BY SABINE SCHOENBACH When I found out early in my pregnancy that one of my twins would be a girl, I asked my generous family and friends to stay away from pink presents. I’d read enough articles about equal opportunity and the dangers of gender-specific toy aisles to want to nip those gender expectations in the bud.
When my children were born, everything got a lot more complicated. Major health issues took priority over dressing my daughter in colors other than pink. I started to wonder whether buying my preschool-age daughter the sparkly princess high-heeled shoes she desperately wanted was an opportunity for creative expression—or if I was just a giving in.
Writers such as Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, tell us that while preschoolers commonly favor toys geared toward their gender, neuroscientists find that preschoolers’ brains are the most malleable and open to different definitions of gender.
Blue and pink toy aisles would lose a lot of their power if there wasn’t such a persistent economic disparity waiting for our girls when they grow up and join the workforce.
Bringing home less money for the same work
There are lots of ways to measure gender inequality, but equal pay is one of the easiest to understand and track. Women in America make up almost half of the labor force. Women act as co-breadwinners or sole breadwinners in four out of ten families. Women receive more college and graduate degrees than men, but women still earn less than men. Women of color earn a lot less than white men.
In North Carolina, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. African American women earn 64 cents and Hispanic women earn 49 cents to every dollar earned by white men.
Research has found that sex and race discrimination contributes to the wage gap, but subtler and more culturally ingrained factors are also at play. There has been little progress in gender integration of work, and women remain overrepresented in low-wage occupations – in our state, for example, women make up 55 percent of minimum wage workers. But even when men and women work in the exact same jobs, a 2012 study found that women’s median earnings continue to be less than men’s.
Public outrage and policy fixes
Unfortunately, the wage gap hasn’t decreased much over the last decade, but there have been advances on the policy front. Five years ago, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act empowered victims of pay discrimination to have their day in court. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help address some of the gaps in the 50-year old Equal Pay Act, is currently pending. The Act would provide such important provisions as:
– Protecting against retaliation for discussing salaries with co-workers;
– Facilitating victims’ participation in class action lawsuits to challenge systemic discrimination;
– Creating a negotiation skills training program for women;
– Recognizing excellence in employer practices and provide support for employers;
– Supplying enforcement agencies with a range of investigatory tools.
Policy makers aren’t the only ones paying attention. Parents and kids are rebelling against the pink/blue toy chasm and what it represents. The 1981 Lego ad has made a comeback, Riley on Marketing – a little girls’ outrage about the pink and blue aisles– has gone viral, and GoldieBox’s repurposed Beastie Boys’ song sells toys “to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”
Perhaps the link between the toy aisle and women’s economic opportunity will help drive home the point that equal pay and equal opportunity isn’t a women’s issue, but a societal one. Equal pay would strengthen the economy. If women had received equal pay in 2012, the US economy would have produced $447.6 billion of additional income. That kind of money would help put food on the table for many, many families.
Join NC MomsRising on Sunday, March 23rd from 1pm – 3:30pm at Marbles Children’s Museum in Raleigh for a kid-friendly celebration of Women’s History Month. “Remarkable Women, Remarkable You” is an opportunity to learn about inspiring women in history and in our local community. Bring your family and learn about how far we’ve come and ways to get involved on issues of fair pay. The event includes dress-up photo booths, a story time, and cookies!