Ah, 2006. After years of postmodern deconstruction and public rancor over reproductive choices, race and gender – to name but a few contentious issues – women have made enormous strides in the past few decades. The current generation of college-aged women fall squarely in what is considered third wave feminism: we take for granted our right to vote, our sexual power and the equal pay we receive for equal work.
Two Tuesdays ago marked Equal Pay Day, to indicate how far into each year a woman must work to earn as much as men did in the previous year. Tuesday, April 25, was 115 days into the new year – almost an entire GW semester. In 2005, college-educated women earned about 70 percent as much as college-educated men in the same fields, representing a wage gap of 28 cents to the dollar. This data comes from research completed by the American Association of University Women Education Foundation, available online at pay-equity.org.
Pay attention, ladies – this does not only affect how much money is inside of your purse, but the very one you will be able to afford to carry. Currently, college-educated women earn approximately one-third less than their male counterparts. Add up that number over a lifetime, and we’re talking some serious coin. Beyond the shocking statistics reflecting the inequity of women’s pay compared to men’s lurks troubling questions of race and ethnicity.
Every year, the National Committee on Pay Equity organizes the observance of Equal Pay Day to raise awareness of unfair pay for both women and minorities, two traditionally underpaid groups. While numerous legitimate factors contribute to the undervaluing of the groups (including women taking maternity leave or broader issues of access to education or other resources), the underpinnings of pay equity lie in racial and sexual discrimination in the wage-setting system.
Many women and people of color remain segregated into clerical or service work, or labor as nurses or teachers, slogging away in traditionally undervalued and underpaid sectors. Yet even in those fields or workplaces alleged to be race- or sex-blind, white men consistently out-earn women and minorities.
This is not a rallying cry to cut the wages of white men, but a demand for women and people of color to be paid the same as their male counterparts. At GW, the issue of pay equity is particularly salient given our high number of female graduates who go on to enter the workforce. As both men and women from a range of ethnic and racial backgrounds graduate next month, I can only hope that those entering the workforce are being paid what they deserve.
Pay equity is not a women’s issue or a problem that only affects minorities – fair pay is a matter of justice and human dignity. Cesar Chavez once said, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” In this case, the fight is never about men or women, be they black or white. It is always about people.
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs and political science. She can pay for her own damn dinner, thank you very much.