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March 20, 2018

Fixing the gender wage gap: progress by the numbers

One of my new favourite words injected into our lexicon is "mansplaining". I'm reluctant to explain what the word means, because I don't want to get accused of being a mansplainer, but I don't see any way around it in this case. Mansplaining is when a man explains a concept to a woman in a condescending way, assuming they don't have the capacity to understand that concept without a man's help.

It’s one of my favourites because it’s a stereotype, and I love stereotypes.  I love them because they are intrinsically ridiculous and can provide a good laugh if used properly (see Ricky Gervais's new comedy special Humanity on Netflix). However, stereotypes can also be inherently dangerous, as many examples from the past have shown us. When people start to believe that stereotypes reflect reality, they can easily lead to conflict and oppression.

Although ‘mansplaining’ is more amusing to me than dangerous, it does feel like part of a new wave of ideas from Feminists that perpetuate the idea that men and masculinity are generally and almost always toxic. Somehow natural selection perfected the feminine aspects of our species but completely screwed up when it came to the masculine aspects, and because of this, the system which oppresses all women, that all males have created and are complicit in supporting, must be teared down.

The system I’m referring to is of course “The Patriarchy”.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a self-proclaimed feminist and presumably believes in “The Patriarchy”. His Liberal government's 2018 budget solidifies this proclamation with many of the new policies it proposes, including addressing the "gender wage gap" which is stated as, "a good indicator of the broader state of gender equality in society".

One of the budget’s goals is to remove, "the systematic barriers to women's full economic participation" which they believe "will support economic growth, strengthen the middle class, and build a fairer society that gives everyone a real and fair chance at success".

The claim being made is that women in Canada "earn 31 per cent less than men do" with the median income for women being $28,120 compared with $40,890 for men. When it comes to hourly wages, a woman makes 88 cents for every dollar a man makes (in the budget the singular is used which implies these two individuals work side by side, but this is not the case).

The budget states that one of the main reasons for this gap is the undervaluation of work traditionally associated with women. Their solution to "fix this gap" is to require "equal pay for work of equal value". Seems simple enough. All we have to do is define "equal value", which should be easy because as we all know, everybody values things exactly the same way.

Of course, it won't be us that defines the values, instead it will be defined by the religious dogma known as Liberalism. Yuval Noah's Harari, in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, states that, “Religion is anything that confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures.” Harari goes on to point out that political ideologies such as Liberalism fit within this definition quite well (I feel the same way about most political parties, my comments here happen to be about the Liberals)

Both views wish to answer their own questions while ignoring or attacking opposing views, no matter how evidence based they are. Both start with an idea about how the world works and then only perpetuate opinions or "evidence" that support their ideas. And what is often worse is that anyone who challenges these values may be guilty of heresy.

Just ask James Demore, an engineer who dared to question Google's overreaching diversity policies and was promptly fired for it. Demore simply offered a different view of why there is a disproportionate amount of men in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. He even used statistics (gasp) and scientific studies to support his argument, but of course these statistics and studies were the wrong ones.

Statistics are based on fact (hopefully), however the conclusions based on these statistics are not. The conclusions are opinion, and opinion can be sprinkled with bias. It’s sometimes even quite surprising how easily opinion can become belief. And we've all too often seen how people are inclined to fight for their beliefs even when their beliefs aren't based in reality.

In 2011, Joseph P. Simmons, Lief D. Nelson and Uri Simonsohn studied and demonstrated how, “easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis”. Their article False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant, concludes that often scientists can yield to pressure to publish resulting in, “the self-serving interpretation of ambiguity, which enables us to convince ourselves that whichever decisions produced the most publishable outcome must have also been the most appropriate”.

This can be seen in the main focus of Trudeau’s 2018 budget as it applies to the “gender wage gap”.  The Liberals hope to reduce the “gender wage gap” by addressing the disproportionate amount of men in certain (mainly STEM) occupations.  The budget states that, “…due to…family and societal issues,…discrimination in the workplace to stereotypes about gender roles” women face difficulty breaking into certain industries and this leads to the wage gap.

I can’t argue with most of that.  There is a disproportionate amount of men in some professions just as there are a disproportionate amount of women in others. I don’t think we need statistics to convince us that this is the case. What I have an issue with is the intentional focus placed on certain occupations, and not others. 

As an example; the desire to get a job in engineering or the sciences is appealing because these jobs are in high demand, are relatively safe and have a high reward to risk benefit. Its easy to push the idea that we need more women in those fields because it fits the Liberal/Feminist narrative; the number of women in these fields is directly related to “The Patriarchy” and men’s desire to keep women in “their place”.

However, if we look at other occupations that have a disproportionate amount of men than women, like those found in the good-producing sector (forestry, oil and gas, construction), that perhaps pay higher wages because they are physically demanding and/or in some cases considerably more dangerous than a job in a STEM field, the same desire to equalize the playing field doesn’t seem to be there. 

Perhaps this is due to social structures being more “deep-rooted and complex” than statistics can explain. Perhaps they deserve more study and discussion before we completely change them, especially using artificial means. Perhaps we need to move away from self-serving opinions and instead towards truth-serving facts. It may be difficult, but perhaps it will be worth it.

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M. Elmasry

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