(The following excerpt from The Pay Gap For Women Starts At Graduation by Kimberly Weisul recently appeared on slate.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Nationally, women make just 77 cents for every dollar made by men. But it’s long been unclear just why this pay gap persists. Do women make less than men because they choose to go into less lucrative professions and work fewer hours, or do they make less because they’re discriminated against no matter which field they choose and how hard they work?
New data from Harvard University’s most recent graduating class suggests that the answer to that crucial question is yes and yes. Women choose fields that don’t pay as well, but even within highly paid fields such as finance and engineering, they get paid less than men.
The fact that a distinct pay gap is evident right out of undergraduate school is more than a little sobering. At the age of 21 or 22, it’s extremely unlikely that the male graduates had somehow acquired relevant experience that merits above-average pay, or that the women are working fewer hours to accommodate their families.
The survey found that men were about twice as likely to choose finance, technology, or engineering—all highly paid fields—for their first jobs. Eleven percent of women chose engineering or technology, versus 19 percent of men. Ten percent of women chose finance, compared with 24 percent of men.
Women were twice as likely to choose public service or not-for-profits, which don’t pay as well. Equal numbers of men and women chose consulting.
Across all fields, 19 percent of men said they would be making $90,000 or more after graduation, compared with 4 percent of women. It’s easy to look at that stat and say, OK, that’s because there are more guys in banking, engineering, and tech.
But here’s the thing: The survey says “a plurality” of women in technology and engineering said they will be making between $50,000 and $69,999. The guys in the same field? A plurality said they would be making between $90,000 and $109,999. At the low end, that’s an 80 percent difference. But 80 percent is ridiculous. At the high end it’s 57 percent. That’s insane, too.
Maya Angelou is best known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of seven volumes of autobiography telling the story of her life in the Deep South. She documented overcoming poverty, racial discrimination and giving birth as a teenager: here, she talks about what gave her strength.
Find your voice
“My mother knew that it was dangerous for me to become silent. That’s still so, 69 years later… I sing, I speak, I speak loudly and firmly… because mutism is like a drug, it’s so addictive – you don’t have to do anything.”
“Love liberates, it doesn’t just hold – that’s ego…. When [my mother] was on oxygen and fighting cancer for her life, I remembered her liberating me, and I said: ‘I hope I’ll be able to liberate her’.”
Still I rise
“Everyone in the world has gone to bed one night or another with fear, or pain, or loss, or disappointment – and yet each of us has awakened arisen, somehow made our ablutions, seen other human beings and said: ‘Morning, how are you?’ ‘Fine, thanks – and you?’.”
I am a human being
“No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it, I have to say I have in me all the components that are in her, or in him – I intend to use my energies constructively as opposed to destructively.”
“When I step up on a stage, when I stand up to translate, when I go to teach my classes, when I go to direct a movie, I bring everyone who’s ever been kind to me with me – black, white, Asians, Spanish-speaking, native American, gay, straight – everybody. I say: ‘Come with me, I need you now’.”
“Stop interrupting me.”
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”
In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse, and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.
I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.
This irksome reality goes along with another—men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before, and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.
These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.
After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.
The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And—as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born—how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.
This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.
These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.
This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”
Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books, and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. The man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.
In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” When several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech, he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”
Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”
I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60′s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him, a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech, and parity in culture he drifted off.
It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.
As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak more, more often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees, and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”
Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.
The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”
There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role of gender and not sex. I, for example, have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, interrupts, and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of a one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess she’s a boy based on the fact that her speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than most girls. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps that confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).
People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” I tell them to practice these words, every day:
“Stop interrupting me,” “I just said that,” and “No explanation needed.”
It will do both boys and girls a world of good.
Soraya L. Chemaly writes about gender, feminism and culture for several online media including Role Reboot, The Huffington Post, Fem2.0, RHReality Check, BitchFlicks, and Alternet among others. She is particularly interested in how systems of bias and oppression are transmitted to children through entertainment, media and religious cultures. She holds a History degree from Georgetown University, where she founded that schools first feminist undergraduate journal, studied post-grad at Radcliffe College.
The paintings ‘made better with cats’
Russian artist Svetlana Petrova has become known for her online artwork of famous portraits featuring her big ginger cat Zarathustra.
Ahead of a new exhibition bringing the internet meme into a physical setting, the artist tells the BBC why she first created the artwork and how digital technology is helping to create new art forms.
“I lost my mother in 2008 and she left me Zarathustra. I got horrible depression after her death and for two years I was unable to do something creative. By chance a friend asked me ‘why don’t you make an art project with your cat because he’s so funny’.
“I’ve had cats before and included them in my work, like playing in theatre shows and I’ve made costumes for them. But I thought, ‘What can I do with Zarathustra, because my mother spoilt him and he’s so fat’.
“Zarathustra likes posing and is a really intelligent cat. He likes to lie on his back and make strange faces like he’s speaking with somebody, so I began to take photos of him and inserted them into paintings.
“I liked the result so I sent it to some friends, other artists and galleries. Everyone laughed so much, so I made a website, but then forgot about it because I had another project.
“After a few months, another friend saw my cat work in my albums and asked why I had it. I told him it was my cat and he said: ‘Your cat is all over the internet!’
“Now we have special photo sessions with a professional photographer and a team who entertain Zarathustra. But sometimes he’s not in the mood and I have to wait months until he agrees to make the right face.
“I see his pose and imagine what painting he can enter, or I find a painting and try to make him play that role of the character I see in the painting.
“Sometimes it’s a character in the original painting, sometimes it’s an added character.
“Like with the Mona Lisa – in the original photo, Zarathustra was really sinking in my hands on my lap and sliding because he’s too big – it makes Mona Lisa look like a modern girl who’s taking a selfie with her cat.
“I also now make digital paintings – I use high-resolution digital reproductions of the artworks and insert the cat in the style of the painting.
Then I print them on natural canvas in the size of the original and paint over them with textured gels and oils and match the colours as closely as possible.
“Sometimes people don’t realise it is not the original painting – my friend went to the airport with a gift I gave her of one of the artworks in a museum-style frame and it was very hard for her to prove to customs it wasn’t an old painting.
“She tried to explain: ‘Do you think an 18th Century painter would really draw cats instead of horses?’ She had to scratch it with her nails to show it was printed underneath.
“People usually think art is something they cannot touch, but there is a lot of art in the viral internet world – like internet memes. There is a new trend and generation of artists and critics thinking about it.
“For me it was a possibility to create something that is beautiful and make people investigate something new and interesting, and try and create some art themselves.
“Digital technology gives people the opportunity to make art and museums should be more attentive to it.”
Russian Extremes – From Icons to I-Cats runs at The Barn at Stonehill House, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, from 31 May to 5 June.