Students at Jordan High School in Utah organized a bake-sale and took the opportunity to simultaneously teach a lesson in social justice and make a stand for gender equality. Organized by the Young Democrats Club, cookies were sold to men for $1.00 and to women for 77 cents (in order to reflect the pay gap in America).
Many students questioned the accuracy of the statistics used by the organizers to illustrate the wage gap. Even amongst researchers there is disagreement regarding the most appropriate way to measure the pay gap. Some argue that the statistic actually doubles when women’s part-time and intermittent lifetime employment is taken into account. Regardless of which statistic is used, there is agreement that the income disparity exists and this bakesale demonstrates that notion.
However, I think the issue of gender equality is significantly more complex and that it is not enough to simply foster awareness that a pay gap exists. One student said of the bakesale that, “I really think that women should be paid equally. A lot of women out there are just as good as men out there.” The student’s language in her comment reflects the notion of income inequality being a result of power structures– such as women being inferior to men- a point which this particular student contests. While power structures are indisputably at play in the workforce, overt explicit discrimination is considerably less common (although it has certainly not been eliminated). With gender inequality becoming a more nuanced issue, I think it is important to raise awareness of the growing complexity of factors involved.
When examining minimum wage jobs, yes- it is likely that men and women will be paid the same rate for the same job. But the issue of income disparity also intersects with unequal opportunity. Many women experience a “glass ceiling” effect- whereby women are only able to go so far in their jobs and many are precluded from the high-level positions.
The gap in pay is also not exclusive to women, but extends to race and ethnicity. The intersection of race and gender is an important factor when examining the issue of income disparity. White men are significantly better paid than men of all different ethnic racial groups, however men within each racial/ethnic group make more than women in the respective group. Although education reduces the gap in income, there are still gender and racial discrepancies in pay.
Homosociality– the notion that people in the workplace feel more comfortable around people they feel are similar to themselves- offers an explanation from the standpoint of workplace organization for why both women and minorities experience a gap in pay. When the established management circles are white males, this becomes an issue for anyone who deviates from the status quo. Human capital refers to attributes that the individual possesses (such as knowledge, skills and personal qualities) that make up their economic value. The human capital explanation for the wage gap is grounded in social constructions of gender. Human capital theorists believe that women demonstrate lower levels of commitment to paid work and investment in themselves. In a sense, the theory endorses the social construction that men are more industrious and competitive than women, which is why the pay gap exists. Western cultures strongly believe in individualism- the idea that rewards should be distributed in proportion to individual efforts. Social constructions of gender that advance the notion that men work harder than women are likely why many do not take issue with unequal pay (they may believe it is a result of differences in effort and talent). Research has shown that Asian cultures tend to be collectivist cultures, rather than individualistic. However, in Japan women earn on average 68 percent of men’s pay. I think this illustrates that there are intersecting explanations for why gender inequality exists in pay and opportunity and it is unlikely that a single explanation can account for the discrepancies.
Given that there are intersecting causes of gender inequality in pay, I think the issue warrants a broader discussion than the one the bakesale may have raised. Admittedly, it is very possible that the resulting discussion from the bakesale included many of these issues that the article did not highlight. Could the students have done more to foster a constructive discussion? Moreover, based on further reading of the controversy surrounding the bakesale, many pointed out that the idea of making men pay $1.00 to each woman paying 77 cents was to demonstrate how the inequality feels. I think an important question that stems from their strategy is- is using gender inequality to discourage gender inequality counterproductive?
Carlisle, Randall. “Gender equality bake sale causes stir at Utah high school.” Good4Utah.com. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from <http://www.good4utah.com/story/d/story/gender-equality-bake-sale-causes-stir-at-utah-high/10246/0gE6cCkPA0mvNkLZEjyO4Q>