It’s fairly common knowledge that women are paid less than men. White women are paid about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Black women are paid just 70 cents to the dollar, and Hispanic women only 60 cents.
The problem, of course, is not simply in recognizing the problem — it’s in fixing it. And fixing the wage gap is unsurprisingly complicated, involving everything from maternity leave to distribution among industries to straight-up sexism. However, one key component of the wage gap isn’t talked about very often. And that is the fact that women are less likely to ask for a raise — and they’re less likely to receive a raise even if they do ask. Maybe the most frustrating part of this whole situation is the fact that women are actually punished socially for the act of negotiating a salary much more than men are.
Studies have shown that people are less likely to want to work with a woman who negotiated for a raise or a higher salary because they were perceived to be “less nice and more demanding.”
Luckily, there’s a solution! When women are more “feminine and apologetic” the social cost for negotiating the raise goes down (even if the likelihood of actually getting the raise doesn’t change).
These quotes from a well-meaning article on AOL.com give suggestions for women on asking for a raise such as: “Mention how weird you feel about asking” and “Blame it on someone else.” These should help you appear “non-aggressive and feminine” and avoid hurting your future workplace relationships and job prospects. It is unbelievably, incredibly, excruciatingly frustrating to have your worth determined by niceness or workplace popularity or how apologetic you are able to appear. As someone who struggles constantly with not apologizing for existing, basically, this is even worse. This article is telling me that even if I am able to ask for what I deserve, people will dislike me for it. Not just in one office or one industry or even one aspect of life — everywhere. A man is considered assertive where a woman is considered aggressive; a man is considered savvy where a woman is considered pushy.
Men are told power comes from success, and women are told power comes from being well-liked.
And when women do not fit into the picture of politeness and humility and meekness that is expected of them, we are punished for it.
But while serious issues can arise for women based on these societal and cultural expectations in the workplace, even more serious ones can occur in the outside world. Relationships are fuzzy, messages are misinterpreted, and women are still told to be nice, sweet, and occasionally flirtatious even if they don’t really want to be.
Let’s take, for example, a college party. Maybe a guy tries to talk to a girl, and she’s not interested. She tries to walk away, pretending to see friends on the other side of the room, but he doesn’t get the message. Does she a) say “Look, I’m not interested, please leave me alone right now” or b) smile, talk to him a little longer, deal with the fact that he will ask her annoying questions, and then finally just give him a fake number and spend the rest of the night trying to hide. Of course this is all purely hypothetical, but I can say from experience that in most cases, girls will choose option b. In most cases, I will choose option b. Because let’s be honest, who would back up the girl in option a? Seriously, he was only trying to talk to her — she totally overreacted. She could have been a little bit more polite to him, he was trying to be nice by showing a little bit of interest! Usually, option b works out. It might be a little bit of a pain to deal with someone’s unwanted advances, but nothing will go horribly wrong. The problem is that we’re put in a bind: we can’t say what we really think, so we get taken advantage of. If we do speak up, we are penalized instead.
We’ve come a long way toward increased freedom for women both in and out of the workplace in the last few decades. Still, though, women are consistently told to be quiet, to smile, to act apologetic and feminine and never pushy or aggressive. Without the freedom for women to break out of that box, equality will continue to elude us.
Anna Wing is a frequent guest blogger. She is a sophomore at Penn State University, where she is studying biochemistry.