that women are something like ten times as likely to be a full-time homemaker than men. Direct discrimination is a real problem, as this incredibly important segment of Maddow’s show demonstrates.
Because of the silencing power of the word “choice”, the discourse is limited to discussions of direct discrimination, which is employers paying women less simply because they can get away with it. As Heidi Hartmann asserts, this is 20-50% of the wage gap, and possibly more. Then there’s systemic discrimination in job opportunities, with women being channeled into developing job skills that put them in jobs that pay less money. That’s a bit harder to measure, but addressing it with policy is easy to imagine.
But like Hartmann said, this kind of slicing and dicing assumes that some kinds of sexist discrimination don’t count, because CHOICES. She notes that Canada’s bean counters don’t see it that way, and include interpersonal sexism as part of the discriminatory patterns that cause women to earn less, both pressure to be less competitive because it’s icky for ladies and home pressure to take on more than their fair share of the domestic work. Women are subtly told in many different ways that our economic independence and our ambitions simply aren’t as valuable as that of men’s. It’s in everything: The way that women are expected to name themselves after their spouses, symbolically embracing their secondary role in marriage. The way female sexuality is policed in a way male sexuality isn’t, sending the signal that women’s very bodies are the property of eventual spouses, which has all sorts of implications for who is more important in the marriage. It’s in the fact that child care is considered a “women’s” issue, but in terms of policy but also at home, since many couples only compare the costs of child care to her salary, instead of both of them. Needless to say, the way single mothers are treated also feeds into this.
It’s a self-perpetuating thing. Because women know they make less and are valued less for their paid labor, and because women are under a deluge of wedding propaganda that suggests our real value in this world is determined by someone wanting to marry us, of course we’re going to make all-holy CHOICES that reflect our circumstances but don’t get us any closer to equality. Which would be all well and good, I suppose, except women pay the price every day for our lack of equality. We’re more likely to live in poverty and more likely to struggle to get by. We’re more dependent on men, which is something that’s often used against us in interpersonal relationships. If men and women were truly valued equally in this society, women would be better off, emotionally and materially. So I’m not just trying to be a meanie-bear making people uncomfortable with these observations. There’s real stakes here.