I was taking a study break and watching one of my favorite shows, “Blackish,” just the other day when I heard a line that stuck with me and really got me thinking.
While being entertaining and funny, “Blackish” always tackles real social issues without being biased to one standpoint. This specific episode focused on “feminism” (not the stigma behind feminism that most have in mind, but the definition of feminism where women and men are equal without bashing or hating one gender.)
The setting is a feminist group where Beau, the wife, mother and successful doctor of the family who the show is based on, is one of the very few women of color in the group. One of the ladies is painting a sign regarding the gender pay gap reading “77 cents to the dollar is not okay.” In response to this, one of the ladies then goes on to explain to the group that while the statement is correct, the sign is not capturing the full capacity of the pay gap. The character goes on to explain those numbers only reflect white women. For black women, the number is 61 cents to the dollar and even less for Latinx women.
This was a powerful moment in the episode for me; I even had to pause it to contemplate the words. I will be the first to admit the lack of knowledge I had in this subject, which then inspired me to conduct my own research regarding the gender pay gap. While I had basic awareness of the pay gap, I never fully took the time to understand it and learn more about it. I certainly hadn’t grasped the idea that black and Latinx women were suffering even more from this.
As the episode continued, the show made it a point to address how there is an even bigger lack of awareness in the pay gap when it comes to women of color and how many times, when the pay gap is being discussed, the difference in money only addresses one ethnicities' difference. If we truly care about all women and the pay gap, we need to be addressing it at the lowest level—all women, all the time.
I don’t necessarily think the lack of discussion around women of color’s pay gap is intentional. I just don’t believe that there is enough knowledge about the pay gap in general. As a Hispanic woman myself, I was not aware of the giant gap between different women until it was brought to my attention, and that is disappointing to me. After conducting some of my own research, I found some very interesting facts regarding pay.
Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a study showing that after tracking the gender wage gap over time in a series of fact sheets updated twice per year, they found that “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 40 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower.”
One thing that was hard for me to grasp regarding the gender pay gaps is the reason behind it, if any. As I mentioned earlier, I have always been aware of this topic but never understood it on a deeper level. I searched through the internet to try and find some sort of legitimate reason behind this, but everything I found can basically be described by the phrase “it is what it is”.
The top three reasons I found most often are that current laws are not strong enough, market forces are not eliminating discrimination and sadly, “jobs dominated by women in a company are not valued in the same way men’s jobs are.”
While there are laws in place, such as the Equal Pay Act which was signed into law more than 40 years ago and is aimed at abolishing wage differences between different genders, they are difficult to enforce because they are complaint driven.
Pay-equity.org further describes this by pointing out that “most of the information needed to prove a complaint is held by employers, in which the laws lack the ability to completely rid America of discriminatory pay practices. In addition, the Equal Pay Act does not allow women to file class-action lawsuits, and it provides very insubstantial damages.”
While conducting research on this topic, I found that most descriptions and cases for the gender pay gap do not account for women of different ethnicities. While these statements and pieces of information are relevant to the issue, why are different ethnic women getting paid lower than other groups of women? If this is a matter of a gender difference, then why aren’t all women of all ethnicities at least getting the same level of pay?
The American Association of University Women points out that Asian women get 90 percent to a whole dollar, white women get 79 percent and Hispanic women get the least with only 54 percent while other ethnic groups sit in between these numbers.
If we want to focus on balancing the gender pay gap, then we need to begin with the ethnic pay gap between women. More awareness needs to be brought to these numbers and circumstances. It is only through obtaining accurate knowledge that we can even begin to attempt making a difference in an issue.