The Pay Gap and the Media

Mind the Gap

So as I began to write this post, it was April 4th, Equal Pay Day. This day marks how far into the year that women, because of the pay gap between males and females, must work to make the same amount of money as men did for the previous year. Equal Pay Day is a way in which social media is used to bring attention to this social injustice – its hashtag was trending worldwide almost all day on Twitter.

equalpayday trend

Picture by: Sara Nicotra

In Chapter 9 of Media and Social Justice, “Feminism and Social Justice: Challenging the Media Rhetoric,” which I mention in a previous post of mine in which I also discuss the pay gap, Margaret Gallagher quotes a magazine interview with Sir Stuart Rose. In it, he claims that “there really are no glass ceilings” and that women have “got more equality than you can ever deal with” (131). It seems to me that he’s almost suggesting that we have more rights than we actually deserve. Nice.

According to the American Association of University Women, contrary to what Rose might believe, white women were paid just 80% of what men were paid in 2015. This number varies, though, according to factors like age, motherhood, level of education, state of employment, and especially race, which is extremely important to remember and bring up when talking about the pay gap; it sometimes gets lost in conversation. I found particularly shocking was how much the pay gap varied from state to state. In New York it’s only 89% while in Wyoming it’s 64%. I knew that the pay gap varied greatly according to race, but I had no idea that there was this much of a difference from state to state.

Oh and by the way, the AAUW also says that at the rate we’re going now, the gap won’t close completely for another 135 years. It will be 2152 before women achieve wage equality. I’d be 156, but don’t worry, I’ll be cheering the women of the future on from the afterlife.

Anyway, as Gallagher points out, the World Economic Forum reported that the gender gaps in 16 of 114 countries actually widened over a span of five years (132). The gaps measured include not only gaps in pay, but also gaps in education, economic and political participation (this includes pay gaps), and health. In 2010, when Media and Social Justice was published, the United States ranked 19th out of 134 countries in gender equality. In 2016, we ranked 45th out of 144. “Yikes” is an understatement. I think it’s pretty clear that we have a lot of work to do. (I found all of these numbers from the Global Gender Gap Reports on the World Economic Forum’s website; you should check it out).

Iceland: An Example

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Photo by: Bjarki Sigursveinsson, “17. júní”, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via flickr

Putting the United States to shame by coming in first in both 2010 and in 2016 (and every year in between) is Iceland. Though the wage gap still exists there, too, Iceland is the first country to make big moves to try and close it. Within the last week, a bill was proposed to parliament that “would require companies to prove they offer equal pay to employees,” risking fines and auditing if they don’t obey. Not only does it prevent pay discrimination towards women, but it also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, disability, race, and religion. The United States needs to be more like Iceland, we all do.

With that being said, I didn’t see this information trending on Twitter, Facebook, or any other website that I usually get see news like this on. I’m signed up to a service that sends out an email every morning that gives readers the lowdown on what’s been going on in the world. It’s perfect for me – I don’t have a TV, so I don’t watch the news, and the news updates are short and to the point. I learned about this bill from the email that I received on March 29th, and I haven’t seen anything about it, without having to actively look for the information, since then.

The last chapter of Media and Social Justice, Mickey Huff and Peter Phillips’ “Media Democracy in Action,” begins with a discussion of what kind of information dominates the media, basically claiming that Americans and the American media are often concerned with useless and insignificant information. Which is true.

Specifically, they bring up the 2007 death of Anna Nicole Smith, someone who I hadn’t even heard of before she died. They state that the coverage of her death and the paternity debate that followed was “among one of the longest interrupted ‘news’ broadcasts at CNN” since 9/11. Around the same time, however, “the US ambassador to Iraq misplaced $12 billion in shrink-wrapped one-hundred-dollar bills that were flown to Baghdad,” and that was getting very little coverage (242). I don’t remember hearing about that like I heard about Anna Nicole Smith.

I talked about this in another post in which I bring up the idea that there has to be important information that we’ve been missing because of what the media chooses to cover instead. The fact that I haven’t seen any coverage whatsoever, not even as a brief trending topic on Twitter or a shared video on Facebook, on this proposed bill in Iceland is a testament to that.

As Huff and Phillips put it, free press was created to “keep the citizenry informed, engaged, and in dialogue with one another about crucial issues of the day” (251). How are we supposed to be informed and engage with these critical issues if the issues aren’t even being presented to us?

It’s no secret that there is a lot going on in our country in regard to politics and the government. So what are we missing? What kinds of bills and laws being signed into action are we not hearing about? What’s being swept under the rug, whether purposefully or inadvertently? And, more importantly, why are we letting this continue to happen??

Equal Work?

One of the main arguments against the strive towards equal pay is that women are paid less because they elect to be paid less by entering career fields and jobs that just pay less than other fields that tend to be male-dominated (I’m looking at you, STEM). Or they blame it on the fact that women choose jobs with liberal maternity leave policies or that they are less educated than their male counterparts. They, unsurprisingly, like blaming things on women.

However, the pay gap that really exists is that between men and women with the same jobs and with the same education and with the same everything, really.

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Photo by: Pulicciano, “Hollywood Emmy Rossum”, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via flickr

The reality of the pay gap is perfectly illustrated in a recent battle for a pay raise between Shameless’ Emmy Rossum and the producers of the show. Rossum plays an oldest sister who is the head of a dysfunctional family in the South Side of Chicago while William H. Macy plays the deadbeat, drug-addicted, alcoholic father. They pretty much have equal time on screen, I would argue that Rossum might have more, and are literally doing the same job, but Macy had recently been given a raise.

So she fought back.

Rossum sought a deal with Showtime and Warner Bros to not only be paid the same as Macy, but to be paid more than Macy. It sounds like it was a battle – Showtime could have canceled the show or kept it going without her. It was talked about a lot on social media – I saw it over and over again on Twitter. While Emmy Rossum was most definitely getting paid more than the majority of working women before she got the raise, it just goes to show that the pay gap is real in all fields of work and that the struggle is real for us all.

Rossum’s public battle with the media that was covered on the media did great work in bringing even more attention to the issue. As Sue Curry Jansen says in the introduction of Media and Social Justice, “media exposure is an essential constituent of all successful social movements” (6).  While Rossum’s personal battle with her producers won’t close the pay gap, it brings attention to not only the issue itself, but also to the fact that women of all statuses and careers are subjects of this injustice, even those that work in the public eye.

The pay gap, and the gender gap in general, continues to be an issue even though there we have been making strides to close it. As Jansen suggests, we can harness the media and use it to our advantage in our fight to strengthen this social movement. We’ve seen what the power of the media can do over and over and over again. When used well, it’s a force to be reckoned with. And so are we.

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