Category Archives: Pay gap

Thank You For Your Patronage

by Mirra Kardonne

waitress

I’m walking down my street in the last week of living at my old place near Dundonald and Church. Some friends and I are going for a drink–both to say ‘Goodbye Gaybourhood’ and to catch up—they’ve been in Thailand shooting a documentary, I’ve been tying up loose ends and hustling like a mad hustling machine. The past six years of my world is packed up in boxes in my apartment, while my last week at my old job looms ever closer. We go to a neighbourhood bar, and after the wine is drunk and the charcuterie is nibbled, one of the three of us steps out onto the street to smoke. When she comes back in, she announces: “I’ve just been offered a job!”

“What?” I blurt. That’s not fair. “Who? What job?”

“Yeah, this guy I know from wherever-the-fuck said he’s managing a new bar, asked me if I need a job and if I have any cute friends who are looking.”

Silence.

“Can I be your cute friend?”

And so it goes. Do you remember the scene in the movie adaptation of Oliver, when the newly enfranchised young orphan steps out onto his personal balcony and sees all those young, buxom peasant girls singing in harmonies to the fancy-folk? Who will buy her sweet red roses? Her milk? Her fresh strawberries?

Well, let me tell you—Strawberries was asked if she had any cute friends to bring to the new singing-to-young-men strip o’sidewalk, Roses had a ‘better attitude’ and got top bill, and the others were a dime a dozen—let’em all sing about milk! And that tenor pushing the knife grinder? Better let him do it, those cuties might not know which end of the knife needs grinding. Let those extremely slim and fair-skinned sirens tempt you with breakfast and flowers— two blooms for only a penny!

I make money many ways, but damn, it’s a slog. Art and teaching don’t always cut it. At 17, I no longer lived with my parents, I had yet to acquire a post-secondary education, I had no resume to speak of…what to do?

At 19, I moved into the apartment where I would live for the next six years. I walked into a hair salon, armed with a resume filled with fake references. The proprietor doesn’t glance at it, he just looks me up and down and says, “I like that you’re not scared of low-cut tops”.

“… Oh. Well…no, I guess I’m not.”

“It’s 7:30 am to 2:30 pm.”

“Do you want to look at my resume?”

“I don’t care what you did before. You could be a prostitute and I don’t care. You know I hire prostitutes sometimes? You could be one, it doesn’t bother me.”

“I’m not a prostitute.”

“Well, even if you were…”

Hot dog! I’m a working gal! Start from the bottom…

…And go sideways from there. To date, I’ve had approximately one million jobs (closer to 25, maybe). I just keep quitting them, you see.

women-work-moneyI don’t quit them because I don’t need the money, nor do I quit because I’m such a staunch feminist that I am fed and housed by naught but my convictions.  I would quit because I couldn’t stand to be there, even if I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why not. It’s all so normal- so banal.  As a young pup in the job market, when asked why I had had so many jobs, I would explain with a laugh (to hide my embarrassment) that I’m categorically BAD at EVERYTHING I deem to be unimportant. That must be it! I’m a snob, and that is a character flaw! This idea had little traction among those who know a little something about me, though it remained the most plausible explanation for my track record as job after job repulsed my best efforts to conform with shocking hiring practices and even more shocking behaviour towards low-level staff.  Later, I would rant that service jobs rely on the young/desperate beggars-can’t-be-choosers demographic to leap at work which pays an amount of money that can barely sustain even the most frugal. But that’s normal. It’s all par for the course. No one’s asking me to quit, I can very well stay. In fact, it is expected that I, and other young women, will definitely stay. Because this is a Great Way  to make money while the real plan, the plan A warms up and gets cooking. Everyone with a Bachelors degree knows that your education is by no means a guarantee of loftier future employment. But what does it mean when something like waitressing is the best you can get?  Well, that depends on who you are. Son–it’s good in the meantime, if you have some time off and need some cash. Ladies: Good for you. You have a career.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the few available and unblocked passages towards power for women living in a patriarchy is to  adhere to conventional beauty norms. (Although the ‘power’ is not all that powerful). Nonetheless, it is ‘better’ to be an attractive woman when applying for service jobs, because the likelihood of being hired is higher. That much is not a secret. What is a secret is the systemic non-hiring of ‘unattractive’ women. If you are say, looking for a job as a waitress, (because hey—tips) there is literally no hiring manager who will not hire a sexy girl over an ‘average’ one. That’s my unofficial take on it, concluded only from the dozens of interviews I have had with restauranteurs or managers, and the predictable outcome of those interviews based on MY type of outfit, voice-perkiness, hair up or down, makeup or no makeup. Look for yourself. The Yukon chain Earls has received the kind of PR venom you can only get from being exposed in biased and gendered hiring practices. There is nary an employee who can remember an unattractive or even overweight person ever having worked at Earls… as their hiring motto states: “If you’d fuck them, hire them.”   Although you’re likely to get fired if fucking actually occurs. Too bad that magic ‘spark’ is a salient factor in hiring women.

Article after article describes the phenomenon of ‘attractive’ women trapped under a glass ceiling, hired as sexy ornaments in eateries and retail but barred from high earning jobs. More frustrating still, woebegone economists and statisticians posit that the obsession with attractiveness and sex appeal that women have had to suffer for decades has leaked into the man-realm, and now men trying to secure positions as attorneys, professors and politicians have to contend with the same discrimination that women who are trying to secure a mate feel every day.  Oh yes. That, at least, is the position of Daniel S. Mamerstash, who goes on to write a tearful article about how attractiveness is just such a crapshoot, men taste it when they dive into professional endeavours, women—when they want babies.

Gavin McGarrigle points out in his article that among a female staff hired explicitly to be sexual, there is no union to protect against sexual harassment. Comila Shahani-Denning, an associate professor in the psychology department at Hofstra University speaks to that lack of recourse:

“Research examining attractiveness bias in hiring decisions is important because of the extensive use of subjective appraisals in employment decision making. Given the legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on non-job-related factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, disability and age, it is interesting that there is no legislation regarding physical attractiveness (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).”

But whatever their reasoning, one idea reiterated from Mamerstash to McGarrigle to Shahani-Denning is that there should be legal recourse for appearance-based discrimination, both for the ‘unattractive’ and the ‘attractive’.  

Sigh. There are so many factors to consider. One is so tempted to conclude that there’s no possible pattern among all the hiring and firing practices: sometimes, people just don’t get hired. Or they do. One is, of course, so very enticed by this idea because THAT WOULD BE GREAT, and it would be better if things were better instead of the far worse reality. Mamerstash, in his horribly misguided op-ed, declares it irredeemably unfair of the world to limit the opportunities of qualified men who were not blessed with good looks. After all, they can’t even get a girl (*ahem* I call bullshit), why you make them broke, too? McGarrigle asks why gender or attractiveness must play into your skill set when looking for employment. “Let’s say you’re simply ugly due to your luck of the gene pool, is that a medical condition? That could be argued. That’s your genetic composition,” Says Stacey Ball, an employment-lawyer in Toronto. And here we go again, right back to Power, my favourite topic. Is there objective beauty which can be rewarded or punished monetarily, and in the job market? Is beauty power? Because this would suggest beauty actually causes a dis-empowerment of its bearers.

And separate from the question of if you can or cannot get hired as an attractive or unattractive woman in a service position, and whether or not either camp can sue for discrimination, I’m still left wondering, where are the men for these same jobs? I know legions of unemployed young men who would love to work as a waiter, or as a receptionist. But they can’t. Those young men don’t seem to be sexy girls…where’s their  “nice ass/decent rack”? And those times when they can, it’s only for now, until they make their next big move into professionalism. Right? We’ve been here before.

Have you ever been to a frat party? That’s what working in a lot of restaurants is like. Dim the lights , turn up the music and fill the place with hot women who want to ask you questions, you’ve stumbled into the party you’re too cool to even know is happening. Girls and women will get paid to be the object of fleeting and untenable desire. Certainly that’s where the guaranteed tip-money is, at places like Jack Astors or Milestones. For instance, on the Jack Astors application:

“We have specific requirements for personal appearance, as described in our Welcome brochure. Are you willing to meet our requirements? Yes/No.”

What are these requirements?

983417_10152475756487195_1196656614_nForm fitting clothes that ‘skim’ the body, low necklines (up to two buttons done-up) and short skirts (down to the Jack Astors preferred brand). My sneaky informant tells me, when trying to adhere to the Welcome brochure uniform code (otherwise known as the Look Book), she was told she looked “boring” which was only remedied by donning a very short skirt (her [female] manager looked pleased with her, smiled and said “Wow! I can see your legs! That’s more like it, lady!”) She reports that when hired, most other new female employees were 19-21. Thinking that she already looked good for a hostess, during training the manager informs her that the skirt she chose was “too long” ( just above her knee) and that her face and hair were “boring” and to “put on more makeup”.

Walk into an office/bar/club/, pretty girl smiles at you and makes you feel welcome. It’s a fantasy too commonplace to be any real danger, yes? One might ask, what kind of danger are we talking about? At first we talk about economic danger, women on all points of a completely subjective attractiveness spectrum are compensated or not for something over which they have no control. Attractiveness or the opposite will both reward and punish depending on a number of factors, but by and large, women are pan-societally punished for being pretty, being ugly, being too smart or too dumb, being too single or too pregnant. And what choices are left to women who simply cannot pay the bills?

The idea of decorating of a space with women in order to lend an immediate perception of luxury and safety is one that was first introduced to me in an Ancient Civilizations course at the University of Toronto.  How interesting, thought I. What a slippery kind of power women do have. The effect of simply being inspires the feeling of wealth and of decadence. Whether or not they are objects of sexual desire, women are always desired to facilitate specific ends: to raise the status, to inspire the illusion of… safety.

How curious. Hey! Women! You inspire feelings of safety! So tell me… Do you feel safe?

No? Late at night? In revealing dress? Mandated in the handbook? Wages and tips hanging in the balance?

Is that, perhaps, what you’re being paid to part with?

Dirty Happy Money

By Amy Medvick

“Ugh, money,” I thought when it was proposed that this be our Blasfemmer theme for June. “Boooor-ing!”

Oh, money. I don’t have very much of it: just enough, really. Part of that is because I am a woman. Statistically, we don’t earn as much as men. But the thing is, I don’t really care that much about money either. Again, that’s likely in part because I am a woman. Women generally pursue lower-paying careers and work fewer hours than men1. I have done both.

Of course, many women are financially ambitious, successful, and know perfectly well how to manage their bank accounts. They show that we are capable of doing so. Still, a few 1000 years of social conditioning and a gal might find herself not so keen on pursuing a lucrative profession as her male peers.

But to say that women just aren’t interested would be an oversimplification. Men and women are working different jobs due to discrimination both in the hiring process and in the workplace itself, promotion bias, lack of flexibility for and discrimination against working mothers, as well as that pesky social conditioning that discourages women from positions of power or “unfeminine roles”. And though more women are now pursuing higher education than are men by a small margin, all those same discriminations still apply when they finish school and start looking for a job2.

Compounding this, popular wisdom now tells women to empower themselves by avoiding the “man’s world” and the discrimination that comes with it altogether, and instead emphasise home-life, personal relationships, and self-development (read: dieting), joyfully slaving over the proverbial hot stove while leaving their careers permanently on the back burner. (Thus the popular advice on how to cope with workplace discrimination is to “opt-out” and not work. That kinda sounds like a cultural cop-out to me, but hey, what do I know.) Find a hubby that can bring home the bacon (and spend some quality time frying it), or just eke it out somehow! After all, pursuing a lucrative career isn’t what really matters in life—what matters is being able to spend time with your family / partner / friends / pet, etc. Never minding that very little fuss seems to be made about how men negotiate their “work/life balance”, as if work weren’t inherently a part of life but instead it’s opposite.

The Globe and Mail recently published an article about money and happiness. According to certain research, one’s happiness does increase proportionately with one’s income. Some claim that it increases up to a salary of about $75,000 a year, at which point it levels off; however, many “happiness experts” believe that one’s happiness can keep climbing well into the hundred thousands. Of course, the happiness factor depends on how one’s money is spent—buying time and experiences is more cheering than buying objects. It would seem that the so-called feminine wisdom of valuing quality time spent with the family has some truth to it, but only if that time is purchased back from the economical system that annexed it, quality-assured with a big fat pay-check.

Me, counting my feminist dollars. Painting by Jan Sanders van Hemessen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Me, weighing my heavy feminist gold. Woman Weighing Gold by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

I am a feminist, and I believe that women should have equal opportunity in the working world, free from discrimination and bullshit Mars/Venus rhetorics shovelling them into low-paying “feminine” jobs. I believe the only way we can achieve that is by collectively pulling a Rosa Parks and refusing to go. Yet, because the whole thing gives me the fucking icks, I am not yet even on this metaphorical bus.

So, in order to be a better feminist I should become a big CEO, or more realistically— let’s face it, ladies—a teacher, right? All those dollar signs will open the door to all the happiness the patriarchy has deprived me of. I could be a big, $$$HAPPY$$$ feminist CEO (teacher). That’ll show ‘em!

Know what though? I don’t buy it (pun intended!).

Certainly, how I spend my time—the experiences I should be buying— is important to my happiness. But I manage to have them on less than a third of the ideal $75,000. In fact, I have the time for them precisely because I work fewer hours, making less money, yes, but having lots of time to myself. Cha-ching! It’s like I bought time off, but without ever seeing the cash.

It’s true, more money could allow a person to do more with their free time. But wouldn’t that just offer a greater variety of happiness-experiences, not more happiness in absolute numbers? Hmmm, the mathematics of quantifying happiness are getting fuzzy…

Of course, some of the time I am unhappy, such is life. Lately, the main reasons are A) I miss my ex-lover, who lives far away, and B) The patriarchy and similar systems of oppression REALLY suck. Can money help me here?

Well, in the case of reason A, a wad of cash could buy me a plane ticket to visit him, but it couldn’t fix our failed love once I got there. As for reason B, I could set up some sort of initiative or program to address our social problems. That would require funds, right? Of course, I might not see any significant return in my lifetime—those old inequalities would probably still persist, not that the venture couldn’t be in itself rewarding. Or wait—I could just keep doing this Blasfemmer thing for the cost of a domain name and a parachute.

Yeah, I’m still not sold (intended!). The results are at best inconclusive: though money could perhaps give me greater freedom in how I spend my time, which might result in increased happiness, it certainly can’t magic away my personal sadnesses.

Then again, I say this from the privileged position of having enough money to meet my physical needs, not to mention finance the occasional dinner out, shopping trip, bottle of wine, ice-cream cone, amazon.com order, a couple of trips to Brazil, etc, etc. For so many of the world’s poor, the majority of which are women and girls, some money—not $75, 000 but simply a few hundred dollars—could make a huge difference. And my modest riches have undoubtedly come to me at their expense, resting on the systematic creation and exploitation of the poor by the governments and major corporations that furnish a cushy life for middle-class North America.

In fact, I myself haven’t always had this much wealth. There was a time when I often made as little as $600 a month, working for less than minimum wage at a little gourmet grocery. And yes, it was nearly impossible to be happy. I was trapped at this job because it left me with no time and energy to look for a new one, and no financial safety net to allow me to quit. I had to face workplace sexual harassment—one of my bosses had a penchant for stroking my hair—and I lived with the constant fear that one day I would be followed by one of them down to the dark and isolated bathroom in the basement. I became horribly depressed. Nevertheless, I proudly avoided relying on the financial help of family and friends, feeling that the independence was worth it.

I also tutored on the side and this helped. The first family I worked with was that of a Somalian woman. She lived with her 7 children (ages 3 to 14), in a tiny 2-bedroom apartment. One bedroom was lined with bunk beds like a hostel, for the oldest 6. The youngest and his mother shared the other room. Their father was working out of province and sending money.

image by Delphine Ménard (notafish })

image by Delphine Ménard (notafish }<‘;>)

Many of us would be miserable in such circumstances. However, while this likely wasn’t their ideal arrangement, to all appearances they were happy. These children would arrive home from school full of energy, clambering over each other to ask me questions, smiling and laughing as they got down to their homework, the youngest impishly hiding my shoes while I wasn’t looking. The second youngest would sweetly and trustingly climb into my lap as I taught her to read, and the eldest told me she dreamed of being a doctor one day.

They were generous too—the children would unquestioningly offer to make me Kraft grilled-cheese sandwiches while we worked. When she had to end our sessions because she could no longer afford them, the mother—with whom I mostly communicated in facial expressions and gestures since she spoke little English—wordlessly gave me a pashmina shawl, a parting gift that I treasure to this day because I know just how generous a gesture it was.

Teaching these children made me happy—not because of the payment, which was negligible, or because I had any illusions I was helping them. An hour and a half a week split between 7 is hardly enough to make a difference. It made me happy because their happiness was infectious, and it reminded me that I was lucky, grocery store illegal-wages notwithstanding. Certainly, I wanted to see their situation improve, as I wanted my own to improve. Yet, though I have seen many families since then, better off than they, never have I seen one any happier.

The Cratchit family happily eating dinner.

The Cratchit family happily eating dinner.

Eventually, my own financial situation collapsed. I became completely dependant on my family and friends, an arrangement that was incredibly emotionally uncomfortable. But soon I got back on my own two feet, and I was fine. Pride was swallowed, but I more than survived.

As a feminist contemplating raising my career ambitions, I have to ask myself where the money I make will come from. Will we close the pay gap through lowering the income of higher-earning men? Or will it come at the expense of families like the one I described? The second seems more likely. As a feminist, I cannot claim more for myself without considering those below me. To do so would be to buy into the very patriarchal ethic I defy, that whole take-for-yourself-and-fuck-whoever-you-took-it-from thing, that never-you-mind-your-pretty-head-about-my-unearned-privilege thing.

While I would love to see the gender pay gap closed by taking from the richer to give to the poorer, it’s definitely not going to happen that way. Too many of the folks with wealth in droves will tend to hold on to it, this I know. And though my instinct is to be as uninvolved as I can by shunning the race for riches, I don’t kid myself. My nice little liberal lifestyle changes don’t mean fuck-all to giant exploitative infrastructures. If anything is going to change, work must be done. Some of it will cost money.

This is why I am re-evaluating my distaste for financial ambition. Though I don’t think ascribing the dollar with quantifiable happiness-inducing powers is exactly a big feminist step forward, neither is remaining powerless in a world where money walks. Knowing at whose expense it comes, it might feel like dirty money, but in my hands it could be put towards more than my own comfort and happiness. I could do that work that must be done, for families like the ones I described, for girls and women with dreams but few opportunities. There is a lot I could do with that extra $60,000 or so worth of happiness, but it couldn’t make me happy unless it increased the happiness of others too. Seeing some change in the world—not loose change (!) but a serious difference in people’s lives—that, indeed, would make me very happy.

  1. Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism. New York: Time Books. 2010. Pages 20 and 50.
  2. Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism. New York: Time Books. 2010. Page 3.