Expanding the Discussion on Gender Pay Gap

In a recent article in the Money section of CNN’s website, Kottasova (2014) highlighted the world’s gender pay gap. As was articulated in the article, pay equity, whereby women and men are paid equally for doing the same job, does not currently exist in any country. And TheGlobal Gender Gap Report 2014 posits that the closing of the gender gap will take at least 81 years. So where does the U.S. rank in the world’s unequal compensation for the same work? And how will this continue to affect women, especially those women graduating college with substantial student loan debt?

Currently, the U.S. has a wage gap of 66%, which means the women earn approximately two-thirds of what men earn for comparable work. As such, wage equality in the U.S. ranks 65th out of 142 countries. It is this wage gap that continues to oppress women, especially women of color, through economic disenfranchisement. Further, women continue to devote substantiallymore time to household and childcare responsibilities than men. Therefore, women are continuously devalued due to the time and energy spent in ‘unpaid’ work versus the time men give to ‘much better paid’ work. This insidious pay discrepancy under the dominant discourse of alleged gender ‘equality’ restrains women to their marginalized social location, of which women receive society’s message that they should be content ‘in the home.’

Granted, taking a dichotomous view of gender limits one’s understanding of the complexities that genderqueer and sexual minority individuals face in regards to wage disparity and household responsibilities. Therefore, more discussion is needed to investigate the consequences of a heteronormative society on queer households and gender transgressive and sexual minorities in the workplace. It could be postulated that individuals in queer relationships that assume the socially determined ‘feminine’ responsibilities of childcare, household chores, and caretaking are also those who are disenfranchised within their partnership; possibly even earning less in their ‘paid’ work. As such, discussing ‘gender’ pay gap goes far beyond cisgender heterosexual partnerships.   

So we can see, the gender wage gap negatively affects the lives of women and those sexual and gender transgressive minorities who assume caretaking roles in ‘paid’ and ‘unpaid’ work. However, the ‘student loan crisis’ also has an excessively more negative affect on women’s lives?

I recently attended a lecture by iconic feminist, Gloria Steinem, at Case Western Reserve University. It was during her talk on why the women’s movement, or “revolution,” has just begun that she mentioned the importance of the U.S. recognizing how student loan debt disproportionately affects women. Steinem noted that the U.S. is the only ‘advanced’ country that burdens its university students with such excessive debt during the time when they should be most free to explore opportunities, identities, and the world.

Although the burden of loan debt is weighing down on men and women alike, women (or genderqueer individuals who adopt ‘feminine’ roles) will be most affected due to the gender wage gap and caretaking responsibilities. More specifically, Steinem noted that women earn approximately $1 million less in their lives than men, which decreases their ability to repay student loans. Now couple women’s disproportionate difficulty repaying student loans with the added cost of childcare, which has now exceeded the average cost of college education. It is no wonder then, why women are struggling and failing to meet the requirements of gendered loan ‘forgiveness’ programs; programs that are best suited to support men’s social location of having more economic and social power.

Therefore, when politicians, academic institutions, and professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, start the dialogue of student loan debt, we need to remain cognizant of how women’s needs are not being met when the standard of student loans is based on the male experience.

Again, it is important to note that although women are mostly affected by the gender wage gap and the added burden of caretaking, the complexities of a genderqueer analysis opens the possibilities to explore how gender transgressive and sexual minorities are also impacted by gender wage gap and student loan debt if they adopt the more ‘feminine’ caretaking role in their partnerships.

However, focusing only on how gender pay gap negatively affects women who have accrued student loan debt ignores those who are so economically and socially disenfranchised that they cannot attend university (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, urban and rural communities, those who are undocumented, persons with disabilities, etc.). In such social locations, the reality of unequal pay becomes a heavy burden to carry, particularly for women and single mothers, and perpetuates marginalization. 

 - Written by Brittan Davis

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