This is a post where I hope to see readers’ participation. I’ve devoted a lot of blog space lately to how I think feminism “ought to” be, but I don’t want any ensuing discussion to be yet another feminist echo chamber like so many blog posts we often see, and I also hope to avoid arguing for the sake of arguing. Hopefully we can learn something from one another and bring up some ideas for change– no matter how theoretical or utopian. Hopefully we can help elaborate on one another’s ideas and provide contructive criticism when necessary.
It seems that the majority of disagreements that occur between feminists and non-, or anti- feminists occur because the parties involved in the debate are not coming from the same place in their arguments.
One thing we all see repeated over and over in blogs, in discussions with friends and acquaintances when discussing social justice issues are situations where a discussion like the following occurs:
Woman: “Women bear the brunt of institutionalized sexism, are the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and earn, on average, less money than their male counterparts.”
Man: “But my friend Tim, who has a doctorate, was turned down for a job he was more than qualified for because a woman applied. She wasn’t as qualified as Tim; they only hired her because of Affirmative Action. That’s blatant sexism, and it is sexism with men as the victim. Sexism is not only a problem for women.”
Woman: “But that woman may not have had another opportunity for that job. Where do you expect her opportunities come from? What about the countless women who are turned down for promotions that they are qualified for, only to have an under-qualified male hired instead, because the male boss didn’t trust that a female would have the necessary drive or intellect, even though she had more than proven her intelligence and worth to the company?”
Man: “The system that you are talking about is legalized sexism toward men and toward white people, plain and simple.”
Woman: “Think about it this way. A man, Bob, and a woman, Sue, work for a company. They do the same job, they started on the same day 5 years ago, they have the same level of education, they achieve identical results on their performance reviews. One day it comes out that Bob makes $60,000 a year and Sue makes $40,000 a year. Since they both perform equally as well, are identically educated, and neither has seniority over the other, Sue is rightfully angry. She confronts her boss, who states that he has exactly $100,000 in the company budget to pay the two of them. There is not a cent more they can squeeze out. He is under obligation to make their pay equal, or he faces a battle in court that he will certainly lose. He decides to do the right thing, and make Bob and Sue’s pay equal.
In doing so, Sue got a $10,000/year raise. Bob received a $10,000/year pay cut. They continue to perform the same job with equal skill and dependency.”
Man: “That is not fair. Bob does not deserve to have his pay cut just because the boss was sexist in the first place. The boss needs to figure out a way to please everyone and make things fair for Sue, but Bob should not be penalized for it. He did nothing wrong and was not involved in the decision to pay him $20,000 more per year than a woman of equal education, skill, and experience.”
Woman: “But there is no more room in the budget. Should Sue continue to earn less than she is worth because the boss is sexist, and because it’s not Bob’s fault?”
Is this fair?
Well, that’s hard to say. The man has a point when he says that it’s not his fault that the boss made a decision rooted in sexism, and that he should not have to pay the penalty for being favored initially.
The woman has a point when she says that it is not fair that the woman not be compensated equally for equal work.
The boss, however, made it clear (and let’s assume he is being truthful) that there is no room in the budget to put them both at $60,000/year. And furthermore, where does the equality that is missing come from? It doesn’t materialize out of nowhere; it must be redistributed from existing resources.
What is fair, then?
You could argue that if Sue is not earning what she deserves, which is half of the payroll budget for half of the work, then Bob is earning more than he deserves, since he does not have more experience, education, work ethic, etc. than his female counterpart. No, it is not his fault, but he has also done nothing to deserve more compensation than what was allotted in the first place.
Focusing on the fact that most women earn less than their male peers in the workplace is what often occurs in feminist discourse, on the internet and elsewhere. Focusing on Bob’s experience, and Man’s friend Tim’s experience with Affirmative Action is what tends to occur in non- or anti-feminist (or MRA) discourse– or, more often than not, their polarized arguments are yelled back and forth at one another.
Both have valid points, as we’ve explored already. Bob doesn’t seem to deserve a pay cut; he wasn’t a part of the sexist decision-making that caused the problem in the first place. But Sue is representative of scores of women who are systematically compensated inadequately and unfairly for equal work, education, experience.
The problem with feminist discourse is that no one is willing, apart from the outspoken critics of feminism, to discuss what happens when we try to dismantle the patriarchal structure from the top and watch everyone fall down. Would we benefit from working our way up, from the bottom, instead of scrambling to put the pieces back together after everything falls to the ground? I think we would be.
Most of us agree that “the patriarchy” as it stands is the root of many, if not the majority, of our social problems. Do you think that the current “macro” approach to solving these problems is beneficial? Would focusing on a “micro”approach yield better, or faster, results? What are your theories? Are there lessons from personal experiences that may prove beneficial if applied across a given populace?