In response to the Jan. 24 column, “Equal pay is anti-feminist,” I challenge two assumptions that underlie a lot of our discussion of pay inequality.
First assumption: Equal pay legislation would force companies to award women equal pay to men, despite potential differences in productivity.
The reality: Equal pay legislation would provide legal grounds for women to bring cases before federal courts when they receive less pay than their male counterparts for the exact same amount of work. The recently proposed Paycheck Fairness Act would require businesses to justify any pay discrepancies in terms of business requirements to prove that gender was not a determining factor.
Second assumption: In certain occupations, there exist differences in productivity between men and women.
The reality: As much as I’d like to believe that I, as a man, am more productive than over half of the world’s population, this is not the case. Not only can I think of dozens of Duke women who are more productive than me, but a 2010 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ found that American men, on average, spend more time each week on leisure activity than women do.
It is true that, on average, women spend 41 minutes less time per day in their paid work roles than men do. But what if the average man spent as much time raising his children as women do? He would probably have less leisure time than he does now, and he might have to leave work early to pick up the kids from school. But would he be less productive? Only if raising the next generation is unproductive.
I wish we were ready for a slogan like “equal pay for equal work.” The fact is, however, many professional settings are not designed to accommodate society’s domestic responsibilities, and women are often left to pick up the second shift. Until that changes, we can start by protecting women against the most obvious pay discrimination based solely on gender.