Talking about the Gender Wage Gap (Again)

I was having a conversation with one of my co-workers the other night. He’s been having some issues at work and came to me to vent. Eventually, the conversation turned to money and I told him how I am frequently frustrated by how little I make in comparison to other positions at our company. To provide a little bit of background, our place of employment is a tasting room at a fairly large and successful winery in Southern California. My job title is cashier, while his is wine server. Admittedly, most of my frustration stems from receiving far less in tips than the majority of employees in our tasting room. This is largely because of the nature of my position – I engage with customers for much less time than a wine server does, for instance. Not being allowed to have a visible tip jar doesn’t help either. To get back to my point, my co-worker and I were discussing the pros and cons of serving and he gave me an idea of his projected yearly income. I was shocked. It was over twice what I’ve been making for the past almost two years, since I’ve been in my current position. Granted, we have different titles, so I cannot automatically blame this on the gender wage gap. It did make me think about the wage gap though. After he told me his average income, I was reminded of a conversation I was having with another female server earlier that same day, where she revealed her monthly income to be just slightly higher than mine. Still, since wine servers receive both tips and commission for wine sales, the amount one server makes in comparison to another can vary greatly. And obviously we can’t assume this has anything to do with gender, at least not without examining things further. I couldn’t help wondering though if we looked at all of the incomes for male and female servers in our tasting room, who would make more on average? If it was in fact the male servers, what would this mean? If anything?

Our conversation also made my mind turn to the gendered nature of some of the positions in our tasting room – all male barbacks, all female cashiers, hostesses and wine club administrators. Just with the rough knowledge I have of what each position makes per hour (including tips and commission), I know that barbacks and wine servers have the most earning potential. And one of those positions has essentially been deemed a male-only position. I don’t know that it is crucial that we have a female barback to fix this imbalance (although I think that would be really cool and there are definitely plenty of strong women who could handle the physical aspects of the job no problem), but I do think some aspect of the pay scale needs to be adjusted so that the earning potentials of cashiers and barbacks are more equal. Yes, I understand that these are two completely different positions. And there are definitely other factors involved in how much each position makes aside from gender. But the fact that the three positions with the lowest earning potential in our tasting room (cashiers, hostesses and wine club administrators) are currently all-female doesn’t sit right with me. There’s an imbalance there somewhere even if I can’t quite articulate it fully. And I don’t know that I have a complete solution to address this imbalance. Calling attention to the fact that the three positions that make the least on average are all-female seems like a feasible place to start though.

First Musings

I was on a Pinterest marathon today. Feminist everything. Books, t-shirts, stickers, quotes. Everything spoke to me. I may have been buried deep in my couch at the time, but I still felt super inspired. Hence the birth of this blog.

Anyways, all of my Pinterest marathoning got me to thinking about all of the seemingly insignificant conversations we have with people – both men and women – on a daily basis. Only a lot of times they really aren’t so insignificant. It’s the things you sometimes realize after the fact. Like how certain ways of thinking and speaking are so embedded in our society and culture that sometimes we don’t even question them. But in some cases we probably should, if we want things to be different that is. And If we want to help support women’s rights and equal rights and stop subscribing to the notion that there are fixed gender norms.

I remember a conversation I was having with a guy a few months ago via text message. It was around 9 or 10pm on a week night, so naturally I was in my bed watching Netflix. He asked me what I was watching and I responded “Grey’s Anatomy.” His response back was “Of course you are.” I think my next text back to him was something along the lines of “What is that supposed to mean?” to which he responded “Well you have a vagina.”

This bothered me a little bit at the time, but admittedly I continued to talk to him without calling him out much beyond my initial retort. Yet, I still haven’t forgotten about it. Because really what does my vagina have to do with what I watch on Netflix? Yes, my vagina is one of the anatomical characteristics that makes me a female. And yes I was indeed watching Grey’s Anatomy. But who ever decided that being female and watching hospital dramedys go hand in hand?

The bottom line is what I choose to watch on Netflix or elsewhere should really have nothing to do my sex or gender. I am a female. I am a woman. I have watched Grey’s Anatomy. So have a bunch of other people of varying sexes and genders. And I’m sure the guy did not mean to be offensive with his remarks on my Netflix choice. He probably actually thought he was being quite clever. Maybe even a little bit cute. The point is that there are still deeply embedded notions in our society of what it means to be a woman. And what it means to be a man for that matter. While likely not all of these individually are harmful, the danger comes from the cumulative effect of society expecting men and women to exist inside certain gender roles. If these uneven and often inflexible gender constructs continue to exist how can we achieve true equality for all sexes?