On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women and men took to the streets for the Women's March on Washington. The march aimed to "send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights." It was (and continues to be) been enormously popular; In DC alone, crowd scientists estimate the march had three times more people than Trump's inauguration did the day before.
Across the country and around the world, millions more turned out in support of the Women's March—in major cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Raleigh, St. Louis, Sydney, London, Tel Aviv, Nairobi, Beirut, Tokyo (and more) and in smaller communities everywhere.
Why is it important?
The Women's March is much more than a protest against President Trump.
What do they want? The Women's March organizers released an official platform, which is built on the basic tenet that "women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights."
The march recognized the ways women's rights and identities overlap with other important issues—racism, climate change, public health, economic opportunity, criminal justice, immigration, and more. (That's what people mean when they use the term "intersectional feminism.") One central issue is equal pay.
Should society do more to promote equal pay?
Though some gender-based discrimination continues to exist, we know that the vast majority of the wage gap is caused by other factors. Among them: choice of profession, salary negotiation, and hours worked. Society is not responsible for correcting for these factors. Only individuals really can.
The commonly cited statistic on 79 cents to the dollar implies this gap is based on gender discrimination in work and education. This is deeply misleading. For one, men and women gravitate towards different professions, which influences wages. According to Census data, women's most common jobs are assistants and teachers, where men's are drivers and managers. For another, women are less likely to negotiate starting salaries and more likely to limit their hours, both of which affect their pay.
Many of these choices are the result of motherhood and/or personal preference. They are reasonable decisions. But since sex discrimination is no longer one of the main causes of the wage gap, government or private sector action to reduce gender discrimination won't fix it.
Society shouldn't—in fact, can't—address this problem.
With discrimination now prohibited throughout the workforce, the remaining gap is almost entirely the result of individual decisions, decisions that men and women should remain free to make for themselves.
You do not have to think the wage gap is caused purely by overt sexism to recognize that society should do more to address it.
In 2015, women’s median weekly earnings were $729. Men's were $907. This difference has narrowed in recent decades as overt discrimination has declined, but it remains too high. Statistics show it is caused by a variety of factors. Some are societal, like the impact of child bearing and the differences in responsibility for child care. Others are behavioral, like that on average women choose lower paying professions, negotiate less aggressively, and work fewer hours—and these often have societal origins.
But these very facts call attention to the systemic issues women face in the workplace, where jobs are structured to reward long hours and rigid schedules that marginalize working moms. Society can and should address these barriers.
For example, one demonstrated way to improve gender pay equity is to make working hours more flexible. In industries where employees work long hours without rigid schedules, the pay gap is considerably reduced. Examples include the technology and science sectors, where hours are far more flexible than in finance and law. The list of improvements goes on: pay transparency, adequate child care, guaranteed maternity and paternity leave, and more. These improvements are not gifts to women—they are requirements for allowing half the population to stand on equal footing.
- The Women's March Guiding Vision
- "We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women—including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women—are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments."
- The [Obama] White House on equal pay
- "It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together—Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall to Main Street—to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds." —President Obama
- Freakonomics Radio's "The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap"
- "It may be a natural impulse, when you hear that women earn less than men, to find someone to blame. One obvious villain is: men, presumably for being discriminatory. But as Claudia Goldin told us, there isn’t much evidence to support the discrimination argument. Another obvious villain is: our institutional setup. If we could change—maybe modernize—a lot of our institutions, and the incentives they offer, wouldn’t that lead to more equality? Let’s assume that’s true. The question would then become: which institutions should be changed, and how?"
- Vox on the meaning of intersectional feminism
- "The word "Intersectionality" itself isn’t important—but the concept behind it is. Without it, there’s no way to talk about the experience of people who belong to more than one oppressed group. At its most simple, in the feminist context, it means recognizing that not all women are white, and some LGBTQ people and people of color are women. That’s not controversial, really—it’s just reality."