Saturday, March 08, 2008

Happy International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. So yay us chicks!! On the whole, I am glad I am a woman. I mean, we have much better shoe choice, apart from anything else.

But seriously, I love being the woman I am. I am very lucky, I know. I live in a country where women are on the whole treated equally, where women have access to education and healthcare and social security and many other things which allow us to make real choices about our lives. I have benefitted from all of those things (in fact, out of my family of 5 - 4 brothers and me, I am the only one who went to university). While my mother was not a feminist and would probably think that feminism was something bad, I always expected to be able to go to university and work and make my own choices. And my brothers were expected to wash and/or dry the dishes and clean the bathroom and do other household jobs, the same as I was.

At work, a large part of my role has been to look after "women's issues" in the workplace, including our organisation's reporting to EOWA. In Australia, we have a government authority, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, or EOWA. Organisations who employ more than 100 employees are required to report annually to EOWA on, basically, what their organisation does to advance women in the workplace. EOWA also awards an Employer of Choice for Women citation each year to a select group of employers who meet the fairly high standards set by EOWA. One of these, for example, is the provision of at least 6 weeks' paid maternity leave to women who have been employed for at least 12 months. Another, more contentiously, is that the pay equity gap must be less than 17% (which is what the pay gap between men and women generally is in Australia - or to put it another way, for every $1 earned by a man, a woman earns $0.83).

There's been a bit in the media over the last week about the pay equity gap, both because the most recent list of Employers of Choice for Women have been announced, but also because of International Women's Day. And I have to say, that while I totally agree that a woman doing the same job as a man should, generally speaking, be paid the same, I'm not entirely sure that looking at pay equity overall as a means to advancing women is right. It ignores factors such as the "feminisation" of certain jobs (eg teaching, nursing) - which are traditionally undervalued in society anyway, as well as certain jobs which are considered "masculine" - construction work, mining etc. Which are perhaps more highly paid but which also bring more physical or dangerous risks. (I'm not suggesting women shouldn't be exposed to those risks, just that on the whole, they are less attractive in a job to many women). You can't compare the salary of men in these roles against the salary of women in "feminine" roles. It's not a valid comparison. But within industries or job roles, well, it makes more sense. But that's not how EOWA, or others, measure it, and I think that's a shame, because it diverts attention from other, perhaps more real, issues (to me, anyway). Like ensuring that women have a real career path, and proper superannuation at the end of their careers, and that childbearing is not seen as an end to a woman's working life. Or that a woman who wishes to work flexibly is somehow not "serious" about her career.

And that's leaving to one side huge cultural issues such as violence against women.

I think a lot about these issues, given that it's part of my job, and I am a woman. I have come to the view that things will only really change for women when men value what women value. Right now, the sorts of things that EOWA measure are, to me, based on men's values, what men think are important - pay, career, etc. They don't measure the things that are, generally speaking, more valued by women - caring, family, home life, choice (to name a few). And I'm sure many men want the same opportunities as women to contribute to their family life, and are as constrained by ideas of what men "should" be doing (ie working full-time, earning lots of money and supporting their family in that way) as women are. I really don't think women will have truly the same choices as men (or vice versa) until what is valued by women is also valued by men. To me, that's where organisations like EOWA should be focusing, attempting to make real cultural change, rather than just trying to give women what men already have. We need to try to give to men what women have as well, because otherwise, I think we are saying "we are not happy with what we have. We want what you've got". And that makes me sad, because I love what we have! It's not perfect, but neither is life as a man either.

Of course, I accept there are many other views and many different views about these issues. I absolutely do not profess to have the answers. Or any answers at all. I wanted, simply, to share my thoughts on a day where we should be thinking about women. And society, and how we want things to be. And maybe taking some action to try and realise our dreams. I'd love to hear your dreams.


Queen of the froggers said...

That was interesting to read. We are even luckier in the UK with maternity benefits etc, and men get paternity leave now, although I think it is unpaid, so we still have a way to go. My dream would be for there to be total true equality all over!

TinkingBell said...

Is a nurse more important than a construction worker? A teacher more valuable than a miner? Given what our society values, appaarently not - are teachers and nurse more valuable than lawyers - I'd say so, but not according to their pay packets! In Finland, getting into a teaching degree is highly competitive (and has higher pay and status) than law(which is thought of as well, rather grubby!) They have more teachers and less lawyers and generally more equality overall! I am a feminist and so was my mum - I still remember mum being paid less than the 5 men she was managing - and I remember woment bineg forced to leave employment when they married - and I remember when women working in a bank had to have more skills (typing and keyboard) than men and got paid less!

Bells said...

Goodness me. You know, from conversations we've had, that I'm a bit sheltered, working for government. That whole pay equity thing just blows my mind. The idea that I might not get paid as much as the man sitting next to me is just incredible. But I do because I work for a body which is, to a certain degree, fair and equitable.

That the rest of the working population doesn't have this as a standard right is appalling. The values are just all wrong. You know, I sit in a cushy building, in pretty cushy circumstances and it galls me at times that society places more value on what I do than say, a teacher, who puts up with amazing difficulties and challenges that I am never going to face.


My dream, just a small one, is that when I'm a mum, I won't apologise for it if I choose to stay home, if I choose to step away from the things that society values more. And I dream that for other mothers.

It's just one of many dreams.

Great post RoseRed. And I didn't know this about your work before tonight.

Donna Lee said...

I,too, have benefited from the women who came before me in terms of what I could reach for and achieve. It irks me to no end that pro ball players make so much money (yes I know they have a short span of time to play, etc), it's the idea that we VALUE them so much more than our policemen and firemen and teachers. Nurses get paid well here but not in relation to doctors. I work in social work. Is it valued? Not if you look at my paycheck.

amy said...

The strident feminism always irked me, because as I see it, feminism was originally about choice, and somewhere along the way, that got turned around, at least in this country. Am I not a feminist if I choose to stay home and care for my children myself? But what if that's my choice?

Talk about work that's not valued at all. If value is defined by money, which seems to be the case, than stay-at-home parents are not valued at all. In Nicholas's gym class, which is parent-child, one child comes with a nanny. This person (who is extremely nice; I'm not belittling her career in any way) does exactly what I do every day and gets paid lots and lots of money for it.

But when it comes right down to it, it's not the money that is the issue for me; we choose to live on one income. It's the impact on retirement. Every year, Social Security sends out a piece of paper that lists projected benefits. I haven't earned a penny since 2002; my retirement benefits are about $5 a month or something equally ridiculous and inconsequential. My government does not value my work; I am pretty much screwed when it comes to retirement, because my prime earning years are being spent doing unpaid, unvalued work. (Yes, we are saving privately, as much as we can; we are also saving for college and paying exorbitant costs for health insurance. The paycheck only goes so far.) Yet I consider it extremely important work, and it's harder and more mentally and physically exhausting than many jobs I've had.

Thank you, Rose Red, for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

Georgie said...

The maternity leave / pay thing irks me. That "female-dominated" professions are so poorly paid here irks me.

I think it comes partly down to the fact that we don't value our children enough, and so dont value the professions that have the biggest influence on them enough (childcare, teaching, nursing etc), but value the ability to make scads money, without providing anything of real value, over all that (eg. bankers, lawyers etc).

And so taking time away from your career to care for your children is not valued, and those women who do that then try to return to the workforce are not valued. Not are women (parents) who try and juggle raising a family and working, whatever their reasons are.

Perhaps we need to value STUFF less, and people and their wellbeing more.

And as Amy said, choice is such an important part of the equation.

Great post RR, very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

lilypotter said...

I grew up with amazing female influences in my life; my mother, grandmothers and even great-grandmother were all strong independent women so I've always been pretty feminist-minded, but like Amy said somewhere along the way feminism has come to mean fighting to be like men, not fighting for what you believe. When my son was born, my husband and I talked about what was important to us and decided we wanted me to raise him; we wanted to keep him out of daycare if at all possible. This was our choice. It's not necessarily better than anyone else's choice to have both parents work, but I think our choice is still valid. It amazes me that people think I do nothing all day! And the government doesn't help at all, again as Amy said. Can't wait to retire on that $5 a month.

I think it's great, though, that Australia has the EOWA. As far as I know we don't have anything like that here in the States. Even if the EOWA's goals and methods aren't perfect, at least it's a start!

And YAY for women! Hear us roar!

Sarah said...

Hurrah for the ladees :o)

Choice for us all that's my dream - it's working for me right now and may it continue to improve for us all everywhere

MadMad said...

Oh, this was such an interesting post; in so many ways, I think you are more culturally advanced than we are, and you are definitely right that huge cultural changes need to take place to make a difference.

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