“It’s Her Choice” – Really?

Thanks to Ann Crittenden for submitting this guest post, which was originally published at Moms Rising Ann shows that the politics and personal aspects of motherhood are very intertwined. Be sure to check out Ann’s book The Price of Motherhood for a more in depth look.

I was struck recently by the persistence of an old argument used to kill the Fair Pay Act – and every other measure that would make life easier for mothers. You know it by heart: many women “choose” to earn less than men, and if they choose to earn less, then what’s the big deal about a little wage inequality?

This so-called “choice” argument can be superficially persuasive. Most women probably do prefer cleaner, relatively lower-paying jobs. Most women would rather be beauticians than coal miners, art teachers than mechanics. (Although this begs the question why teachers and beauticians earn so much less than mechanics and miners). Women working full-time often work fewer hours (for pay) than full-time working men. And in recent surveys, far more working women than men say they would prefer to work part-time.

Women, in short, are different from men. They’re just not as into dirt, long hours and making money. Maybe they are just …. more French!

But before you buy into this one, remember that those who benefit from the status quo always attribute inequities to the choices of the underdog. And women are still underdogs in the job market. Women working 40 hours a week still earn 86 cents for every dollar a man earns, a bigger gap than in many developed countries with more family-friendly policies. But if American women accept this willingly, then there’s nothing to worry about. It’s their choice. No one “made them do it.” So no one has to do anything about it.

The only thing wrong with this argument is that it leaves out history:

  • The history that still dictates lower wages in female-dominated professions;
  • The history that discourages women from entering better-paying, male-dominated fields like the skilled trades, engineering, and science.
  • The history that explains why women in almost every occupation still earn less than men in the same occupation.
  • The history that dictates that women still do the bulk of the work at home, limiting their ability to work for pay.

“It’s their own choice” rhetoric also leaves out power:

  • The power to dictate the rules of work. Women don’t.
  • The power to decide who does most of the menial housework.
  • The power to legislate working conditions that fit women’s lives, like the right to paid sick days and paid maternity leaves, the right to refuse to work overtime, and the right to work part-time. We have none of these rights. Is that women’s choice?

The major point here is that women’s choices are not made in a vacuum. They are made in a world that women did not create, according to rules they didn’t write. For many women with children, choice is all about bad options and difficult decisions: your child or success in your profession; taking on most of the domestic chores or marital strife; food on the table or your baby’s safety; your right arm or your left.

If we have to talk about choice, let’s broaden the conversation. Let’s start talking about employers’ choices and politicians’ choices and husbands’ choices to perpetuate a system that keeps women earning less than men, more economically vulnerable than men, and more susceptible to poverty the minute they have a child.

It’s other people’s choices, not ours, that things are still this way.

About Ann:
Ann Crittenden’s ground-breaking book The Price of Motherhood has just been re-issued in a 10th anniversary edition, with a new preface. She concludes that while mothers’ attitudes have changed, not much else has.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Do You Value Yourself?

Nicole Baute from The Star asked me to share some of the central messages of No Excuses when she interviewed me last week. I posted part of the interview Tuesday on the 9 Ways Blog. Here is another excerpt from that interview.

One of the things in the book that struck me was the stat that women are four times less likely to ask for a raise. Why?

I don’t think we always value our worth as much as men value their worth. Men are pretty ruthless about valuing their worth, they’re not at all timid about it. In fact, they tend to overstate their worth. Women understate their worth.

Why do women isolate themselves and try to fix things on their own?

We’re working in a workplace culture that was designed by men for men, who could work day and night because they had a woman at home taking care of the house and the kids. And that paradigm no longer works for anybody, I don’t think. So as women have entered that workplace culture, if you’re the first one, if you’re the only one in a department, you tend to try to fit yourself into the predominant culture.

That’s exactly why we need to consciously un-isolate ourselves and reach out with what I call Sister Courage. Ask another woman for help if you need it. Ask a man for help if you need it. Offer help if you think someone else needs it.

Do you think that competition — women competing with each other and women competing with men — is a barrier to asking for help?

It is a barrier when we define power as the power-over. And that’s why I say in No Excuses that we need to redefine power on our own terms. Women feel very comfortable thinking about power as the power-to — the power to accomplish things in this world. The power-over implies a finite pie: ‘I have to have power over you because I want what you’ve got. And if I take a slice of the pie, you have less.’ But the power-to implies an infinite resource — the more there is, the more there is. And that’s a definition of power that women are much more comfortable with and frankly, it’s a definition of power that allows people to be much more creative.

You wrote that some political programs meant to eliminate external barriers overlook the fact that the most stubborn barriers exist within women. I’m wondering if you got push-back from the women and feminists that you interviewed on that concept.

I got that every time I talked about it. I get push-back occasionally from some of the women who run the groups that help women run for politics. Whenever I make a speech about it, I do usually have someone who says, ‘But you know, there are still these structural barriers, there are barriers of class and race and poverty.’ And every bit of it is true. But there does come a time when we have to just take the responsibility for ourselves. You can wallow in that fact that there are still external barriers, or you can decide, ‘I’m just going to take that on.’

A lot of women slow down their careers or opt out because they want to be mothers or for other reasons. If they’re making those choices for themselves because of what they value, is that necessarily a problem for the rest of us?

I think the idea of what is called choice feminism is bad for everybody. All choices are not necessarily of equivalent value. A choice of eating a greasy hamburger, while it may be good, is not as good a choice for your health as eating, you know, a turkey burger. This is not something you can do by law. It has to be done by changing how we interact with the culture.

Right now over 50 per cent of the women who have MBAs leave the workforce when they have children. And that’s why we’re so slow, that’s why only 18 per cent of management teams in our workforce are women. The more women who don’t continue working their way up the ladder, the more people can say, ‘Look, don’t even think about hiring a woman into that position, they’re just gonna leave the workforce anyway, when they have kids.’ That said, what I think needs to happen is that women and men together need to change the workplace and how it’s structured. I really think that instead of castigating women that leave the workforce, I think it would be more productive to change the workplace.

I assume you would agree that we need more of a critical mass of women in the workforce to make some of this happen and if women do opt out, it’s just going to take longer.

That’s precisely why I say it’s not a good thing. It’s unhelpful to (society) as a whole. And again, to put it into a more positive cast, there is a social responsibility we have to each other. We do make our choices for ourselves and ultimately we’re only responsible for our own lives. But if we can take a slightly more expansive view (we’ll) realize that what we do today is going to be somebody else’s history tomorrow.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

Announcing 9 Ways in 9 Weeks: The No Excuses Way To Embrace Your Power

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Women make 78 cents for every $1 men earn? The gap is even greater for unmarried women, who make 58 cents for every $1 men earn, and for women of color, who earn 1/3 less than men. Women spend 80% of US consumer dollars. Yet they make up only 15% of corporate boardrooms where decisions are made about what will be sold to consumers. Women are the majority of voters in the US, but just 17% of Congress. There are many reason for these imbalances. But frankly, there are No Excuses any more.

Please join me in the new discussion of “9 Ways in 9 Weeks: The No Excuses Way to Embrace Your Power.” In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring each of the 9 Ways or power tools I discuss in No Excuses. I’ll post about one of the 9 Ways each week, and I invite you to share your ideas, thoughts, and especially your stories about that power tool in your own life. There will be new video clips each week too, and other new materials and bonus items not necessarily found in the book.

This week I’m most eager to know your thoughts about these knotty (not naughty!) questions:

Is there still a glass ceiling, in the work world and in government? What have been your experiences? If so, why do you think it still exists? If not, what’s the evidence of that? And what three things should women do now to reach parity?

I look forward to exchanging ideas with you in the comments section here, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

See Red, Be Red for Equal Pay Day, Today

My red shoes

Red happens to be my favorite color. I’m an Aries after all. A classic one according to my sister (maybe that wasn’t meant as a compliment? Pioneering, passionate courageous, dynamic they say, but also selfish, impulsive, impatient, foolhardy.). Even my planet, Mars, named for the god of war, is red.

So I laughed when tweets from AAUW and National Women’s Law Center (NLRC), two organizations that have been pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act and have declared this Blogging for Fair Pay Day, told me to wear red today.

No problem. I’ll just close my eyes and pull something out of my closet. It’ll more than likely be red.

There are many fabulous people blogging today about the fact that women make on average 78 cents to every $1 earned by a man, and women of color earn even less: African-American women earn 62¢, Latinas earn 53¢ for $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men. NLRC can tell you how the comparison shakes down in your state.

Rather than write a long diatribe, I want to link Heartfeldt readers to some sources I’ve found particularly compelling or useful.

I’ve often said that equal pay should be considered part of the stimulus package. Liz O’Donnell’s op ed in the Tucson Citizen explains how the economics work:

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that when American families are struggling, consumer spending goes down. And consumer spending accounts for approximately 70 percent of total economic activity. Even the best laid stimulus plan is at risk unless we right the gender inequities in the workplace.

Closing the wage gap and promoting women in the workplace has to be part of the package if we are going to revive our economy.

Feminist Peace Network continues its “Girl’s Guide to the Economy” series with this argument for we should get the additional 22 cents. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research compares pay by profession.

If you twitter, you can go here to read all the #fairpay tweets.

And Change.org gives you all the goods on the history of women’s pay progress–and there has been much progress, thanks to much hard work by women and men who have a sense of fairness and equality.

But still, good grief, what makes me really see red is that in 2009, we are still fighting to pass a piece of legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.182), that is nothing more than simple justice, and asks companies to do nothing more than to be fair to all employees regardless of gender.

So right now, while you are all hot and bothered about it, go here to send a message to your senator, or call him/her at 202-224-3121 and voice your support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill has already passed the house, so we’re within shouting distance (hey, maybe Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic party today will put them over the top!)

Wearing red to highlight the need for equal pay shouldn’t be necessary. Equal pay should just BE. But till it is, please see red and be red with passion for equal pay.

Let’s see, which of my 10 red tops shall I wear tomorrow?

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.