So these comments of the head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association of New Zealand are so full of fail I barely know where to begin.
“Mr Thompson today admitted there was a gender pay gap in New Zealand.
He told Newstalk ZB it was partly explained by some women needing sick days every month, along with extra time off to care for children.
“Let me get down to tin tacks. The fact is women have babies. They take time out of their careers.
“Looks at who takes the most sick leave. Women do, in general, why? Because once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do they have children they have to take time off to go home and take leave of…
“I don’t like saying this because it sounds like I’m sexist but it’s a fact of life.”
I find it deeply humorous that a man of Mr. Thompson’s age and stature cannot openly refer to menstruation and refers to it as “monthly sick problems”. I suppose points should go to Mr. Thompson for admitting there is a gender pay gap in New Zealand, but the rest of his analysis suffers from a severe lack of structural analysis.
Firstly the fallacies, Mr. Thompson implies that all women suffer from “monthly sick problems” and have children. Of course this is not true many women either cannot or do not menstruate for a wide variety of reasons and the same applies to procreation.
Even if what Mr. Thompson said is true of all women he would still be wrong. He is implying that women should rightly be paid less because of their biology. This should not sit well with anyone with even a slightly developed sense of justice. Women are paid less because of a society that systematically devalues their work on every level. From the care work that they do within their homes to the career work they do outside of it. The gender pay gap exists because women are expected to do the lions share of care-giving and unpaid house work while also managing to have a career. The gender pay gap exists because women are consistently seen as less than their male counterparts,
I almost wish that every woman could/would go on strike from having children to see whether that would close the gender pay gap. I don’t imagine it would but it would make people fear for the future of the human race quick smart.
It can be hard sometimes being a young woman in the international women’s movement. Sometimes I feel there is a sense that my commitment will never be enough because I know what I am worth. There is an idea that to truly be committed you need to work in the movement for nothing or next to nothing, you have forgo comfort and struggle so that you are hard and tough and can relate to the women you intend to serve. Older women in the movement seem to have an idea that you need to pay your dues in the harshest way possible before you are worth anything to the movement.
I believe strongly that there is value in experiencing how people other than myself live. However I do not believe that not being to work in an NGO for next to nothing for the rest of my life means I am any less committed to the international women’s movement. Women’s work is devalued over an over again by the various societies we live in. What is the point of re-creating this pattern within our own organisations? If you want committed, strong and capable staff you cannot expect them to sustain themselves purely on passion forever.
This work is valuable to society and the world and balance needs to be found in providing services and advocacy and looking after staff in whatever small ways we can so that they know their contribution means something, that their work is valued and so that their passion and commitment are not questioned every time they have to beg for just a little bit more so they can keep going a little bit further.
Today is just one of those days where I feel sucked dry and exhasted. A large part of my job right now involves reading about the many ways people choose to hurt each other.
Sometimes fighting the good fight is really shitty
Something I have noticed quite clearly in my admittedly short time working for NGO’s is how frequently they reinforce the very behaviours, attitudes and structures they aim to dismantle. In many feminist and/or women’s rights organisations it is fairly common in my experience to not make proper allowance for women who have children, to rely heavily on unpaid work, to operate from a heavily hierarchical structure where those who have not actually contributed to projects but are more senior in the organisation get to enjoy the ‘perks’ of those projects (such as attendance of conferences, book launches, activities etc…).
I personally find this deeply problematic. I understand that some of these practices are driven by pragmatic concerns – funding for not for profit organisations is never easy to secure and most philanthropic avenues do not seem to think that funding operational costs is a valuable use of their money (something I will comment on at a later point). Thus there is a very real need to keep operational costs down – including the cost of staff. Hence the heavy reliance on voluntary labour, howeber I do not think there is enough analysis of why such practices are deeply problematic despite their practical neccessity.
The devaluing of women’s work has been one of the cornerstones of patriarchal social structure. Care work has been particularly devalued but women’s contribution outside the home has also suffered. Women are paid far less than men for doing exactly the same work, Women’s achievements are often co-opted by their male superiors or co- workers, women are expected to do the crappy jobs no one else wants to do and not complain about it. A famous example of this dynamic is the historic discovery of the double helix shape of DNA – credited to James Watson and Francis Crick but was actually initially made by Rosalind Franklin who found the shape via X-Ray crystallography. She shared her prints with Watson and Crick who published it. History is littered with examples where a women’s professional contribution has been undervalued or credited to someone else.
Looking at this context it is deeply problematic to me that this history of undervaluing women and women’s work is continued in the very organisations that purport to work to benefit women. Furthermore women who speak out against this system of internalised exploitation are attacked and criticized for not being sufficiently committed to the cause, or for acting too entitled. This is a form of silencing that is very damaging. I understand the practical limitations that constrain most women focused NGO’s however I believe that small changes to ensure organisations are critiquing this patriarchal dynamic rather than reinforcing it. Allowing volunteers or people lower down the food chain to enjoy the fruits of their labour by attending a conference perhaps. Simply acknowledging that the current situation is less than ideal but it is all we can manage right now and reinforcing that all contributions are valued can go a long way to subverting rather than reinforcing patriarchal attitudes towards women’s work.