Women make up more than half of the world’s population, but if you want to find us in public, you’re still best served to look into the shadows, where you will find us facelessly pouring coffee, changing hotel bedsheets, answering phones and taking dictation, before going home to pour milk on toddlers’ Cheerios, change diapers and cope with mountains of household paperwork.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but we are still right here.
While female Silicon Valley coders publicly duke it out with start-up culture, leaning in and punching up, and female actresses and newscasters take to the airwaves to decry the lecherousness of the culture of their industries, for regular women these high-profile gains just don’t sink in. They don’t reflect the reality of what we see on the ground. We just don’t have the time or mental energy to feel good for women who are achieving gains we will never see.
Equal Pay Day, the day into the new year that women most work to earn, on average, what a man earns in one year, is widely reported this year as March 31, 2020, just 20 days earlier than the day of this milestone 10 years ago. But this is just the Equal Pay Day for white women. For women of color, the situation is much worse. African American women don’t reach this milestone until Aug. 13, and Latino women don’t reach it until Nov. 2, making just 54 cents for every dollar a man brings home.
This pay shortfall compounds each year, especially for women who don’t have the good fortune to have a man in their household to help pay the bills, and even more so for women who dare to raise their children alone.
For so many single mothers, this reality is not about whether you can afford a Starbucks coffee on your morning break or drinks with your co-workers on a Friday evening. Those things are decidedly out of the question.
It’s about whether you can keep the lights on, the furnace running and some sort of meal, any meal, on the table each night. Women who are facing these choices at home rarely talk about it at work, and you’re not likely to get them to talk about it. More likely than not, they’ve been told, at least once, that they are in the situation they are in because of choices they made, and they need to own those choices. But a choice between an abusive or mentally ill husband and the streets is not a choice at all. Women in our communities face these situations in silence every day. They shouldn’t have to.
If women earned the same pay as men, it would lift more than half of the women living in poverty out of poverty in the United States, along with their children. That is a powerful idea. But why isn’t it happening?
Women in collaboration are able to achieve so much, but, aside from some outliers, women aren’t broadly known for being kind to one another. One could argue that cattiness is just in our DNA as easily as one could argue for a more sinister reality: that resources, for us, are scarce, and our corporate overlords win when they pit us against one another, especially in a competitive workplace.
Sisterhood is a powerful force, and women united can achieve so much. But we have to believe that our sister’s struggle is also our own, and that, when we lift other women up, we lift ourselves up as well. And we all need to understand that this narrative cuts across cultures, that the lives of qualified professionals passed over for partnerships and office workers bristling at their boss’s callousness are entwined with the lives of women whose backs are breaking as they pick lettuce and change bedsheets and fight for elbow room on the factory floor.
This is the true narrative of women in the 21st Century, and it’s a narrative that’s not coming through when the national media focuses on leaning in or #metoo. We hope you can see its thread weaving through some of the stories we’ve chosen to highlight in the pages of our March print edition.
Happy Women’s History Month. Let’s talk about the future.