Gender income inequality proves that feminism is still relevant
The way feminism is regarded as obsolete in today’s society would imply that the goal has been reached, that women can enjoy the full and equal rights of their male counterparts. This may be true from a strictly jurisdictional point of view, but reality as we know it rarely complies with the law book.
Since our western society is founded on the principles of capitalism, the most relevant method of measuring equality is comparing the money we earn from paid work; our income. According to the last publication on the subject from the Parliament of Canada, women still earn a shockingly mere 71.4 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
If this fact was strictly applied to an average 9:00am to 5:00pm work day, Canadian women would work for free from 2:41 pm. That is in layman terms almost two and a half hours of unpaid labor, every day, every week, every year. In a lifetime we are talking about income gaps in the region of six digit amounts.
Like much else regarding feminism, there are plenty who label the gender wage gap as a myth. The most disturbing explanation is that men supposedly, to a much greater extent than women, choose careers that come with a higher salary. This is an argument stained with ignorance, conscious or unconscious, of larger structural discrimination in society as well as the distaste to ask uncomfortable questions. Why do women “choose” jobs that are less paid?
The obvious answer is that society encourages women to do so. The common assumption that women are by nature sympathetic care givers leaves little to wonder about the over-representation in nursing, for example. Traditional gender roles where the work of women constantly is ranked lower, are unfortunately far from being regarded as invalid.
This goes both ways, as it is still somewhat frowned upon if a man works in a field dominated by women. Just the existence of the title “male nurse” confirms this fact.
Part-time work is also an explanation to why there is such a wide income gap. Recent data published by Statistics Canada shows that 26.5 % of the female work force works part-time, compared to only 11.8 % among the men. In the age group 25-44 years old, an astonishing 34 % of women state that the reason for them working less than 30 hours a week is because they care for their children. Only 3.4 % of the men stated the same.
Responsibilities within families need to change in order to change these depressing numbers and the government actually has an excellent tool in this struggle; the paid parental leave. In countries like Sweden, there are several months reserved for the father only,this has had an effect on these statistics. According to the Statistical Bureau of Sweden, since 1995 when the first month was introduced, the days used by the father has gone from 10 to 22 % in 2009. But there is a catch-22. Since there is a wage gap to begin with, the majority of families would be better off economically with the mother staying at home with the newborn instead of the father.
Changing and improving these structures is our greatest challenge in order to reach gender economic equality. We have to break a pattern stretching back thousands of years, something that would require both political and civil initiative. Not to be forgotten is the fact that we are talking about a sacrifice of power from one sex to the other, and as history shows giving up power voluntarily is scarce.
The division in how we define a male and female is what has kept women from reaching the same income as men historically, in the present and potentially into the future. If these issues are continued to be ignored, women will continue to live in the shadow of men for decades to come. Feminism is more relevant than it has been in decades and this economic inequality aspect clearly shows that the job is not yet finished.