In a chain of responses, columnist Brian Deinstadt expressed what he believes to be the simple explanation sharing the variations found within the gender gap: “The wage gap narrative fails to include the monumental significance of choices. Unsurprisingly, men’s and women’s choices vary immensely when it comes to their careers.”
He bravely acknowledged the gap, and further justified the existence of the gap due to the variation in choices found between men and women. Women just naturally find positions that pay less more appealing, right? Not quite.
What Brian fails to acknowledge is why these choices are being made. Men and women differ — yes, this is true. In Western society, men are generally found to be more skilled in scientific fields, and women obtain a stronger sense of emotional intelligence, therefore encouraging some women to enter fields that typically obtain lower annual wages and allowing men to enter fields that have greater pay, such as medicine or engineering. Some women choose to stay at home and start families, and that is great, but there is a trend to all of this, one that can be traced back to how we are socialized.
Psychologist Albert Bandura’s social learning theory posits that we are who we are because of the people who surround us. We learn from the people we interact with through observation, exchanges and praise. When we conform to what we are taught, our transitions within society are much smoother, for there are fewer barriers to overcome. Gender schemas are developed, allowing us to equate certain genders with specific behaviors.
Rather than thinking about what we should be doing, and how we should be acting, it subconsciously pushes us into certain categories. Sometimes, it is productive, but most of the time it is limiting. What I would challenge Brian, and others who believe that women are choosing fields that pay less, with is the question of whether or not women naturally find an appeal in these occupations over men, or if women are being socialized into certain fields.
The social learning theory is only a small factor as to why women are “choosing” these positions. Since it is still generally believed that women should be caring for their children, many are forced out of the work field because of childcare expenses, or the lack of flexibility most full-time jobs allow. This puts them completely behind, lacking the ability to rejoin the work force and excel into more prestigious positions. With that, the “motherhood penalty” was coined by sociologists due to the fact that women with children are statistically more likely to receive disadvantages in wages and benefits and be perceived as more low-achieving due to the fact that they have children, and the expectation that they might need time off to care for their family.
Women are viewed as domestic figures, and when they choose to step outside of that role, they are met with various barriers. For them to gain positions of power, they need to overcome both the stigma that they are weak, but also not “be a bitch” and they need to be “feminine” while proving their masculinity. Meanwhile, men are praised for being dominant, encouraging this type of aggressive behavior until they reach the top.
Our gender is only one part of who we are. We also carry our economic status, our religious status, and our racial and ethnic status which all obtain various stigmas. As we live in an intersectional world, it appears as though our identities all influence the way we interact and excel in the society we live in. It is statistically proven that women of color make significantly less than white males annually.
The gender pay gap is complex, but its root is simple. We live in a predominantly white, patriarchal society that has shaped the way each of our institutions interact. Therefore, when we challenge concepts such as the gender pay gap, it is important to recognize that when it comes to gender equity, some things are not choices.
Sarah Saad is a senior double-majoring in human development and women, gender and sexuality studies.