The XX Factor

Equality … If You Don’t Read The Fine Print

Time  trolls for panicked sexist responses with a headline that really seems too good to be true: “Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women On Top.”  Of course, as you read on in the article, you find out that, yes, women are making 8 percent more than men … as long as they don’t age past 30, don’t get married, don’t have children, and get more education than their male peers. Oh yeah, and if they live in 147 of the largest 150 cities in the country.

But let’s not say this isn’t progress. When I was growing up, my dad said, “You’re a woman, so you’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as far as a man.” (Conservative folks can get suddenly feminist when it’s their own children’s futures on the table.) Little did he know that as long as I stayed under 30 (whoops, too late), I could actually work twice as hard and do 8 percent better! Clearly, feminism has gone too far.

What seems to be exciting news of women catching up on the surface is sadly not that exciting at all. The main reason that this tiny demographic of women does better than their male peers can be chalked up to the fact that women tend to finish college at higher rates than men. And the reason is that women don’t have as much access to the kind of jobs that don’t require a college degree but still will end up providing a decent salary over the long term. Young women taking on administrative jobs while some of their male peers go into car repair, fire fighting, or plumbing will initially earn more money, but their wages will often stagnate as their male peers get promotions after going through an apprenticeship phase.

And that’s before you even factor in marriage and children. We still live in a society where women are expected to obsess about the work/life balance, and men often don’t even know what that phrase means. I can say from experience that it’s true that being an unmarried, childless woman is a big boost toward being treated like you’re closer to a man in our culture. I, too, have experienced the pleasure of looking blankly at people who ask me how I manage the work/life balance. After all, my cats are happy to sit at my feet and beg for treats whether I’m engaging in my work life on the computer or taking the occasional dip into “life,” i.e., watching the latest A&E drama or cooking something. No one is feeling neglected when I work all the time. Men can count on someone else handling all that “life” stuff for them, but women can approximate male privilege by simply not having any of that “life” stuff putting demands on their time.