I raise this question because today I experienced the disorienting juxtaposition of Equal Pay Day with the retro notion that women’s growing economic power makes us want to be dominated during sex.
Equal Pay Day marks the day in April when women wear red to signify we’re in the red, earning (by 2011 calculations) but 77.4 cents to men’s $1. And for African-American and Hispanic women the differential is significantly more extreme.
“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace…when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.
It is probably no coincidence that, as more books like The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin’s forthcoming The End of Men appear, there is a renewed popular interest in the stylized theater of female powerlessness…We may then be especially drawn to this particular romanticized, erotically charged, semi-pornographic idea of female submission at a moment in history when male dominance is shakier than it has ever been.”
Really? And whose preferred narrative do we think this zero-sum “power-over” social model is?
Even if we bought the logical framework, assertions of female dollar dominion are greatly overstated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 28.9% of wives in dual income families out earn their husbands. If my elementary school math holds up, that means more than 70% of men still out earn their wives.
And because women don’t negotiate as aggressively as men and don’t toot their own horns as flagrantly, each woman who works for pay outside the home (note the language here, Hilary Rosen) gets ever-farther behind in the paycheck race, amassing a half-million dollar average deficit by retirement age.
Here’s a dandy little chart created by Catalyst that lays it out starkly.
Men Hold the Vast Majority of Positions of Power (and Remuneration) in the United States.
Table: Percentage of Women and Men in Positions of Power in the United States, 2011
For men, the “mine is bigger than his” ideal, whether we’re talking paycheck, possessions, or penis, isn’t mitigated by any cultural narrative of a presumed desire for powerlessness. So why should a desire for powerlessness be inherently true for women?
It’s hard to change a culture while you’re living in it, and there’s a big risk in upending any power structure. You lose the comfort of familiar misery. People say bad things about you. You have to actually think. To make choices and take responsibility for what you choose.
Co-option becomes rampant on all sides of this equation. The rewards of living within the patriarchal narrative are so high and the benefits of bucking it so low. Why else would Tina Brown publish Roiphe’s logically torqued submission theory?
But think about the alternative to embracing the power of the paycheck:
Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity looks like.
The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” That’s not funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of one’s financial position.
So it’s incumbent upon women to do as PBS “One-on-One” host Maria Hinojosa said as she wrapped up a New York Women’s Agenda panel on equal pay with an exhortation to action, “You have to learn to eat your fear, to turn the tables on the power relationships.”
Pay Disparity = Power Disparity
For as long as women are paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.
Economic inequality narrows the possibilities to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, sexual and otherwise, and create healthier relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.
This kind of power to, not the domination-submission framework of power over, is what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively. Even those—male or female, high earners or not—who like to be spanked now and again during sex.
I hate to throw water on Katie Roiphe’s latest feminist-disparaging theory, but I feel a lot sexier after I’ve earned a nice book advance or a fair speaking fee than during an economic dry spell. And after I’ve deposited my money, I’ve never once had a fantasy of being submissive. Not even when I’ve out-earned my spouse.
Personally, I find paycheck power—mine, that is—quite an effective aphrodisiac, with no concomitant need to be subjugated or humiliated. But I do get off on verbally spanking legislators who don’t support equal pay policies.
Here’s a link where you can use your power to tell your members of Congress to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Maybe our collective voices will whip them into submission.
Check out the fair pay flash mob on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) who were lobbying to improve educational opportunities. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”
If you picked one, you’ve picked the District of Columbia, where the median earnings gap between all men and women over age 16, employed in full-time, year –round jobs is narrowest: women earn 88 cents to a man’s dollar. If you picked fifty-one, you’re in Wyoming, where women are paid just 64 cents to each smacker earned by a man.
If college education is factored in and you survey workers over 25, Wyoming leaps to first place at 88 cents, click image to take actionand Alaska slips to that 51st place at 64 cents for women to men’s dollar. Check out the AAUW’s information base on fair pay to find out where your state fits into the pecking order.
Today is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day happens in April because that’s how long it takes for the average woman to start earning a dollar for every dollar the man in the next cubicle over, doing the exact same job with the exact same title, makes. Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when Spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity means. And for women of color – black women and Hispanic women – the differential is even more extreme.
The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” But that’s not very funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of what your financial position might be.
To be sure, there is good news on the gender parity front overall. In 2010, women in the workforce for the first time outnumber men. For the past three decades, more women have finished college than men, and more women get advanced degrees.
Pay Disparity = Power Disparity But somewhere between the classroom and the boardroom, these women are disappearing. The higher you climb up the ladder of wealth and power, the fewer women you see. Only 15 companies listed in the Fortune 500 are led by female CEOs. Of the wealthiest 400 Americans, according to Forbes, only 42 are women – and at least half of these women inherited their wealth from husbands or fathers.
No wonder then that among its list of the 67 most powerful people in the US, Forbes finds room for only four women. And, although for the past two decades, approximately the same number of women and men have Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal paygraduated law school and entered law firms as first-year associates, a 2009 study by the National Association of Women Lawyers found that women still comprise fewer than 16 percent of the equity partners in the 200 top law firms in the U.S. Even women who make partner are at a disadvantage, earning on average $66,000 a year less than their male counterparts.
As long as women are still being paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.
How to Take Action Now Despite the distance we have yet to go, there’s no denying that women have drawn closer to even with men in professional and economic matters. But the continuing disparities make it imperative that we press Congress to pass and president Obama to sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that hard working Americans of both genders are paid fairly for their work.
A fundamental change occurs when women obtain the ability to earn a good, rewarding living at a fair wage. And it’s the first step toward women’s fair and equal representation in the highest levels of business and finance. Economic inequality narrows the possibilities we have to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, and create relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life. You know that’s what you want for yourself and for your daughters and granddaughters. And it’s what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively.
So on Equal Pay Day, take a moment to send a message by clicking here to your member of Congress urging him or her to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s the number one most important step you can take toward that goal today.