Patricia Arquette experienced two once-in-a-lifetime moments last night. She won an Oscar, and made her category competition, Meryl Streep, nearly jump out of her seat. Why? Her moving acceptance speech on gender and wage equality.
To excerpt her full speech (below), Arquette said: “To every woman who gave birth, to every tax payer and citizen of this nation. We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
I thought Arquette’s speech was great and loved that she took the time to draw attention to a cause important to her. Wage discrimination in Hollywood has been in full focus recently; the Sony leaks highlighted pay gaps both in movies like American Hustle and internally. And in 2013, the five highest paid male actors earned over 2 times what the five highest paid female actresses did (only one woman even cracked the overall top ten).
The one issue I have with statements like Patricia Arquette’s, is that yet again, it takes too much power out of women’s hands.
According to some estimates, women in their 20s without children out-earn men by as much as $1.08 to every dollar. That means that somewhere along the way, the potential for wage equality exists. And that also means that there is a contributing factor coming into play other than pure gender discrimination.
While wages may be influenced by discrimination, especially in Hollywood, wages are also a function of our choices. Our wages are impacted by decisions such as the career path we choose (i.e. the male-dominant finance career tends to pay better than the female-dominant teaching career) and how much time we take off for family.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe every choice out there is valid. Whether you want to be a teacher, an artist, an investment banker, or a stay at home mom, the decision is yours and it is the right one. So I don’t have any problem with the choice a woman makes. My concern is when a woman makes her choice due to a lack of other options.
Options can be eliminated for us (i.e. a mother needs access to child care so she can work outside the home) or by us (i.e. we have ambitions to become a mother soon, so we don’t go for the promotion that would require more travel).
The first issue need attention from lawmakers to provide better options for mothers. That’s not one I can really touch here.
But the latter issue is a much easier one to combat. One way is to simply encourage women to ask for more money. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg explores the phenomenon of women self-discriminating. She finds that women don’t ask for a promotion or a pay raise as often as a man does. Thus simply encouraging women to speak up for themselves more could eliminate a few wage gaps.
Women also eliminate choices when we think we are not “built” to pursue certain fields. For example, some women may never consider a career in high paying finance because they believe that finance is a boy club where women don’t belong. (I’m trying to negate that one one post at a time).
This is where we need to think about how societal expectations, including ones about ourselves, affect our choices. For example, believing the stereotype that mothers, not fathers, take care of children, or that women belong in female oriented fields.
That’s why I believe math, science, and finance education for girls is so important. I believe that if more girls have exposure to these typically “boy subjects,” we might see an increase in the number of girls who discover that they like them. But as it stands, some girls may be too intimated to ever try them. And that limits their options without them ever having made a choice.
So my hope is that as we talk about gender and wage equality, we also talk about the importance of empowering women to make choices.
As Sheryl Sandberg said best, “Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision. And if my daughter chooses to work outside the home and is successful, she is cheered on and supported.”