Do Equal Wages Really Equal Equality in the Labour Force?

In an article entitled, “Gender equality bake sale causes stir at Utah high school” by Randall Carlisele, a student run bake sale, intended to raise awareness around gender inequality, is discussed. At the bake sale, boys were required to pay more for a cookie than girls were required to pay. This is an example of how equality in the workforce is often equated to equal pay, which is an over simplification of the issue. Equal pay for equal work will not equate to equality in the labour force because not everyone is represented in the labour force equally.

For a female single parent the likelihood of entering poverty increases by 5.6 times (Finnie and Sweetman cited in Gadalla, 234). In Canada and the U.S., it was reported that, for women under 35 years old, the wage gap between mothers and women without children is greater than the gap between men and women (Zhang 2009; Crittenden 2001 as cited in Baker, 50). This shows that there are other wage gaps that an equalization of men’s and women’s wages will not solve. This suggests that there are barriers within the labour force affecting the socio-economic status of particular bodies.

In Canada, a heterosexual male, a wife and their biological children make up the nuclear family, which creates a gender binary based on the male bread-winner and the wife care-giver and is the ideal family structure (Krull, 11). Although our families have become more diverse, it would seem that our ideas of paid work and unpaid work (care giving) remain gendered.

Of women aged 25-44 years old, who were employed part-time, 38% said that they were working part-time because they were caring for children or had other family responsibilities. (Townsend cited in Gadalla, 234). With the rising cost of child-care in Canada, it is easy to imagine that some women are working part-time because they cannot afford the cost of day-care, while others are working part-time to be at home with their children to live up to the “Good Mother” image or a combination of the two. Even if women with children had wages equal to men, this would still not give them overall incomes equal to that of their male counter-parts because their labour force participation is limited. More interestingly, there was bias among employers and women often suffer from the “Motherhood Penalty”(Townsend cited in Gadalla, 234). Pregnant women and mothers are perceived as less committed and qualified (Cornell,Bernard, and Paik 2007 as cited in Baker, 50). This stigma can prevent women with children from obtaining employment and it can effect their career advancement if they are overlooked for a promotion.

Looking further at the social stratification of work it becomes evident that in some cases, race impacts labour force participation. A study suggested that unemployment was 95% higher for Western Asian and Arab minorities, 73% higher for Black minorities, and 21% for Chinese minorities, than the White majority (Sheila Block and Grace-Edward Galabuzi 7). Although we have moved towards a more diverse workforce, particular bodies are being denied access to the labour force. This could be because racialization has influenced our understandings of how we know these bodies are now present in the work force. The hijab has been tied to misogyny and being a tool to hide bruises from abuse (Crosby 53). This can create an image of Muslim men as aggressive and lacking respect for women. Popular media produces images of Black men as hyper-sexed criminals (Aulette and Wittner 107). Both of these images can produce images of Black and Muslim women as submissive. Thinking of the corporate world, these images of Black and Muslim bodies would not fit well within an organization in which methodical negotiation is a means of doing business. Employers may be denying access to particular racialization bodies because of how they know these bodies.

For racialized minorities that are able to find employment with an equal opportunity employer, this does not always mean equal opportunity. A 2003 study of the workplace conducted by Queen’s University shows that minorities were viewed as the “other”, as being hired to meet a quota and not based on merit and called for action in order to reduce complaints of racism (Frances Henry 9). The report indicated that retention among minorities was a problem (Frances Henry 2). Equal opportunity employment does not necessarily create a work climate that is accepting of members of minority groups. These environments would make it more challenging for minority members to advance their career within an organization and possibly with others. Similar to women who take maternity leave to have children, it is possible that any disruption in employment can have a negative effect.

Power structures, such as government bodies, understand a single mother’s need to increase their labour force participation, but do little to shift the responsibility of caring for children from mothers. The government has committed to facilitating women’s participation in the labour force (Cool, 3); however, remains focused on child development (Jenson and Mahon, 8). Moreover, the government offers incentives for organizations adopting a more diverse labour force; however, does nothing to ensure the retention of these employees.

Equality in the labour force will not be achieved by looking at wages alone. Equal opportunity for everyone must be taken into consideration in conversations about equality in the labour force if we are to ever achieve it.

References

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Print.

Baker, Maureen.“Maternal Employment, Childcare, and Public Policy.” A Life in Balance? Reopening the Family-Work Debate. 47-63 in Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Block, Sheila. Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market the Gap for Racialized Workers. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives = Centre Canadien De Politiques Alternatives, 2011. Web. <http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2011/03/Colour%20Coded%20Labour%20Market.pdf&gt;.

Carlisele, Randall. “Gender Equality Bake Sale Causes Stir at Utah High School.” Good4Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2015. <http://www.good4utah.com/story/d/story/gender-equality-bake-sale-causes-stir-at-utah-high/10246/0gE6cCkPA0mvNkLZEjyO4Q&gt;.

Crosby, Emily. “Faux Feminism: France’s Veil Ban as Orientalism”. Journal Of International Women’s Studies. 15:46-60. 2014. Web. 7 Dec. 2014

Cool, Julie. “Child Care in Canada: The Federal Role.” Parliament of Canada. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. (http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0420-e.htm#anew).

Gadalla, Tahany M. “Gender Differences in Poverty Rates After Marital Dissolution: A Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 49(3-4):225-238. 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Jenson, Jane and Rianne Mahon.“Bringing Cities to the Table: Child Care and Intergovernmental Relations.” 2002.Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

(http://www.cccg.umontreal.ca/pdf/cprn/cprn_f26.pdf).

Krull, Catherine. “Destabilizing the Nuclear Family Ideal: Thinking Beyond Essentialisms, Universalisms, and Binaries.” A Life in Balance? Reopening the Family-Work Debate 11-46. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Henry, Frances, Dr. Systemic Racism Towards Faculty of Colour and Aboriginal Faculty at Queen’s University (n.d.): n. pag. Apr. 2004. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Slavery is Over but Colonialism is Not

Each day, everyone participates in “doing gender” as a means of both cultural and gender expression. For each of us, the ways in which we “do gender” is policed in subtle ways by the audience with which we interact, socially constructing our ideas about gender and race. Society produces and then reproduces our ideas of gender and race. For Black men and women in the United States, the intersection of race and gender has resulted in their oppression, both historically and in the present day. In a speech by Laverne Cox entitled “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About it)” she, as a self-proclaimed Black Trans Woman, describes the Black community in the Unites States as a culture dealing with trauma.

During colonialism and slavery, Black men and women were dominated by White settlers (Aulette and Wittner 106). The racialization of Black men and women began. Black men and women were stereotyped as a hyper-sexualized and threatening (West 1993, Collins 2000 as cited in Aulette and Wittner 106). These images were created so that the violence inflicted on Black men and women would be viewed as normal and necessary (Aulette and Wittner 106). Black men were often seen as rapists and lynched and emasculated (Laverne Cox). Enslaved Black women were often raped by their White owners (ibid 105). Colonialism created a hierarchy of race and gender with White men and women at the top.

Black men and women have shared oppression because of their race and this continues even now. (Lorde118). Stereotypes of Black women as being “Divas” and using sex to elevate their social stature exist today in the United States (Aultette and Wittner 108). Images of Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson in popular media contribute to the on going stereotypes of Black men as being hyper-sexed and threatening (ibid 107). In the United States today, there is little prosecution of sexual violence against Black women and almost all men convicted of a rape in the United States have been Black Men (Aulette and Wittner 107) Moreover, the hierarchy of race and gender still exists in America today. The race and gender norm in the United States is “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure”(Lorde 116). Everyone else is seen as a deviation from this perceived norm. (ibid). The same patterns used during colonization to produce a hierarchy of gender and race are present today. Images of Black men and women as hypersexed are still produced within society and violence against Black women remains seen as normal. Black men are prosecuted and emasculated by patriarchy.

Patricia Collins says that, “Black men are encouraged to express a hyper-heterosexuality as the badge of Black masculinity” (115). Laverne Cox describes a situation common to Black Trans women in the United States: being “cat-called” on the street by a Black man and a Latino man. She describes the incident, stating the two men were asking her if she was a “B” word or an “N” word. This incident is indicative of how these systemic ideas of race and gender are internalized and reproduced by society. These stereotypes are found in the sexual scripts of these men. “Cat-calling” is a way of asserting hegemonic masculinity and dominance based on sex. Further, the derogatory terms that the men gave Laverne to choose from show a lack of value and respect for Black women and men: there was no option that would place Laverne in a positive light.  In this moment, and moments like it, Black men seem hypersexualized and Black women are victims of a crime. The derogatory terms these men presented to Laverne, wrap race and gender together and devalue Black men and women, just as they were during colonization. Socially constructed ideas of race and gender have been internalized and are reproduced.

In her speech, Laverne Cox points to love and forgiving her oppressors in her speech as the solution and I very much agree. I think that for the act of forgiveness to work, one must first participate in self-love. Laverne Cox says that we have to begin to understand that the nobody lives up to the perceived gender norm. I believe that is we can do that, the socially constructed hierarchy of gender and race might start to disappear and this pattern can be broken. I believe that through the act of self-love, we might begin to start accepting each other and stop engaging in the policing of our own actions and those of others. I do not believe that this is the complete solution; however, like participating in activities that save the environment, every little bit helps.

References

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Print.

Hill Collins, Patricia ” Very Necessary – Redefining Black Gender Ideology.” Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism. New York : Routledge. (2004):182 -213. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/&gt;.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press. (1984): 114-123. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

Flying in the Face of Perceived Femininity: the life and work of Elizabeth Streb

Our ideas of gender roles have shifted dramatically in recent years. For example, it is becoming more common to hear of men staying home with children and women being the breadwinners. Although this shift has occurred, our ideas of what is acceptable in terms of representing these new roles have not kept pace. Items such as a dress are subject to gender polarization. For people of the LGTBQ community who practice “doing gender”, they are challenging the natural attitude, which often leads to violence. For some, exercising bodily autonomy in this way is much easier, leaving them virtually unscathed.

In Catherine Gund’s film, Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb Vs. Gravity, the life and work of Elizabeth Streb is documented. She and her group of STREB dancers crash, fly and get injured, challenging the emphasized feminity of dance and social norms about gender and representation. Their success so extreme it literally has them dangling hundreds of feet in the air for a six day event at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Streb tells her story of growing up in the 1960’s: being adopted into a middle class family, spending a great deal of time with her father – even accompanying him to construction jobs at a very young age. Out of these experiences she developed her interest, “Pop Action”, a term she coined to describe getting beyond personal protection to find a new level of strength, thus, increasing possibilities. An interest in dance also evolved, which was seemingly odd, given her gender socialization.

At first glance, Streb appears to be “doing gender”. Her short hair-cut, boxy, oversized blazers, dress shirts and belt buckles all possess a very over-emphasized masculine quality. It suggests to the audience that she has chosen to represent herself as male when thinking of the gender binary. She tells her story as she prepares for a dinner party for all of her close friends.  The appearance of her chopping, cooking and stressing over a seating plan is in sharp contrast to her over-emphasized masculine attire. One quickly comes to the realization that she is not “doing gender” in terms of the gender binary, but, rather, the gender spectrum. She is strategically “cherry-picking” her clothing, mannerisms and responsibilities within her gay partnership to represent herself as she feels on the inside: genderless or equal.

As she waits for her guests to arrive, she shows pictures of herself from the past. The images are of a stereotypical dancer from the 1980’s in a leotard, seemingly embracing femininity. As one observes the sharp contrast between the two images, one cannot help but wonder when Streb made the transition to the current image she now possesses and why. She paints a picture of struggle while trying to “make it” in New York, both in the dance industry and as a member of the LGBT community. She strategically identifies privilege within a relationship with a photographer in the dance industry: in this relationship, she developed an ally and eventually solidarity that helped to advance her career in dance. In the evening, she congregated illegally with other members of the LGBT community. Given that she went through the second and third waves of feminism while living in New York, it becomes apparent that the way she chooses to represent herself, as well as her work in the dance industry, was heavily influenced by these movements. Gender equality is her focus.

As the focus shifts from her to her dancers, the influence of the second and third waves of feminism becomes even more apparent. When watching the dancers on stage, one observes that there is no difference between the male and female dancers in terms of size or dress. Everyone appears equal. While male dancers do play an important role, the focus is predominantly on the female dancer, with little to no focus on race. The film highlights the female dancers as challenging the emphasized femininity of the dance industry with their size. This is where the influence of the feminist movements is most heavily felt in Streb’s work, in my opinion. She does not just try to bring women in line with men through appearance: it appears that she is erasing gender altogether, creating an image of equality. The size and amount of muscle that Streb’s dancers possess would be seen as unacceptable in most other dance companies.

Fast forward to the 2012 London Olympic Games and we see these same dancers dangling hundreds of feet in the air from an enormous Ferris wheel. Streb says that it was in that moment that she realized “It’s not what they were doing that mattered, but where”. This was the most profound moment in the film for me. The cables that the dancers hung from constrained their movement, allowing only for a very simplistic form of dance. The dance itself was not particularly special; it was the fact that it was done in the sky that made this a truly magical moment that will forever be entrenched in the history of dance. I realized in that moment that Streb waited to “do gender” in the way in which she had chosen until had achieved the social status required to support such a venture. In my opinion, I think that Streb is now using her privilege to act as an ally for those who are subjected to violence for exercising bodily agency in a way that challenges social norms. For me, this was an poignant reminder that we have a long way to go in terms of equality and exercising bodily agency. More importantly, the film was a message of hope, knowing we are making progress towards this.