Equal pay analogies

Almost a year ago, I posted a link to a TEDtalk by Paula Johnson on “His and Hers Healthcare.” I’ve seen this talk a number of times, and it has lots of interesting points of entry for conversations about healthcare and gender. I showed this video to students in my Scientific Writing courses yesterday, and they keyed in on something I hadn’t: The significance of Johnson’s reference to the gender wage gap. (It occurs right around 12:30.)

Some students thought this analogy was simply intended to help listeners grasp something new using a concept that’s seen a lot of public discussion over the years. Others noted her analogy will be persuasive to many audiences, but not to those who don’t believe there is a gender-based wage gap (or don’t believe that it’s a problem); it could even be distracting from her point. I was impressed that students were having this smart discussion so early in the course–it’s only our third meeting!

I’m not totally persuaded that “We lack the collective will and momentum [to do a better job with women’s health]. Women’s health is an equal rights issue as important as equal pay.” Health is important, yes. But women have a long history of advocating for their own health, and indeed, for the health of others. (Women disproportionately manage the health and healthcare of people in their household, often including male partners.) I can’t make the same claim about equal pay; women are socialized to accept less, to avoid negotiation, to devalue their work. Likewise, I’ve seen lots of “collective will and momentum” aimed at improving women’s healthcare. (Notice the statistics on breast cancer funding in Johnson’s talk.) Much, much less public energy has been devoted to addressing the wage gap. In fact, most public discussions of the wage gap end up being about whether or not it exists, rather than about ways to decrease it.

I’m headed toward suggesting that this about what we’re socialized to believe women’s bodies are for. That is, we’re willing to support things that promote reproductive female bodies, but not things that promote productive/working female bodies. This hypothesis is one that certainly compels further research.

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