What Would You Do With Your $11,000 in Lost Wages?

April 5, 2013

Equal work deserves equal pay.

The National Women's Law Center is asking people to join their annual Blog for Equal Pay Day blog carnival. Their prompt (the title of this post) stems from the statistic that on average women make 77 cents for every dollar men make, amounting to just over $11,000 in lost wages each year.

The issue of equal pay for equal work may seem a bit tangential to what we do at the Center for Inquiry, at first glance. It may even seem to fall outside the scope of skepticism.

However, as has been noted again and again, women are underrepresented in the movement in both major organizational leadership and event attendance. 

Additionally, the issue of equal pay is, of course, part of a broader societal and cultural issue, faced in the United States and abroad. The underrepresentation of women is not a problem unique to the secular movement. 

So, as we turn a skeptical eye and critical mind toward—well, toward everything we encounter!—"women's issues" should be included in that analysis. The forces of religion and superstition have long sought to reinforce existing power structures rather than support women's equality. Secularism, humanism, skepticism, and freethought offer a way forward.

That's why I'm pleased and proud to be working for the organization that put on the first Women in Secularism conference in 2012, and is putting on the second annual version of that conference next month. And if I could donate my $11,000 in lost wages—wages lost due to the historic and ongoing oppression of women—to any cause, it would be this one.

I got my introduction to the secular movement as a student, and now I am employed as a campus organizer in that same movement. (I know, I can still barely believe it's real.) I know firsthand the financial constraints students face, and I also know well the impact conference attendance has on young student leaders. When I was just 22 years old, CFI brought me out to their World Congress in DC to participate in a student activism panel. I was honored at the chance to share the work my student group was doing at Indiana University, and was inspired by speakers like Susan Jacoby and James Randi, as well as the other students I met, to do more and do better.

Assuming an average cost of $500 for one student to attend the conference, $11,000 could send 22 students that otherwise had no resources to make it to Women in Secularism 2. And that's a very rough cost estimate—we could probably pinch pennies and stretch our resources to cover even more students, with a little creativity. 

To be clear, I'm not claiming that individually I should have made $11,000 more dollars this year or any nonsense like that. As I understand it, this is a creative exercise to help make more people aware that there still is a wage gap. The causes of that gap are complex and worth examining on a more critical level, as has been done by many researchers and individuals. I'm just participating in this awareness-raising venture, partly as a way to give a voice to an important issue, and partly to bring more attention to the Women in Secularism 2 conference.

So if you can, please help students attend Women in Secularism 2 this May

If you'd like to learn more, here are some resources from the National Women's Law Center on the wage gap:

Does the wage gap mean that women get to leave work 23% early today?


#1 PS (Guest) on Friday April 05, 2013 at 12:28pm

Hmmm And which fox in charge of the henhouse gets to decide what is, “equal?”

#2 ContainsCaffeine (Guest) on Friday April 05, 2013 at 1:13pm

Thanks Sarah!  I think there are lots of opportunities for skeptical work to cross over into these types of issues.  Bringing attention to issues that matter to women, like the wage gap, goes a long way to diversify organized skepticism.  Also, thank you for including the link regarding women of color.  The wage gap for people of color is especially staggering, and women of color have an especially steep hill to climb for equal pay.

I’d love to see more written on specific claims people often make to explain away the pay gap, and whether those claims hold up.

#3 greg_laden on Friday April 05, 2013 at 4:52pm

I made the argument at a CFI related conference a while back that many progressive values were essential and central to humanist, skeptic, atheist, and related movements, even if some people in those movements did not hold all those values.

The hyperskeptical rational argument for unequal pay remaining at a modest level instead of going away is, of course, that women do actually shift their efforts to having babies (men can’t have babies) and this a rational personal decision on the part of the women which causes them to have less income.

That would be fine, but then women should rent out access to the babies to the men.  If a man has a spouse with a baby, he should pay her 11,000 dollars a year to remain in the family.

Of course, it might be easier and in the long run fairer, and involve less paperwork, to just have equal pay.

#4 Sarah Kaiser on Tuesday April 09, 2013 at 1:41pm

@ContainsCaffeine - Thanks!

“I’d love to see more written on specific claims people often make to explain away the pay gap, and whether those claims hold up.” I completely agree. Wish I had more time to do this myself!

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