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A feminist's guide to the gender pay gap

A male symbol next to a full dollar and a female symbol next to a dollar cut down to 82% of the length to illustrate the gender wage gap in 2021

Happy Monday, Feministas! This week, as we celebrate the CDC’s latest guidelines for fully vaccinated adults in the U.S.—no-mask gatherings! Indoor and out! In most places! Hooray!—we’re also taking some time to reacquaint ourselves with this year’s most pressing and promising feminist causes, so we can get back out there and fight for what matters most :) 

That brings us to the gender pay gap—a long-disputed feminist issue that made national news last month with the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act in the House of Reps. And given that women have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 economic crisis, we think it’s about time for a little deep dive. 

Let’s talk about what the gender pay gap means, why, on average, women still only make 82 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2021, and what it will take to secure equal pay for equal work—for women and other minorities. 


So what is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap, also known as the “gender wage gap” or simply the “wage gap,” refers to the disparity between what men and women earn for doing the same work. It’s been an issue ever since women entered the workforce, and let’s be clear: since the very beginning, feminists have been asking for fairness, not handouts.

Suffragette, women’s rights activist and bona fide badass Susan B. Anthony put it best: “I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in their service as workers, not as women.” 

By recent estimates from the U.S. Department of Labor, women make 82.3 cents (which you’ll often see rounded down to 82) for every dollar that men earn for the same exact work, and it’s important to note that that number varies dramatically by demographic. 

For example, the wage disparity is far greater for women of color—last year, Black women earned just 63 cents compared to their white male counterparts, and Latinx women earned even less with 55 cents comparatively. 


So how does this impact women in the day-to-day? 

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and outspoken feminist sums it up well: “it adds up to thousands of dollars in lost income a year – and for some women, over a million dollars over a lifetime… it’s a reminder that inequality has concrete ramifications. It means women have less money for groceries, tuition, childcare, and so much else.”

It also means that, on average, women are less equipped to weather economic challenges, like the crisis we experienced as a result of COVID-19. Add that women are overrepresented in jobs with a higher risk of layoff and/or hour reduction – childcare, house cleaning, restaurant, salon, and hotel jobs, etc. – and that women were disproportionately burdened the additional childcare responsibilities as a result of school closures, and it becomes a very real financial issue in the lives of millions of Americans.  

But there’s also a cultural impact, which has been challenged perhaps most notably in women’s sports. Back in 2005, Venus Williams spoke about why it matters to her: “imagine you're a little girl. You're growing up. You practice as hard as you can, with girls, with boys. You have a dream. You fight, you work, you sacrifice to get to this stage. You work as hard as anyone you know. And then you get to this stage, and you're told you're not the same as a boy. Almost as good, but not quite the same. Think how devastating and demoralizing that could be." We think girls deserve better than that. 


Progress so far & the Paycheck Fairness Act

Over the years, women have worked hard to move the needle on equal pay, but the gender wage gap has historically been very challenging to close.

According to California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, "since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the gap between men and women's earnings has narrowed by less than a half-cent per year. At this rate, American women will have to wait until 2062 to bring home the same salary as their male counterparts." 

Since 1963, a few important pieces of legislation have passed on this issue, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, origin, color, religion, or sex, as well as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1973 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which protected pregnant employees and allowed parents of any gender to take time off. 

Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to eliminate the gender pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women and President Biden has called on the Senate to do the same, saying, “closing the gender pay gap is more than just an economic imperative -- it’s a moral imperative as well.” Heck yes. 


How can we close the gender pay gap? 

So how can feminists capitalize on this national attention and momentum and continue the fight towards equal pay for equal work? We’ve got four ideas for you: 


1. Be transparent about salary.

You know what they say: knowledge is power, ladies. And the taboos around talking about money only serve to keep us in the dark on what we should be making. The more you can learn about salaries of people in positions similar to yours, the better informed you’ll be when it’s time to negotiate. And don’t forget to return the favor! Share your salary when it can help someone else. After all, empowered women empower women.

2. Don’t wait to ask for more.

One of the things the Paycheck Fairness Act does is prohibit employers from asking for salary history when hiring, which prevents women from making what they’re worth by constraining them to what they’ve made in the past. 

In the meantime, though, know your worth and don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you need a little extra inspo, check out our roundup of career advice from feminist lady bosses

3. Invite men to join the fight. 

At The Feminista, we like to say, “men of quality don’t fear equality.” Actress Emma Stone has been vocal on the issue of equal pay, and speaks to the importance of male allies and advocates: “if my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life.”

4. Tell your senator to get on board. 

Action Network makes it easy for you to find your state senator and send a quick note imploring them to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act when it hits the floor. 

Let’s ask our reps to hold employers accountable for discriminatory pay and level the playing field for women and minorities, once and for all, because as Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. Women’s soccer team so eloquently put it, “one cannot simply outperform inequality.

This is an actionable way to make a real difference for women all over the country, so if you’ve got five minutes to spare, give it a go. The future is female, babyyy. 


That’s all for now, Feministas. Go out there and get what’s yours! And if you want to stay in the loop on feminist issues like this as well as badass feminist apparel, jewelry, and more, scroll down and sign up for The F Word, our blog and weekly newsletter :)

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