BY: REGAN MCNEILL
Have you ever heard of ladybucks? No, I did not invent them, the comedian and political commentator John Oliver did. First things first, ladybucks are a currency made for female employees to avoid the hassle of paying women less than men’s salaries. How’s that possible? Well, ladybucks are worth about 83 cents on the dollar (sometimes less or more depending on where the ladybuck is being distributed) and are essentially the new female currency. Brought to you by the creators of Playtex Glide, they come in several colours and scents, and feature the most beloved female presidents. Guys, get your ladybucks today.
Ok so these ladybucks aren’t actually real. If they were they also wouldn’t feature any female presidents, because there hasn’t been any. Oliver’s commentary shows that ladybucks are actually just a regular dollar for women in the working world, even if that dollar is not valued the same as their fellow male employees’.
The gender wage gap is the difference between male and female salary earnings and is expressed as the total percentage of male earnings. Currently there are no countries in the world that have closed the gender wage gap between males and females. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report predicts that the global pay gap between men and women will not close until 2133. So what are the reasons for this wage gap in the first place?
As we all know, women and men have different biological functions. Even though we would like to deny it, these biological functions have come to define our purpose according to gender. For example, it is more likely (or perhaps expected) that a woman would have a child and then take time off work or maybe even abandon work to rear that child full-time. It is less expected that a male would take paternity leave so that his baby’s mother could get back to work right away. This patriarchal construct has defined family and the economic relationship among males and females for centuries, but as gender binaries change, so too should the economic structures surrounding them. Or so you would think.
Unfortunately, the archaic way of looking at gender has seeped into how men and women are paid. There are a lot of figures flying around that express the amount per dollar that women are making compared to men. In spite of some figures being higher or lower than others, it is a well known phenomenon that due to the higher likelihood of women rearing children and having to re-enter the workforce, they are paid less than men. It could also be that women enter lower paying jobs.
The other phenomenon we are all very familiar with is sexism in the workplace, which could also help to explain the gender gap.
Gender equality is often and mistakenly looked at as a western concept. The women’s suffrage movement and feminism have become pillars of the history of American rights. But many Americans may be surprised to know that the United States has a bigger male to female wage gap than the East African country Burundi. Despite four out of five people below the poverty line, Burundi is the top country for women’s pay with women earning a rate of 83 per cent of men’s salaries. The U.S. on the other hand, out of 145 countries surveyed, sits in 74th place on the World Economic Forum’s list for wage equality. This effectively means that in America women make 64 per cent of what men make (last year this was at 66 per cent). For a country that promotes the ‘good things come to those who work hard’ mentality, it certainly puts hardworking women on the social and economic backburner. Though this is even worse for women of colour.
For example in 2014, Hispanic or Latin American women made an average of 54 per cent of white men’s earnings. African American women only made 63 per cent, while white women made 78 per cent of men’s earnings. These facts can almost only be used to support that the gendered wage gap is at least in part driven by racial and sexist discrimination.
In the U.S., along with its low ranking on the WEF wage equality scale, there is a very low rating in terms of female political empowerment, with a ranking of 54th place, having just over 18 per cent of females in ministry positions as well as years in executive office. I am not surprised, especially because 2016 is the earliest possible year that America could have its first female president. As you will see, placing females in positions of power is definitely not a western phenomena.
Globally, Rwandan women hold the highest number of seats in Parliament, followed by Bolivia and Cuba. Rwandan women also make 88 per cent of men’s earnings. In spite of this, Rwanda has lower ratings than the United States in terms of female educational attainment.
Even the extremely wealthy Saudi Arabia sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. With just 27 per cent of women in the workforce, they can only expect to make 60 per cent of male earnings, even though the majority of males and females have access to education in Saudi Arabia.
So what does this all mean? The wage gap is not just a symptom of educational attainment nor development, even though it is easy to pin these as central factors. The wage gap is instead a symptom of each national government’s singular agenda, and this does not mean that a western agenda is most progressive. Many of us have come to associate the west with liberal policies and ways of life, but the wage gap does nothing to reflect this.
Perhaps we need to look at the wage gap by industry. Even though it has often been criticized for its underrepresentation of women, the tech industry is taking leaps at exposing employee wages in order to limit the disparity between female and male worker earnings. But what are other sectors doing to tighten this gap? This question cannot be answered yet.
The first step towards change comes with admitting there is a problem. Many countries, both developed and undeveloped, have failed at that so far. Perhaps we should all just take hints from the Scandinavian countries, where it just so happens that Iceland, Denmark and Norway are at the top of the WEF’s Gender Gap Index, and it doesn’t look like they will be leaving anytime soon. Even so, the most “fair” countries haven’t closed the wage gap entirely.
I don’t know about you, but I think that ladybucks are a pretty funny, stupid and unfair idea. The problem is not all of us agree on that and have legitimate reasons for why they think women should be paid less than men. You can laugh or cringe all you want about the hilarity and outrageousness that underlies the idea of a female currency, but the numbers don’t lie. Even if we do live in a man’s world, according to James Brown we should remember that it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.