By Olivia Land
I learned growing up that there were certain topics “polite people” didn’t talk about. The rules went like this: Polite people did not ask their neighbor who they voted for. Polite people did not ask adults of a certain age how old they turned on their birthday (I learned that one the hard way). And polite people certainly, most definitely did not talk about money.
Today, I’m breaking one of the above commandments. No, I’m not going to ask who you voted for, or how many candles should be on your birthday cake. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to sound off about Commandment #3, the m-word: money.
Like most everything I write, my inspiration to tackle “money talk” stems from personal experience. Last summer, I spent seven weeks working at a retail store and the local library. These positions were my first foray into the world of paying jobs, and I left the experience with a new appreciation for what it means to earn. Indeed, after working five to seven hours a day, a seven days a week, I was darn proud to receive my paycheck. I respected my salary the way I would a person, and carefully planned out how much I would save and how much I would keep for spending on books, clothes, or meals out. I won’t lie and say that my bank account grew phenomenally- a summer job is a summer job, after all- but by the end of the summer my pockets were lined with much-needed independence and self-assurance.
As always, it took distance to truly consider my experience within a wider context. It only came to me recently, in fact, that my summer jobs barely skimmed the surface of what it means to be a “working woman.” Because whereas I look reminisce that my paycheck was identical to that of the salesperson next to me, women all over the world- adult women, women with degrees, women with well-earned, high-powered positions- face the opposite reality. On the contrary, their salaries are likely several hundreds or thousands of dollars lower than the man in the next office.
Now, we’ve all heard the oft-repeated statistic that “a woman earns 70 cents for every male dollar.” While I’m glad that people know and are sharing this reality, the continued use of the phrase robs the issue of its weight. Rather than creating awareness about a serious disparagement in our society, the sentence promote the kind of dismissal that should be reserved for tired slogans about saving money on car insurance. Australian geckos aside, the wage gap cannot be fast-forwarded through or ignored.
Tuesday, April 4, was National Equal Pay Day. As its name suggests, the event was launched by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 in order to illustrate the gap between women’s and men’s wages. According to the organization’s website, the event has falls on a Tuesday in order to represent “how far into the next work week a woman must work to match what her male counterpart earned the previous week.” That idea, to me, illustrates how the gender wage gap is about more than 30 cents. Even those phrase itself- gender. wage. gap.- shrouds the simple equation that money = empowerment, money = choices, money = autonomy. In other words, money isn’t everything, but it also kind of is.
Now, I want to offer a disclaimer here and say that I am approaching this issue with very little information or statistics. What I’m drawing from is my own experience as a young woman who has made money, and who will presumably earn more in the future. In case you are wondering, I’m frustrated that my adolescent summer jobs might be the last time I do not have to wonder if my paycheck matches that of the man in the cubicle next to me. To that end, the fact that workplace equality diminishes the farther one advances is simply inexcusable. We do not, as women, as individuals, and human beings, work hard in order to take one step forward and several steps back. We work hard and pursue our goals with the mindset of progress- and our surroundings, quite frankly, should reflect that.
My entire life, I have never been afraid to want. I am ambitious to a fault, and have no shame when it comes to chasing my dreams. Sitting here, I am comfortably writing that I want equal pay for equal work. I want that for myself. I want that to have been the truth for my grandmothers who came before me. I want that for my mother, my aunts, my cousins, my friends. I want that for all of you, too! Because everyone deserves empowerment. Everyone deserves options, Everyone deserves autonomy. Everyone deserves to be equal.