I knew I wasn’t going to like Nancy Folbre’s post on the New York Times’ “Economix” blog from the moment I read the title: “Why Girly Jobs Don’t Pay Well.” “Girly jobs”? The accompanying photo – of nurses during WWII, complete with the adorable white hats – didn’t help my angry lady brain prepare for the task ahead.
What Folbre was referring to, of course, was the tendency for women to take jobs in lower-paying fields like education, health care, and social work. Even though women are growing stronger in workplace numbers, that pesky little wage gap persists. We, of course, wonder whether women are deliberately choosing to go into fields that pay far less than male-dominated careers, or whether they are even better suited to said jobs. After all, as Robin Marty pointed out in an excellent post a few weeks ago, women are traditionally thought of as “nurturing” and “caring,” something that makes them far better equipped for these (lower-paying) jobs.
There is, of course, the thought that women are not choosing to go into these careers – that they are constrained by discrimination, lack of maternity leave, and cultural expectations (like, for example, the assumption that two X chromosomes gives you a special “nurturing” boost). But Folbre’s blog post, which seeks to tease out why women, who are, after all, now averaging higher levels of educational attainment than men, are still entering female-dominated professions where the wages are fairly low. She doesn’t really answer the question. Instead, she ponders through a string of problematic thoughts, to wit:
1) Some sources (read: a forum on Yahoo Answers) say that ladies just like lady jobs better.
2) More credible sources suggest that women, being less ruthless and practical than men, value money less and family more (I’m assuming that it helps, here, to have some sort of other family member, like a spouse, who cares a little less and brings home a ruthless salary).
3) Caring for people is not a profession to which monetary value can really be assigned, but women are happy knowing that they are making the world a better place (and who needs money anyway?).
4) Having a “girly job” makes you look less threatening to men who do exhibit the “successful” traits mentioned in 2), which is obviously helpful to you, not being personally concerned about money but presumably in need of a way to survive.
5) The government is to blame for not subsidizing all of the “girly jobs” equally.
6) Women COULD just start going into high-paying jobs. But then they would be bad people.
This is all to say that Folbre is ignoring some very fundamental points. Of course, these lower-paying professions are valuable and should come with higher salaries than they do. But there are a lot of men who might end up in them, and a lot of women who might end up in those ambitious, ruthless, manly jobs, if we were able to break down our inflexible career structure, even just a little. If, perhaps, women were still not subjected to a double standard of dress and appearance, or if we had affordable childcare and adequate maternity and paternity leave, or if networking hierarchies promoted female mentorship, to name just a few ideas. The fact that we undervalue teachers and health care workers is a separate (and legitimate) issue – but calling them “girly jobs” ends the conversation before it even starts.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.