The Wage Gap “Myth” – A Stock Response

The wage gap is a myth!

Women don’t earn less than men!

The 77-cents-on-the-dollar stat is bullshit!

Thus begin countless posts, articles, comments, editorials and even infographics (some of which are illustrated here for your vomit-inducing enjoyment) that talk about the wage gap – written by people I might start referring to as “Wage Gap Mythers”. I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve read this sort of thing in the last few months. Seemingly endless pages are devoted to dispelling the idea that women earn less than men. Every time someone brings up the wage gap, the Mythers drop by. They’ve been shared across Facebook groups, wikis, websites and comment sections so frequently that I really just want to get a stock response written down to them – it saves time.

Basically: “women earn less because the bigger companies don’t employ them.” This is, of course, totally fine and not an issue nor evidence of a problem at all.

The grand irony of all these Myther posts, though, is that while their titles and thesis statements say things like “the wage gap is a myth”, what they then go on to do is to demonstrate the exact opposite. It’s almost creationist-like thinking: start with the conclusion, and shoehorn that conclusion into any and all facts you can find. Even if the facts outright contradict the conclusion or the logic developing those facts doesn’t support it. I’ll demonstrate how this works by breaking the “myth” argument down into a little step-by-step:

  1. State that women don’t earn less than men (or don’t earn 3/4 of their average earnings) – this is our generic Wage Gap Myther thesis statement
  2. State that this is because women do different jobs and have different commitments and so can’t earn as much as men and generally demonstrate numerous reasons why women actually earn less than men
  3. Absolutely ignore that Point 2 directly contradicts Point 1

If there’s time, the next point is to conclude that the real “wage gap” is only a few percent once you’ve taken all the reasons stated in Point 2 into account. Which is like saying “well, if you take into account the slant and the wobbliness, this floor is perfectly flat”. Or “once you’ve subtracted all the people living there, the population of London is actually zero”. Or “once you’ve taken into account all the people in indentured servitude against their will, slavery doesn’t exist”. You get the picture – “if you ignore the potential sources of sexism, sexism doesn’t exist!”, which I think is the most concise summary of the Myther position possible.

Well, given that a lot of men treat women like shit in the workplace and make assumptions that only the men have important jobs while women make the tea… then yes, yes they are paying to surround themselves with cock.

I don’t know how best to summarise the problems with the Wage Gap Myth argument in a way that will get through to Mythers. Because if Mythers are united by one thing it’s the fact they’ve been tricked into thinking they’ve done something highly clever; they’ve delved into the data, they’ve reached their own conclusions, and everyone thinks that when you reveal something as a “myth” it must be a really skeptical, rational and intelligent thing to do… but they haven’t. No data that you can find actually dispels the notion that women, on average, earn less than men – often very significantly. About 20% less in the United Kingdom, about 23% in the United States (a place still stubbornly opposed to any sort of Equal Pay Act) and 16% across the European Union on average, with a massive variance across member states. The studies are there, the statistics are there, they’re not going away. The Myther thesis statement is just plain and simply wrong.

Women don’t do the higher paying jobs. Sexism? Yes. Yes it is. Women don’t do, aren’t allowed to do, are discouraged from, the higher paying jobs. This is the point. This is literally the point. This is not some hidden conspiracy, this is the actual point. You have got so close to the point yet have still managed to so spectacular miss it, it’s like you’ve made the Kessel Run in less than 0.001 parsecs.

So what does that leave you with if you’re a Myther and want to write something on the subject of a wage gap? Well, you can quibble that “on average” needs to be given context, because those statistics are over an entire population of men and women, and you can mention all the reasons that women earn less than men, and, well… that’s about it. Unless you’re a complete fucking idiot in which case you might say “well, this man earns less than this woman therefore…” but the less said about people who try that one the better.

So I’ll summarise why the Wage Gap Myth argument is bullshit, as best as possible in big letters and short words:

FINDING EXCUSES FOR SOMETHING IS NOT THE SAME AS PROVING IT DOESN’T EXIST

In fact, let’s just underscore the irony of these responses one more time: their premise is “the wage gap doesn’t exist” and “women don’t earn less than men” but because that’s a fact that simply is, these “myth” posts have to explicitly acknowledge the existence of a wage gap and then find excuses for it. The Myther argument is nothing but excuses: excuses that simply wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t need to be found if the wage gap was actually mythical.

Did I mention this is creationist-level logic, here? What part of “the wage gap is a myth” and “women don’t earn less than men” is supported by making excuses for the very existence of such a fact?

But anyway, let’s assume a hypothetical Myther accepts this, and they then accept that they are, in actual fact, just making excuses… sorry, finding reasons… for the gap. After all, women do, statistically speaking, do different jobs to men. They do, statistically speaking, take care of children more frequently. They do, really they do, take on more part-time and lower paid work. So yes, you’re right – whether you’re an MRA, a politician, some random blogger who thinks they’re smarter because they’ve stumbled upon this startling revelation – there are reasons women, on average, earn less than men.

We take a hard job that requires constant attention, dedication and a lot of training… and we pay more for the one that is traditionally male. A cynical interpretation? Yes. But unfortunately, the cynical interpretation sounds like it has a lot more explanatory value.

My laconic response to that? “Congratulations! Have a fucking prize!”

(Does the sarcasm come across in text, I’m never sure…)

Do you genuinely think this is news to people?

Do you really think that this somehow isn’t the point social progressives and feminists have been making for years?

Do you actually think that, somehow, this is an okay situation to be in?

Are you waiting for me to declare “Oh how wrong I’ve been! Women aren’t treated like shit in the world! They’re just… erm… treated like… shit! But that’s fine, there are Reasons!”

Let’s use the word “predicated” in a sentence: the Myther argument is predicated on a straw man interpretation that people complaining about the wage gap are under the impression that women get paid ~20% less for the exact same work. This isn’t true at all. Which you’d know if the average Myther had ever bothered reading anything written by a Social Justice Warrior Enthusiast any time in the last few decades. But I really don’t think the average Myther or MRAsshole or MGTOWer would ever be caught dead doing such a thing.

wage

Literally every article on the subject says “the wage gap is a myth” but then goes on to say “the wage gap is real it’s just… shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup!!” Sod it, this is worse than creationism.

The Reasons behind the wage gap really isn’t news to anyone. No one who has ploughed any thought into the existence of the wage gap needs to be informed of these reasons. Yes, women earn less because they work different hours at different pay rates because of various reasons. Thank you very much Captain Fucking Obvious. The difference between the progressive opinion and the “we more smarter than you because wage gap be myth” position is that we took it a little further – we asked one more “why?”

Why do women work these lower paid jobs? Could it be that society rail-roads us into particular careers? Could it be that men are told they should do one thing and women another?

Why do women disproportionately do more child-care than men? Surely, if we’re such an equal society that the wage gap is a “myth”, then this shouldn’t be an issue, right? Last I checked, it took two people to make a baby (this may be news to people with the emotional and intellectual maturity of the average Men’s Rights Activist, of course) and so why wouldn’t the responsibility be split nearly 50:50? Surely there should be nothing to take into account from this if there wasn’t a social discrepancy, right?

Or let’s take a more insidious twist on that first “why” – Why do we pay less for jobs that women do? Put another way: do we force women into lower paying jobs, or do we devalue jobs done by women? That dichotomy is the driving force that explains the existence of a wage gap – a fact that “Wage Gap Mythers” very explicitly admit to in their quest to find excuses – and neither option looks like it could let society off the hook.

The answers to those additional “why?” questions aren’t straightforward, nor are they easy to admit to, and certainly outside the scope of this post. But we try. We at least give it a shot, which is certainly an improvement on an argument that stops two logical steps previously and assumes the opposite conclusion.

And this is without getting into the research that demonstrates – in both controlled and real-world environments – that women tend to get offered lower starting salaries for identical qualifications (something replicated with ethnicity, and it gets worse there), get rejected at a higher rate and let’s not get started on the attitudes that they can and do face at work. None of that even comes close to supporting the Myther position.

In many respects, Mythers have their facts absolutely straight. They’ve thought about how society affects women and minorities, how it affects their eduction, their lifestyles, and leads to the fact they earn far less than their more privileged counterparts. It’s just fundamentally annoying that they’re so blinded by the presumed “myth” conclusion that they can’t see what these facts are outright screaming in their face.


You may now commence your incessant adolescent whining in the comments.

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Defending the Indefensible

Sometimes Psy just has a way of putting the rage out there that I can’t quite do well.

We couldn't make this up...

The only thing that has surprised me less about yet another Christian fundamentalist and rabid homophobe being caught up in a sexual scandal, has been a) the people coming out in defence of his actions and b) the excuses they are using to defend his actions. I’m talking, of course, of the ongoing Josh Duggar sex scandal, where instead of a rabid homophobe being caught with his pants down in a men’s public bathroom, it’s finally come to light that as a teenager (and for who knows how much longer) he was molesting little girls, including his own sisters.

I say “sisters,” because Duggar is the eldest of the abnormally large Duggar family, which belongs to the strange “Quiverful” cult. Here, in simplest terms, women are taught to be subservient to their man, to give in to his sexual demands whenever (i.e. marital rape) and…

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Academic Incentives – Rewarding The Right Thing

So, time for another academic rant, because apparently that’s just what I do now.

Like most departments, my students have to go through multiple teaching labs covering different aspects of the subject. And like most departments that do this, each lab has evolved to be organised differently (often subtly, often significantly). One lab puts a hard limit on the size of formal reports that undergraduates produce, the “an experiment was carried out…” type ones rather than completing a work sheet with results and so on.

This particular hard limit isn’t in words, but in pages – specifically, four. Now, that’s a pretty short space in which fit in an abstract (which is a third of a page gone already) a couple of diagrams (which when laid out well should take between a third and half a page each) and a reference section, which if you’ve cited a sufficient number of references is half a page to a full page. If a student submits just one line on an extra 5th page, it won’t be marked. Anything put on that page is given zero regardless of its importance.

WP_20141203_001

Now, at the end of the academic year, the cohort who have done that lab first have now come to me – and I don’t do something as fundamentally stupid as put a hard limit on the page count. This is because real life doesn’t have page limits – the limit tends to be “you’ve taken 20 pages to say what could have been said in 2, get out of my face and never darken my door again you asshole”, not “you’ve handed me five pages when I asked for four, I refuse to even read this”. Of course, it’s their fault for not reading the guidance notes, but they’ve been trained and threatened by a far less relaxed environment to a hard limit, and so that’s what they do on auto-pilot.

So what am I seeing?

  • Diagrams crunched up to the side with tight word-wrapping, rendering them unreadable.
  • Minuscule font-sizes with no paragraph spacing and what appears to be negative line-spacing.
  • Sections entirely missing in order to cram it onto four pages.
  • References crushed up and un-readable.
  • Introductions that just consist of lists of Things with no explanation or detail.
  • Two-line-abstracts that should be entire paragraphs.

This is what they’ve effectively been taught to do. While we like to think that we teach, and students subsequently just absorb that information, what we actually do is provide incentives to do things the right way and students follow the path the incentives tell them to go to. In practice, this incentive ends up being the grades and marks, and the question asked by undergraduates is “how do I gain as many marks as possible?” Naturally, an appropriate strategy would be to have as much of your work marked as possible, and so if a hard limit of four pages is given then it’s in your own best interest to simply cram it onto four pages.

The theory behind this is that they’ll learn to write more efficiently and be able to say what needs to be said on four pages. The trouble with this theory is that this isn’t what the incentive says. The marks are given for the page limit, not the efficiency.

And so every trick in the book gets used to reduce the volume of the writing, but very little in terms of efficiency of writing. They still write stuff like “A dropping funnel was attached to the round-bottomed flask. A solution of iron chloride was made up in DMSO in a beaker. This solution was then added to the dropping funnel. The dropping funnel was then used to add the solution drop-by-drop over about 20 minutes or so.” rather than “a solution of iron chlroide in DMSO was added via a dropping funnel over 20 minutes” or “FeCl2 in DMSO was added dropwise over 20 min“.

And it’s the artificial hard limits and page counts that are causing this. Because it’s an aim and a goal that they get marks for, and it’s easier to get those marks by writing badly than it is by writing well: it’s an incentive towards the wrong result. We’re not writing for newspapers where you’re not allowed even the vapours of one word above 800 words so it can physically fit a single page. If it takes 12 pages to say what you need, use 12 damn pages. If it takes 3 pages, use 3 pages.

The only thing under the DO NOT DO OR I WILL DO MURDER UPON YOU rule is “don’t pad out to 12 pages when you need 3” and “don’t cram it into 3 pages when you need 12”. If any incentive has to be provided to guide student writing, it’s that, which isn’t served well by a hard limit of four pages.

Word count: 800 exactly.

How Higher Education Works – A Play in Miniature

There are two separate entities that you will come across in Higher Education. There is the Department – the one that does all the teaching, admissions, outreach, grant-writing, research, pastoral care, etc. etc. – and then there’s the University – the one that is… well, it just is.

About this time every year – a time when the precious younglings are preparing for their A-Level exams and then will anxiously wait several weeks for the results – the Department and the University will do a little dance around each other. It goes something a little like this:

University: “Hey, Department, you can take another five students this year, right? Good, we’ll put you down for that. Onwards and upwards!”

Department: “Erm… didn’t you tell us to take an extra five last year?”

University: “Great! You managed it then, so you should have no problem taking another five this year, either. Steady growth. Upwards. Onwards. Whatnot.”

Department: “You also told us to do that the year before, and the year before that…”

University: “So, what’s your point?”

Department: “The point is that adding a few each year to our student numbers has doubled it in a relatively short amount of time, while in the same time our academic faculty has expanded by zero and our lab space hasn’t been updated or expanded since James Callaghan was Prime Minister.”

University: “But the University is growing! We must become a force for the future! Driving forward! Progress! Future!”

Department: “We literally don’t have the space.”

University: “Oh, come on, it’s only one more tutorial group. Surely you have someone with a spare hour to deal with them.”

Department: “I… erm… I suppose we could-”

University: “Excellent! Pushing boundaries. Onwards! And you can stick another five spare seats in that lecture theatre, right?”

Department: “Well, it’s pretty crammed as it… well, we could stick another row of spare chairs or an overspill room but it’d be-”

University: “Great! We’ll stick you down for five more students, then. Ever onwards and upwards!”

Department: “Fine, fine… we’ll put out a Clearing advert, then. Are you going to give us the extra £45,000 a year in fees that those five students will generate?”

University: “Lol no.” *sparks up cigar with a fifty pound note*