Looking Beyond Equal Pay

This article previously appeared in and appears courtesy of She's Fit to Lead. It was written by Amanda Drath, a She's Fit to Lead contributor.

Today is April 12, the 102nd day of 2016. Today is also Equal Pay Day, which symbolically represents the day when women's earnings finally catch up to men's earnings from the previous year. So, it takes 102 days extra days for women to make up for lost wages. Seems legitimate, right?

The wage gap in this country has remained a harsh reality ever since women first joined the workforce. Currently, a white woman makes roughly 79 cents to every dollar a white man earns. It is even worse for women of color, who make about 61 percent of what a white man makes, while Hispanic and Latina women make just 55 percent. Other minorities face similar levels of inequity. See a problem?

A lot of people point to wage inequality as the shining example of unequal treatment that women continue to face today. Unequal pay is portrayed as the problem that, if fixed, will almost magically change our societal system and make all of women's problems go away. This is, of course, not true. The wage gap is just one piece of the complex puzzle of systemic gender inequality in our country. To be clear: this article is not at all meant to diminish the importance of achieving equal pay for equal work, because it is imperative that the fight continues for it. However, it's crucial to recognize how it fits into the larger picture of today's patriarchal society. Rather than focus on the issue of equal pay itself, it's important to take a step back and understand why inequality is accepted as normal and why a significant wage gap is accepted in this country.

Many people ask, "So, why don't women just ask for more money?" This is a very real problem, which contributes to the wage gap. Women are simply less likely to approach their employer for equal pay. In order to understand this, it's important to realize that women are put in extremely difficult positions from young ages. They are conditioned, primarily through the mass media, to take on a more subordinate role compared to their male counterparts. This is an enormous problem in itself, for it enforces the notion early on, that women are not quite equal to men and that's just the way it is.

This ingrained idea carries over into the workplace, making it much more intimidating and unlikely for women to ask for more money, even if they are well-aware that they are making less than that of a man of equal rank. This lack of negotiating is fueled by traditional gender roles, in which women are expected to be passive and "ladylike," whatever that means, and men are expected to be powerful and assertive. These roles have trained people to think of women who speak their minds as bossy, bitchy and aggressive. The story is the opposite for men who speak their minds, for they are seen as ambitious go-getters who know what they want.

Because of this, women are unlikely to ask for a better salary because they have to protect their reputations in a way that men simply don't. Even if a woman were to successfully negotiate her salary, she might be seen as demanding and unlikable, which can have lasting impacts on her career. Thus, the root of this problem is not the pay inequality, but rather the fact that society holds women to a different standard than men, namely one in which they are expected to be submissive.

Closing the wage gap is an excellent, tangible goal that everyone should continue to work toward. However, the goal in pointing out these other issues, which certainly are not the only ones of their kind, is to understand that equal pay, in all of its importance, should not be the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal should be one of true feminism, with men and women, no matter the race or ethnicity, receiving equal treatment. There isn't a present answer as to how to combat all of these massive, complex societal issues; however, until society moves past this unacceptable discrimination toward women, unequal pay will just be another bullet point on the laundry list of injustice.