In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women. That’s the grim takeaway of this new report [PDF] from the U.S. Census Bureau, which assesses the value of a higher education in the United States—and illustrates the persistent pay gap between male and female employees who hold comparable degrees. In short, education is valuable, but it’s most lucrative if you’re male.
I have more patience than some others when it comes to stupid attitudes about sexism and feminism. Part of that is simple privilege: I can afford to not take those kinds of attitudes personally; however, some of my zen is honestly come by. I’ve always called myself a feminist, but my understanding of that term didn’t really mature until I became involved in organized skepticism. I then came to understand feminism as a branch of skepticism – learning to unpack and, in a way, debunk claims about gender roles, sex characteristics, history, and a whole host of others. In fact, the level of overlap between feminism and anti-racism has helped enhance my understanding of both topics.
I can kind of understand the problem though, and it relates directly to that overlap. I care deeply about anti-racism for, at least in part, fundamentally selfish reasons. While I must always start this statement with the huge caveat that I have managed to escape the worst aspects of racism in my own life, racism still very much affects my day-to-day life. I have, therefore, a vested interest in seeing the world pay more critical attention to race and race issues. Because of this selfish motive, it is easy for me to empathize with women and recognize the multitude of similarities in the problems we face. However, it took me several years to come to this conclusion.
So when I see woefully ignorant, knee-jerk reactions to misogyny [Note: there has been some confusion. The question that the linked post answers: “why isn’t there a day for men?” is the knee-jerk reaction. I link to this post because it is a thorough takedown of the question, not because I think it’s too snarky], I can recognize the person I used to be in their indignation. My zen comes from a sort of “there but for the grace of god go I” reaction. They’re not stupid, they just aren’t smart yet. And while I am (and have always been, I like to think) a person who is happy, even excited, to be proven wrong, not everyone has the benefit of a self-esteem that is as bullet-proof as mine. I used to be wrong about feminism, and every day I try to be a little less wrong.
Results like those found in the study above paint a vivid and important picture: sexism exists and is relevant in our lives in the same way that racism does and is. One simply cannot accept the facts and interpretations thereof when it comes to racism and then turn around and fail to make the same case for sexism. The minutiae of the two phenomena may be subtly different (misconceptions about women are different than the misconceptions about black people when it comes to work and ability), but the outcomes and the mechanisms of marginalization are the same. To understand and support one is to understand and support the other; and the same goes for rejection. It took me a while to recognize this fact, but once seen it cannot be unseen.
Economic power and political power are inseparably wedded. For better or for worse, money moves policy. A gap in the earning power of women (for identical work) is either reflective of, or the force behind (it is likely the case that one hand washes the other) a diminished role of women in public life. This is, to be sure, improving due to the indefatigable efforts of women’s rights activists and their allies. That being said, it would be short-sighted in the extreme to hang our hats on the successes we’ve won. We are nowhere near a place where we can dust off our hands and pronounce the problem ‘solved’. Not when we are still finding metrics like this one popping up again and again.
I am not suggesting that it is the job of other to ‘soft-peddle’ their responses to sexism, or to fight against it any less vociferously. I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light of recognizing male privilege and systemic misogyny – overlaps with anti-racism notwithstanding. Sometimes you need people giving full-throated defenses of important ideas, and sometimes you need to be up in people’s faces. What I am saying is that we as skeptics must recognize that, until we bring feminism into the skeptical ‘mainstream’ (along with UFOs, chemtrails, homeopathy, reiki, and the other associated woo), we are failing to model the ideals we claim to hold. We become no better than the “religious scientists” and “don’t talk about religion” types that rightly inspire eye-rolling. Failing to examine our own biases and implicit attitudes leaves us vulnerable to the kind of self-crippling that results in the kind of skewed results we see above.
As I said on Twitter this morning, the women in my life make the world a better place. As someone who recognizes what they’re up against, I have no problem seeing my job as doing my best to return the favour.
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