It is said that the gender pay gap has reached a point of extinction nationally, that it is somewhat of an endangered species internationally. This is not so.
The same arguments reverberate around old rooms: flaws in the calculation of averages, the natural differences between men and women, the minimisation of the gap itself. Yet there is another room, along the corridor, behind a hefty fire door we are instructed to keep shut. It is a fully soundproofed space in which a voice tells one that the raw statistic remains, whatever the permutations, and must tell one something. It must be made to tell one something.
When every bone is contentious, deciding which one to break first is often perplexing. Here we will first tackle the use of employment sectors in the calculation of wage differences. It is manifestly clear that such calculations fail to discriminate between varying career paths within one sector, rather assuming all wage-earners within that one sector are employed in the same tasks. This makes invisible the distinction between male and female occupations within each sector. But these flaws in calculation also make visible this invisibility, so that now, the fire door propped open, we notice a glass door between us and a well-proportioned, but dimly-lit room.
The gender pay gap, then, has not only demonstrated the segregation between different sectors, but the segregation between different occupations within these sectors. The gender pay gap reveals a gender job gap. And whilst men and women are employed in separate sectors and separate occupations within these sectors, the gender pay gap remains a relevant reminder of these facts.
The glass door opens, and now we must fumble for the light switch. And what must be done to amend these calculations now that they have reached their full utility? An effort must be made to compare the pay of similar jobs across all sectors. The search for the light switch is no longer on vertical, but on horizontal lines. With the press of a finger comes the flicker of lights: even by eliminating this gender segregation – this gender job gap – the gender pay gap would persist. There must be something more, then, to the gender pay gap than what it reveals about the polarisation of and within the employment sectors.
Two fluorescent lights bring colour to a chipped desk at the centre of the room, reminiscent of one’s schooldays. On it there is a box, locked, no key. Beside it there are several charts, we step closer, we see the human form; a man, a woman. There is also a set of instructions and a sheet of purple paper. To open the box, we must follow these instructions. The first is to compare the male and female form; a trivial game of spot the difference. What do we notice? The woman is smaller than the man, the woman carries children, the man does not. The second instruction is to envisage how these differences might impact one’s function, or more directly, one’s employment. Herein lies the challenge.
Physical strength. A man is larger. A man is more muscular. Arguably, a man is therefore physically stronger. Does this give men a greater capacity for physical labour? In general, yes. Within such a sector, then, men may be paid more on grounds of productivity. But between sectors, those involving physical labour are valued less monetarily than those which do not. Physical strength, therefore, can no longer justify unequal wages.
Does physical strength give men a greater capacity for physical labour? More specifically, no. One’s gender does not define one’s physical strength or one’s capacity for physical labour. The weakest man is not stronger than the strongest woman; the strongest woman is not weaker than the weakest man. Physical strength hardly brushes against one’s function, one’s employment. One’s capacity for physical labour is irrelevant to the gender job gap and is certainly no longer relevant to the gender pay gap.
Childbearing and childrearing. A woman can carry a child. A woman can give birth to a child. A woman can feed a child. Does this give women a diminished capacity for full employment? In general, no. Childbirth does not eliminate one’s mental faculties or force one into permanent inaction. A woman is capable of exercising both mind and body before, during and after bearing children and is therefore capable of full employment.
Does childbearing and childrearing give women a diminished capacity for full employment? More specifically, yes. Despite the systems available to women in the process of childrearing and the number of women in full employment, expectations maintain many a justification of the gender pay gap, of the gender job gap. What are these expectations? That women must overlook employment risks in favour of maternity leave, that women must make greater career sacrifices in the name of motherhood, that women must have a stronger bond with their children than their male counterparts. A difficulty in returning to work, the ‘necessity’ of partial employment and the loss of experience and opportunity, accepted from conception, can justify what remains of the gender pay gap, but they should not have to. Provision can be made. Paternity leave must be given and expected, to the same extent as maternity leave; men and women must be perceived as equally responsible for the rearing of a child.
Nothing on the charts, at this desk, in this room, suggests women maintain a greater bond with their children following childbirth. Nothing on the charts suggests women are more capable within certain employment sectors because of this fallacy of infantile bondage. Nothing on the charts justifies either a gender pay gap or a gender job gap. Of course, there is time lost and responsibility gained. But no one perceives sabbatical leave as detrimental to one’s career or household pets as undermining of one’s capacity to work, however insufficient these comparisons may seem.
The final instruction is an odd one, to pull up the blind that has so far shielded a window from view. Outside the sky is a blunt grey, but the clouds show signs of parting. On the windowsill is a key. It opens the box on the desk. Inside are two origami fortune tellers; one red, one blue. Externally, both are inscribed with the same hypotheticals; if you want to change the world, if you enjoy books, if you find interest in history. Yet, internally, they contain contrasting imperatives. These need not be spelt out. Left in the box is a further instruction: create one more origami fortune teller on purple paper, combining the results of those already in existence. A universal fortune teller. A universal education.
What is left? What is left in the box? Two brown envelopes, empty. What is left of the gender pay gap? If nothing, then we must fill these envelopes equally. If, having accounted for flaws in calculation, physicality and education, something, then we must still fill these envelopes equally. If wage provision remains unequal despite this profusion of counterfactuals, it is plainly remiss. Irrespective of its nature – as a pay gap or a job gap – a gap still exists. And it is surely due for extinction.