Women Still Striving For Equal Pay… Like Capuchin Monkeys

sexy secretary

Earlier this month marked Equal Pay Day, the date this year that US working women’s earnings caught up to the amount men earned by December 31. It’s been 50 years since JFK signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the gender pay gap is still about 20 cents on the dollar. OK, it might be a little better than the 59 cents paid to women for every dollar paid to men back in 1963, but at that rate, it will take another 45 years to close the gap.

Why does corporate America get away with this bull shit? Because women put up with it. It’s simply the dirty nature of any business to pay workers the smallest wage possible for adequate work. And if a woman is willing to do the job for 80 cents that a man demands a buck for, that’s the way it’s gonna stay, no matter what legislation might pass.

Of course, there’s a growing camp that claims the gender pay gap is nothing but a myth. Although a difference between American men’s and women’s median salaries cannot be denied, it has nothing to do with discrimination but rather life choices—that men tend to work in higher-paying fields that require longer hours, more travel and higher risk. Women, on the other hand, often choose a career path that supports having hand raising children, and often sacrifice money in order to remain in kid-friendly positions.

Interesting theory, but the authors of “Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Men and Women One Year after College Graduation,” found a 7-percent difference in the earnings of male and female graduates one year post-college after factoring for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months employed, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, age, geographic region and even marital status. They accounted for absolutely every demographic factor, and there was still a gap.

And as far as those “life choices?” Is motherhood one of those choices? It’s usually thrown into the argument in a half-assed way, blaming pay discrepancies on extended maternity leaves or choices to work part-time. But an actual motherhood penalty is still discrimination. Cornell University researchers found that employers are less likely to hire mothers compared to childless women, and mothers are often offered lower salaries than even other women. Fathers, on the other hand, aren’t penalized compared to childless men.

By experimentally holding constant the qualifications and background experiences of a pair of fictitious job applicants and varying only their parental status, we found that evaluators rated mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than nonmothers, and consequently, discriminated against mothers when making hiring and salary decisions,” the study, which appeared in the August 2011 American Journal of Sociology, concluded. “Consistent with our predictions, fathers experienced no such discrimination. In fact, fathers were advantaged over childless men in several ways, being seen as more committed to paid work and being offered higher starting salaries.”

So although there’s plenty who argue the wage gap is a myth, I’m not buying it.

Women need to be more like Capuchin monkeys.As part of the popular TED Talk series, Frans de Wall, a professor of primate behavior at Emory University, explained a fairness study originally conducted with his colleague Sarah Brosnan and published in the journal Nature back in 2003. In the study, two monkeys were asked to complete a job—handing a lab worker a rock—for a food reward. Originally both monkeys received a slice of cucumber for completing the task, and both were satisfied with the payment. As long as they both received cucumber, they would repeat the task up to 25 times.

Then, one monkey received cucumber and the other got a raise, so to speak, to a grape.  When the first monkey noticed the other receiving a grape, he was pissed. Next time he got a measly slice of cucumber, he threw it right back in the lab worker’s face. “Fuck this cucumber,” the monkey must have thought. “I want what he’s got.

The next time the monkey got cucumber, he not only threw it back, but pounded the table and rattled the walls of his cage. He was not about to get crappier pay for doing the same damn work, by gosh!

So why don’t women act like Capuchin monkeys? OK, so we can’t throw our cucumbers back at our bosses—or our paychecks. But if there was ever a Capuchin monkey in womankind, it was Lilly Ledbetter. You know, as in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

As most are aware, Ledbetter started working for Goodyear Tire and Rubber in 1979. After she retired in 1998 she sued Goodyear for paying her less than her male colleagues. Eventually, the lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court, which denied Ledbetter’s claim because she didn’t file suit within 180 days of her first paycheck. She would have had to sue in 1981, very early in her career. Companies don’t exactly advertise who’s getting paid cucumbers and who they find worthy of grapes. In fact, according to a recent survey from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 61 percent of private-sector employers either discourage or prohibit employees from discussing wage and salary information.

Ledbetter didn’t accept that cucumber, though. She continued her fight in hopes that someday all women would get their well-deserved grapes. And in 2009 Congress passed—and President Obama signed—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that states the 180-day statute of limitations to file an equal-pay lawsuit resets with each new paycheck affected by the discriminatory action. Now everyone else can throw those cucumbers back in the face of corporate America, they just have to channel their inner monkeys.