More dismally silly nonsense from the post-sexist world

I was born in 1975. I do not recall a time in my life, ever, during which sexism, racism or homophobia were not considered to be passé. Discrimination always happened yesterday. Then today becomes yesterday and suddenly we realise that today wasn’t too great, either. Apart from “today today”, 2012. Finally, at long last, we’re totally sorted. Prejudice doesn’t exist. It’s not as though thought there’s the remotest possibility that in twenty year’s time we’ll look back and say “actually, I don’t know why we all thought that was acceptable”.

At least, that’s the case if you’re Tim Worstall, who’s written a piece in Forbes to reassure us all that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist (phew!). The very idea that it could is “dismally silly”. Sure, there used to be a problem – “we do know very well that women did suffer direct discrimination in education and employment in the past” – but conditions for women today couldn’t be better. Sure, we still earn less on average than men and are considerably less likely to hold positions of power and authority, but that’s all to do with age cohorts, apparently:

There was very definitely discrimination against young women in education and employment in, say, the 1920s. There hasn’t been since, arguably, the time of those born in the 1980s.

Except, “arguably”, there has. I mean, I wasn’t quite born in the 1980s so maybe I just get the very tail end of womankind’s centuries of rubbish. Hey ho. But I’m really not all that convinced.

Worstall argues that we now see “young female executives being paid more than the men”. Thus pay equality is merely a waiting game (sorry, older ladies!). Meanwhile discrimination – real, live discrimination – no longer exists, or so Tim would say:

We have a motherhood pay gap, something that it might be sensible for us to try and deal with, perhaps not. Entirely up to you that one. But a simple gender pay gap doesn’t really exist. Once we adjust for all of the extra little factors, hours of work, years in labour force, educational qualifications and so on there’s not really any room left for us to find actual discrimination against women in wages.

Obviously as a mother, I am pleased to learn that solving the problem that is the “motherhood pay gap” is entirely up to me. I’d always assumed the persistent belief that childcare is women’s work, despite the fact that it excludes women from receiving financial rewards for their labour, wasn’t something I’d chosen personally. It’s a situation thrust upon mothers, who are damned regardless of whether or not they continue in paid employment – whether it’s through being considered a bad mother, or becoming an exploited part-timer, or being priced out of the employment market by nursery fees, or through doing the decent, motherly thing and earning sod all. But Worstall would like to suggest it’s all a choice (and perhaps thereby intimate that we mummies like to opt out. As a full-time worker and therefore not-proper mummy, I wouldn’t know. Ask me when I get the option of continuing to earn while still being considered a full-time parent).

Yet this isn’t all about motherhood. It’s about discrimination in a broader sense and the idiotically simplistic idea that just because no boss sits down and thinks “better a useless man over a useful woman”, women are not undervalued in the workplace. Just because discrimination doesn’t happen in ways that are easy to call out doesn’t mean it’s not taking place. We might have a right to equal pay but a lack of transparency over salaries leaves us with no idea of where we stand. Asking questions is considered unprofessional. Moreover, it’s seen as petty. Equal pay? Hey, at least you’ve got a job! Furthermore, older female employees are for some reason expected to just accept that they’ve drawn the generational short straw. A pay gap which affects only older employees isn’t a real pay gap. As far as Tim’s concerned, these women will die and then it’ll all be equal. So why worry about them in the meantime?

Of course, there are no genuine assurances that things will improve. Objective measures of discrimination are hard to come by directly but, as Cordelia Fine details so clearly in Delusions of Gender, there is plenty of research which suggests that employers can and will judge women more harshly than men. Qualifications seem less impressive on a CV with a female name at the top; positive qualities are seen as negative ones when exhibited by a female manager; even the required skills for a specific post can change dependent on whether a man or a woman is applying (in one study, the qualities considered most valuable for a post happened to be whatever a male candidate possessed, and the criteria were subconsciously changed according to whether a candidate was presented as male or female). Studies also show that when it comes to pay, women who ask for more are more likely than men to suffer negative consequences. And yet if any of this was happening to you, the chances are you wouldn’t complain. You wouldn’t even know it was going on. Outside of test conditions how can individual women even make the comparison?

All of this rather undermines Worstall’s argument that there is no such thing as discrimination. It’s neither helpful nor fair to blame ongoing inequalities on either motherhood “choices” or generational hangovers. One one level this might seem unimportant. After all, discrepancies between male and female top-level pay are piffling compared to those between top-level pay and the minimum wage. Nonetheless, if this is a subject that’s worth writing about at all, it shouldn’t be in order to dismiss the very idea of gender prejudice. For if there is a trickle-down effect going on here, it’s not to do with money, but with values. We are fed “reasoned” explanations of why women are worth less than men. But the truth is, we’re not.

Mr Worstall, you might live in the post-sexist world. The women around you don’t. You don’t have the right to ask them to wait, or to tell them they were born at the wrong time, or to say they have choices which don’t yet exist. Whether we were born in the 1950s or 2000s, each of us only gets one life. It’s not “dismally silly” to try to make things fairer in the here and now.

10 thoughts on “More dismally silly nonsense from the post-sexist world

  1. “Mr Worstall, you might live in the post-sexist world. The women around you don’t. You don’t have the right to ask them to wait, or to tell them they were born at the wrong time, or to say they have choices which don’t yet exist. Whether we were born in the 1950s or 2000s, each of us only gets one life. It’s not “dismally silly” to try to make things fairer in the here and now.”

    I haven’t actually said any of those things.

    What I have said is, that in the numbers on pay, we cannot see much if any evidence of current discrimination against women. The reason I say this is because we can’t. In the younger age cohort (up to 30ish, about the average date of primagravidae in the UK) women earn, on average, the same or more than men.

    Then there is indeed a divergence, the average woman earning less than the average man. And we see that gap more starkly at the end of working life.

    This is not evidence of direct discrimination.

    “Obviously as a mother, I am pleased to learn that solving the problem that is the “motherhood pay gap” is entirely up to me.”

    I’ve not said that either. However, I do agree with this part:

    “I’d always assumed the persistent belief that childcare is women’s work,”

    This is indeed what is causing that observable gap. Which is why I refer to it not as a gender gap but a motherhood gap. For again, in the actual figures, we find that among single childless women in their 40s and above, there is no pay gap. They earn, on average again, the same as men.

    The importance of all of this is that if we want to try and solve a problem, any problem, then we need to correctly analyse the cause of the problem. If, for example, a pay gap is about employers directly discriminating then we might need to tackle direct discrimination. If a pay gap is about the having and rearing of children and the interruption to careers that causes then we might want to have different solutions. For dealing with employer discrimination ain’t gonna solve anything if it’s not that which is causing the observed problem.

    If it is indeed childcare and career interruption then a possible solution might be shared parental leave. If both mothers and father interrupt their careers to raise children then whatever effect that has upon career progression and wages will be equally shared. Or more equally so at least.

    At which point of course you’ll be glad to hear that the current government is legislating for exactly that. And guess what? That legislation is based on my analysis. As above: that we’ve not, any longer at least, really got a gender pay gap, we’ve got a motherhood one. And yes, it really is based upon my analysis, this new law. I can point you to the specific person I convinced, the progress of the idea through the policy making machine.

    That’s why proper analysis of such problems is necessary. For only by actually identifying what is causing a problem is it possible to craft solutions to that problem. Which leads us to such an interesting conclusion. Some bastard like me actually analysing the figures leads to an actual solution (not a complete one, by no means, but an advance at least) to the actual problem. It is largely a motherhood pay gap and a partial solution is shared parental leave.

    You should be thanking me for being such a sexist bastard, not attacking me.

    1. What I have said is, that in the numbers on pay, we cannot see much if any evidence of current discrimination against women. The reason I say this is because we can’t. In the younger age cohort (up to 30ish, about the average date of primagravidae in the UK) women earn, on average, the same or more than men.

      Why should the younger age cohort be seen as a “pure” source for analysis? You have not made this clear.

      If, for example, a pay gap is about employers directly discriminating then we might need to tackle direct discrimination. If a pay gap is about the having and rearing of children and the interruption to careers that causes then we might want to have different solutions. For dealing with employer discrimination ain’t gonna solve anything if it’s not that which is causing the observed problem.

      But you are denying that the former exists when there is ample evidence that it does. And as long as it does (and as long as the long-term earning prospects of women are thereby lower) the choices couples make about childcare will be distorted.

      1. “Why should the younger age cohort be seen as a “pure” source for analysis? ”

        Because we do know, absolutely, that there was indeed direct discrimination against women in the past. Educational possibilities, career choices, entry to the professions etc. One thing that we are interested in is whether this is still true or not.

        As far as we can see from the figures this is not true. Women are the majority of university undergraduates, the majority of degrees being awarded, the majority of entrants into the professions. It really is extraordinarily difficult to see that as evidence of discrimination against women.

        “But you are denying that the former exists when there is ample evidence that it does.”

        But there is no such evidence. See above. There is a lot of evidence that child bearing and child rearing leads to a divergence of average pay for men and women. There is near no evidence that direct discrimination against women by employers leads to such.

    2. At which point of course you’ll be glad to hear that the current government is legislating for exactly that. And guess what? That legislation is based on my analysis. As above: that we’ve not, any longer at least, really got a gender pay gap, we’ve got a motherhood one. And yes, it really is based upon my analysis, this new law.

      Well, that’s worrying. A man has done some analysis that shows that there isn’t really a gender pay gap any longer. He then manages to ‘convince’ the current misogynistic government (by the men, for the men) to create legislation on that basis. Did the government really take much ‘convincing’? Or were they over the moon that a man had produced this evidence that they can now rely on to do effectively nothing?

      That’s why proper analysis of such problems is necessary.

      I’m really not seeing this proper analysis. I think it’s self-interested delusion. You think you’ve found the ‘actual problem’? You haven’t even scratched the surface of the ingrained sexism and misogyny that permeates everyday life.

  2. “Women get paid less for the same job” isn’t true, because it’s just not the same job. The women get paid less because they produce less. And the feminism is the only reason we can see a non-sense practises like tennis tournament’s reward system. For example in 2012 Wimbledon, Women’s winner got the same payment as the Men’s winner, thouh the men are playing more, they are playing better and have way more viewrs than women.

  3. Read this concerning reasons why women continue to be paid far less than men. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20223264

    Commentator who made claim female tennis players are ‘not as good as men’ is using a straw male argument. How many men play professional tennis? Male professional footballers are paid far more than female professional footballers and reason is because we live in a Male Supremacist System wherein men’s interests and lives are central and women’s lives and experiences are marginalised. That is why male football is widely covered by malestream media because it is men who are the ones still controlling socio-economic resources.

    Yes far more women than men are graduating but fact still remains male graduates are being paid far more than female graduates. Reason is because male-centric businesses and multi-national male dominated corporations adhere to the ‘old boy network.’

    Women who do not marry or have children continue to be penalised by male-centric ways of conducting business because there continues to be an embedded misogynistic belief that women are innately intellectually inferior to the default human who is always male! Men are supposedly the ones who can become expert managers and directors whereas women are supposedly ruled by their emotions and whilst sex discrimination is illegal this does not prevent male employers from male bias towards women because their sex is female not male.

Comments are closed.