Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Someone beat me to it

Taking apart the gender pandering in some of Obama's recent remarks.

I've put the "77 cents on the dollar" myth on my short list of ideas to actively kill. I don't tolerate it when mentioned in any context, as silence is assent. As the author points out, the "women earn 77% of what men do" is a statistical illusion. Having spent quite a lot of time working with demographic data, I've seen where much of it comes from. A few seconds of thought about demographic reality sheds a lot of light.

Consider that women in the WWII and even boomer generation weren't encouraged to seek education to the same levels and in the same fields as men. WWII women with college education are rare. A boomer woman who was good at math was more likely to aspire to being a math teacher than a mechanical engineer. Yes, gender expectations at the time shaped some of these choices, but it's not evidence of modern day structural sexism that there are more male engineers and more female teachers. It documents the career choices of past generations. Engineers make more, and if more of them are males, males will earn more, when the salary data is viewed through the gender lens. Before one can say the gap is due to gender, one must elimanate the parts of the gap due to other factors. And the author of the article touches on this idea enough.

An issue rarely discussed is the risk-reward dilemma for men. Riskier work generally pays more. Underwater welders, garbage collectors, high iron workers have a higher risk of bodily harm than kindergarten teachers. And they make more. But the risk -reward trade off is gender blind, so why are underwater welders almost entirely male, and kindergarten teachers almost entirely female? Why aren't more women seeking the higher monetary rewards by taking on more hazardous work?

The short answer is because they don't have to. Men are sized up as potential mates largely on the basis of earning potential (provider status). If males want a mate, they have to earn. And women tend to judge this potential relative to their own. K has a friend who's stuck in this tragic paradox of her gender role programming: She earns a ton, and most of the men who make more than she does and are still single are total assholes. She can't bring herself to date any of the 99% of men who make less than she does, even if they're more likely to be, you know, not dicks.

Men suffer the flip side of this: Want to make a ton of money so you can get some love? Then shut off all your emotions and humanity and get ready for 90 hour weeks and lots of travel. It's the gift of the Magi: Sell your soul to get food for your soul, which you no longer have because you sold it. Thus K's friend's selection pool is full of emotionally atrophied insecure jerks. Who have used their assholitude and lack of sensitivity to make a ton of money. So they can get laid.

So even in younger generations, women, free to choose work that's both emotionally and financially rewarding, can make emotionally rewarding choices, like tracks and firms that offer better work-life balance in lieu of higher pay. Because they'll be using their sexual power to pull in extra money from a higher earning male. Men, on the other hand, as long as they're up against women's relative earnings mate selection heuristic, will have to continue to choose the more craptastic, higher paying work, if they want to get laid/ loved. The more women earn, the more men must earn in order to stay in the running for getting some. At least, as long as women care about what a guy makes.

So if women really want to see the earnings gap close, they need to start marrying men who do and always will earn less money than they do. As long as women marry for money, men will be under pressure to out earn women, and most of us will.

And if you don't believe me, just eaves drop on any conversation between two women about a new potential mate (male of potential romantic interest). Before they'll describe his looks or personality, they'll mention his occupation. One of the first three descriptive details will be one that signals his earning power. And maybe this is all fine and good, but we need to admit the true sources of income disparity. Fighting imaginary structural sexism is not how to get the greatest change in the 77 cent statistic, if that's the metric people really want to use to gauge structural sexism.