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Monday, July 11, 2011

Little rational discussion over gendered pay

The last few weeks have been an extraordinary indicator of the status of women within New Zealand society. Not only are women responsible for bloating the welfare state by having babies when they can't afford them (thanks Paula Bennett - at least David Cameron had the good sense to focus on the dads in the equation), according to mainstream news we should be paid less and we have sex like paddock-maters. That such views are generating so many inches of newspaper columns, to turn a Bernard Hickey phrase, is a strong message to women that they are better off overseas rather than bolstering an economy where they are not valued.

Picking up the Herald this morning I see yet another editorial that makes the unqualified claim that women simply do not share the same desires to be paid equally as men. It's a bit of a worry that the editor wasn't stopped by someone before making such gendered claims that are the equivalent of saying blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Of course we desire to be paid as much as men, and the pay gap is little to do with a different attitude in the workplace, and more to do with persistent stereotypes which the Herald is perpetuating.

It is very disappointing to see, for example, little analysis or questioning of the one study that they pulled up to support Alasdair Thompson. In academia, many people write articles. Although they are peer reviewed, this does not mean that they are good. The article in question is an example of this: as Jonah Ruckoff and Mariesa Herman (Columbia University) contested in their December 2009 response to Ichino and Moretti, there is little evidence to suggest that menstruation is the cause of higher absenteeism in New Zealand. They cited problems in Ichino and Moretti's work with correlating data, and correcting program errors. These included errors in the age of employees and the days that they were away. They also argued that the 28 day figure for menstruation was misleading as less than 16% of women's periods correlated to exactly 28 days (6). Studying a much larger data set of teachers at New York city schools they could find no evidence to support Ichino and Moretti's claims. Yet the Herald repeated its coverage of this study, even directly contacting the author without making any analysis of his criticisms.

Over the weekend, the Herald has also given unprecedented attention to one doctor who claims that thousands of women can't remember who they had sex with in Timaru. Sex to NZ women he claims constitutes "paddock mating". Although the turn of phrase might drive up online hits or sell newspapers, there are obviously huge problems with platforming discourses that position women as animalistic rather than as human beings that constitute half the population and make a huge contribution to our economy and our society. The problem with this is that it is agenda setting - in the same weeks that we are discussing Catherine Delahunty's Equal Pay Amendment Bill we are being flooded with articles that position women as irrational, and therefore not able to be paid as much.

All of the above drags attention away from the real issues that surround this Bill. These are serious issues that affect our economy and productivity, that cannot be trivialized in the ways above. We do have a massive problem with gender inequality in New Zealand that rears its ugly head frequently. We are behind other nations that we call comparable.

For example, the Sunday Star Times ran a piece in their Business section last week that found that women are still by and large shut out of boards. 65% of NZ boards had no women on them, compared to 39% in China, 29% in Australia and 43% in Hong Kong. National Council of Women President Elizabeth Bang said that this poses a significant risk for our economy, and she's right. We are in a service based economy, and it is better for us to have boards that represent the diversity of consumers. There is some truth to the argument that men do not represent or interpret women's concerns adequately, and there are plenty of studies within the discipline of advertising that demonstrate this.

While John Key has said that "there is more chance of Happy Feet having a holiday in Honolulu" than Delahunty's Bill being drawn, there is little being done to address the 27.5% pay gap in the Prime Minister's office, let alone the pay gap in broader society. Join me this week as we profile in a series of blogs the issues around the Equal Pay Amendment Bill.


At 11/7/11 3:41 pm, Blogger liminalD said...

Well written and informative, thank you :) I put the link up on Facebook because I think everyone should be aware of this issue, and your post sums it up nicely :)

At 11/7/11 4:42 pm, Blogger Phoebe Fletcher said...

Thank you very much

At 11/7/11 6:29 pm, Blogger Jess said...

I don't get it; from the outside looking into nz: is the view of women truly as bad as this? Does this reflect a genuine perspective in society? I can't believe you could say something like the comments I've seen recently in nz media in public in the uk without getting lynched or major protesting following your daily affairs for a while after. What is going on down there? What is the general consensus coming back? The frightening thing I've been seeing is the amount of 'debate' over this, as though there's anything even worth discussing! Surely the original comments were just made by a complete misogynist lunatic, no?!

At 11/7/11 7:50 pm, Blogger Phoebe Fletcher said...

Hi Jess, yes it does look like lunacy. The original comments were made by the CEO of the Employers and Manufacturer's Association in response to an interview on the Equal Pay Amendment Bill proposed by Catherine Delahunty. There was an uproar, some tampons thrown at the EMA and then Thompson went on Campbell Live and defended this. He ended up being fired, but there was one article that got championed as 'proving' the pay gap, to the extent that it is being portrayed as fact. And yes, front page of the Herald online three days in a row has been women's promiscuity. And again today, a Herald editorial saying that women's difference in pay is our attitude to the workplace. Oh, and we also had the ACT party ad man over the weekend release a racial tirade that among other things said that ACT was a party for men and 'women who think like men'. So yes, it does seem that we do have a bit of a problem here.


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