In the Blog

Blurred optics: media visibility, wage discrepancy, and gender binaries

December 13th, 2011     by Meg Pirie     Comments

This January, Shameless will publish its Labour Issue. We’re really excited about this but it’s also useful to think about the ways in which labour intersects with numerous issues. None of us exist in a vacuum—we are all works-in-progress that reflect specific communities and unique experiences—and labour is no different.

Throughout 2011, a pet media issue was income disparity between men and women. The Washington Post, for instance, reported that in 2010 the average starting salary of a woman with a BA was $36,451. Compare that to the average male’s starting salary of $44,159 —17% more.

This income disparity exists in Canada as well. According to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), women in this country earn 70.5 cents for every dollar men make. Moreover, this wage gap exists in retirement: 2008 findings showed that Canadian women 65 years and over, on average, received incomes that were 65% less than their male counterparts. The CLC goes on to say that “In 2004, 7.3% of retired women lived in poverty, more than double the rate of retired men. An astounding 45.6% of single, divorced or widowed elderly women lived in poverty, according to a 2004 study.”

40% of women work in precarious jobs. Women remain the primary caregivers and still carry the brunt of ‘domestic responsibilities,’ labour which is unpaid and not counted in official data concerning productivity or contributions to society as a whole. And, more often than not, women experience interruptions in or an end to their current careers should they choose to reproduce.

On December 4th, The Guardian reported that British life is unequivocally dominated by men. After a study spanning several months, investigators found that 78% of newspaper articles in a typical month are written by men. Kira Cochrane, the article’s author, notes “There wasn’t a single day, on a single newspaper, when the number of female bylines outstripped or equaled the number of male bylines.”

It’s clear: Not only do women not receive equal pay for equal work, but when it comes to women’s visibility in mainstream media, the optics are distorted. Who we see on television, in movies, and magazines, how they look, and what they say…these iterations of femininity are policed, too, and reaffirm antiquated gender norms.

But why is this happening still, commentators asked, shaking their fists at the heavens, in the hopes of a celestial epiphany. Bombarded with statistics and numbers, several possibilities concerning the persistence of wage inequality were offered: women are self-effacing and resist negotiating salaries; women have a different networking style; women make babies in their tummies.

These sorts of explanations are useful vehicles to place the onus on women to solve this problem, while simultaneously focusing blame on the now-homogenized grouping of ‘women.’ Rather than addressing the absence of affordable, public childcare, we’re given a glib sound byte like, ‘Gosh, just act more like a man!’ (As though that actually means something).

But hackneyed social commentaries do little more than divide and conquer by isolating individuals. We can no longer see the forest for the trees. Shock jock radio and conservative media outlets are not sources of information, but instruments wielded by those in power; they perpetuate a system of domination founded on, in the words of bell hooks, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. hooks’ analysis is an intersecting one and helps to reiterate my earlier point: how we experience race, gender—and, I would add, ability and sexuality—are not separate from labour.

And while much of this debate revolves around polarizing binaries between men and women, conversations about labour need to expand to include issues of homophobia, transphobia, racism and ableism. What sorts of lived experience are represented as ‘normal’ in media? How do these normalized images of selfhood and family affect our language; our public and private divisions of labour; our relationships; our personal development and expectations? These are questions that need to be brought to bear if we are going to collectively and radically confront sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism.

I realize that the bulk of this post appears to be negative, as though I’m providing little more than a cascading series of depressing facts and figures. But this is why I ended with bell hooks. hooks continually shows that feminist politics are a politics of inclusion and catharsis. When we see the interlocking nature of domination, we begin to see the connectivity of resistance. We stand at a potentially transformative precipice that gives us the awareness and vocabulary to identify our oppression and our privilege. We can come together as individuals with different stories and tangibly work towards a more inclusive, participatory ideal of community.

In advance of Shameless’ Labour Issue, hitting newsstands in January, you can find more on this issue at the following links:

International Women’s Day 2011: A Call for Dignity in Retirement for Women Canadian Labour Congress The Income Disparity of Women in the Creative Class The Atlantic 10 Industries Where Women Earn Less than Men The Atlantic Who’s Counting? Marily Waring on Sex, Lies, and the Global Economy Free streaming from The National Film Board website

Tags: gender, on the job

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