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Combating The Gender Wage Gap

Contrary to popular belief, much of what the news and media sources portray in the plight of American women is false. These faux facts have been repeated so often that it is easy to conform to these beliefs. When it comes to the 23 more cents that men make, over half of the American male population refer to it as “fake news.” No matter how many times economists attempt to refute the gender wage gap, the proof is always in the pudding:

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns – while doing the same work.  

No matter how you cut it, women’s earnings are typically behind those of men as it takes a woman almost 16 months to earn what a man earns in just 12 months.

Several factors contribute to the wage gap, the largest being occupational segregation and unconscious gender discrimination. Occupational segregation is rooted in stereotypes of “women’s work” vs. “men’s work”, unconsciously steering women into certain fields that often tend to pay less. And though gender discrimination in the workforce is illegal, it still happens right under our noses.

While the overall gender wage gap is an important representation of how women make less money in wages than men across the country, we must consider the specific influential factors. And when examining these factors, it is important to recognize that race and ethnicity also play a role in this economic inequity because: equal pay is crucial for all women. 

Black women typically make 61 cents for every dollar their white male counterpart makes. 

The larger pay gap that women of color experience is a grand example of intersectionality. As women, they face the same structural barriers and gender-based discrimination. As people of color, however, they face additional barriers that further their pay gap. This is because women of color frequently work in lower-paying jobs, work fewer hours, and experience more substantial caregiving burdens. For example, women of color are more likely to work in lower-level and lower-paying roles in comparison to white women, even with high levels of education. 

It is a common misconception that the differences in career opportunities and wages are a result of “women’s choices.” This statement only furthers the structural realities that limit women’s abilities to compete with men in the labor force. While one could argue that women of color choose to work in service-sector occupations, that are often lower-paying, it is hard to disregard the fact that women of color often enter the workforce with significantly different barriers than white women. 

While Black women have pushed the needle of diverse representation in fields like STEM and medical professions, they have also faced extensive occupational segregation that narrows their job options to those with lower pay. In contrast to the perceptions held about the work ethic and values of white women, Black women are subject to the unfair expectations and biased assumptions about their place in the workforce. Even as they do work to break the glass ceiling, Black women constantly face stereotypes and resistance in not seeming professional enough for the traditional, societal image of success. 

So how can we combat race and gender biases? What can we do to reform equal pay?

If there are an endless number of factors contributing to the pay gap for women of color across the country, there are just as many opportunities to change the status quo. It only takes a single person to start a shift in the culture of bias that allows the continuation of the wage gap. 

If you want to push for change in the workplace, advocating for change in your environment is the place to start. Speaking up in situations of injustice is an example of how white people can use their privilege as an ally in the workforce. And because national change starts at the local policy level, it is also important to support these changes that help ease the accessibility of things like paid leave and affordable child care for working women. 

As always, education is a necessary tool to better our understanding of the world around us. Researching the race and gender biases within the workforce allows for a better acknowledgment of Black women’s experiences.   

Unfortunately, the narrative of men’s societal contributions as doctors and soldiers but women through the supervision of the home and children is embedded into the very foundations of America. These stories of female ineptitude do not romanticize femininity, they only promote sexism and bigotry. American women are among the most informed and strong-willed human beings in the world. To continue the story of their manipulation into domestic roles is divorced from reality and demeaning. 

One could blame it on sexism and racism, which are both deeply rooted in our culture or the patriarchal mindset that places women in the backseat. But contrary to popular belief, working women of all races and ethnicities are superheroes and they most definitely deserve your support. 

— Rachael Bailey, Intern

This Lockdown is a Mental Health Crisis in the Making

During this unprecedented and peculiar time of COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place, I have seen more than a few people talking about settling into this space to read, meditate, sing, dance and remember how to find sacredness in the simplest of things. They talk about the world slowing down; humanity healing.

The kinds of practices that the so-called “positivity movement” suggest may not be helpful to everyone–at least not in the form we typically find them on Google or YouTube. Many of us need much more careful guidance.

I believe in much of this sentiment. It is important to uplift ourselves and each other during this difficult time. There is value in making the most of this unusual moment.

But, and as often happens in life, our obsession with staying positive–both individually and culturally–means that we do not create space for the complex, real, raw human experience. We fail to create the space for people to feel safe in speaking their struggles. This failure has the potential to silence and shame those who are suffering alone, inside their homes. This will make them feel that there is something wrong with them because of their inability to emotionally cope.

I believe we need to stop romanticizing this lockdown, because, quite simply, it is a mental health crisis in the making. Here are some things I would like us all to have in our minds during this time, so maybe we can hold space for both ourselves and each other in a more complete and loving way.

First, being safe and secure in your home is a privilege. Many people in our community are still working to make ends meet and are struggling to buy food. Some people cannot buy food because by the time their benefits come in people have stockpiled everything first.

Second, many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, are coping with childhood trauma. In effective trauma work, the last thing we ever want to do is unleash a tidal wave of old emotions all at one time. The already overloaded nervous system cannot handle it. To feel it all at once would be too much.

And that is exactly what is happening to many people right now.

Add to this that our health is under threat. Add to this that some of us are losing loved ones. Add to this that there are clearly other unknown political agendas at play. Add to this the fact that many people are under enormous financial pressure. Add to this that many people with children are now unable to access any personal space at all. Add to this that many people are unable to get out into nature and are being suffocated by four walls around the clock.

Many people are going to be feeling agitated, angry, depressed, anxious, and afraid. Many people will be feeling confused, trapped, and alone.

I want you to know that if you feel these things, regardless of your history, there is nothing wrong with you and it is not shameful. This situation is overwhelming. It is traumatic in and of its own right and re-traumatizing for those of with unhealthy histories.

We will learn much during this time. Some of us will learn to be quieter or to need less. Many of us will get precious hours with our loved ones that will be treasured and remembered forever. But most of us will also suffer. Some will end up in serious emotional crisis because of it. Not everyone will have access to the help they both need and deserve.

Let us understand that each of our experiences will differ greatly, and be equally valid. It is okay if you are enjoying your time away from work. It is okay if you feel completely panicked by your sudden loss of income. It is okay if you are enjoying singing along to old music whilst spring cleaning your home. It is okay if you feel all of these things or sit somewhere in between. It is okay if how you feel seems to swing back and forth from day to day or even moment to moment.

No one is failing. We are all doing our best.

So let us please hold one another softly in the harsh reality of this unprecedented moment. Because if we can do that above all else, humanity really will heal.

The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing is still serving the community in this time of uncertainty. Please feel free to reach out to us via email, Facebook, or phone call if you have any questions.

Melina Brann, Executive Director

Self-Love in Quarantine

“Well, quarantine’s the perfect time to fix that” my friend says to me. We then continue to complain about the way our bodies have changed during quarantine. We’ve had so much time alone with ourselves that it’s hard not to get frustrated when the jeans you bought 5 months ago don’t fit anymore or when that “Quick Easy Abs” workout by Chloe Ting just seems impossible to start up again. After all, the surplus of workout videos, fat-shaming memes, and jokes about the “quarantine 15” definitely shows that our society is concerned with the effect this pandemic might have on our bodies. 

Not only is it completely normal to feel afraid and stressed out during a pandemic, but it’s also super easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us right now. And I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone in this.

That feeling you get when you’re checking Instagram or chatting with your friends, that impression that you should be doing something more to “better yourself.” That’s called quarantine guilt. It comes just when you least expect it, when your friends are bragging about their daily runs, Pinterest recipes, or new language skills. 

There’s nothing wrong with working towards something you want to achieve during quarantine, it actually seems logical to use all this excess time to learn something new. However, if you want to take this time to slow down and relax, that’s fine too! At the end of the day, the whole point of staying home is to stay safe – not to undertake an extensive self-improvement process.

Although there is nothing wrong with maintaining physical activity during quarantine, we must always go easy on ourselves and know that it’s ok to feel uncertain or unmotivated once in a while. We must allow ourselves to take a break and relax, it’s not the end of the world even though it may seem like it. It’s ok if you didn’t get the chance to do the things you wanted to do during quarantine, you still have your whole life ahead of you to accomplish those things.

Even though self-love will most definitely look different during this unprecedented time, it’s 100% still important to take care of our mental and physical health. There are a variety of ways to take a step back from all the noise, after all, it’s a global pandemic – you don’t have to be ok all the time. I encourage our readers to not feel obligated to keep up with a routine during quarantine, nor guilty if you have yet to find one that works for you. It is natural to feel pressure during a time of uncertainty. What’s important is that we acknowledge those negative feelings and focus on turning them into positive ones.

The next time you notice yourself having negative thoughts about your body or appearances, take a moment to think about why you’re feeling this way. Often times, the things we dislike about our physical appearance tend to be internal challenges from other aspects of our lives. These can include things like work-related stress, school anxiety, depression, or other mental health battles that we eventually deflect onto the person staring back at us in the mirror. I encourage our readers to recognize those negative thoughts, and for each one, try to think about something positive. Experts have said that when we greet one negative thought or sentiment with five positive ones, there is a greater chance we can offset that negativity. Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, it can be helpful to counter those thoughts with five good things that happened today, five things you like about yourself, or even five things you can’t wait to do tomorrow.

Mindfulness meditation has been recommended by health specialists across the country as a means to reduce stress. This process of meditation allows one to focus on the present rather than the uncontrollable “what ifs” that produce anxiety.  Even incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine can help slow your heart rate down, clear your mind, and strengthen your immune system. 

Sometimes, unwinding can also mean taking a break from social media and news channels. Because it is very easy to become overwhelmed and self-conscious when scrolling through Instagram and Facebook for too long, it doesn’t hurt to take a break from it all. For women especially, social media can lead to a false sense of control where users feel as if they need to alter their bodies for more positive attention.

In a time of stay-at-home orders, it can seem like the only things you have control over are what you eat and how much you exercise. However, we can control whether we are self-punishing or self-compassionate. Don’t waste your energy searching for the “perfect” way to quarantine, your body may change, but you are still you. Having a little bit more fat on your body does not change who you are nor does it make you any less beautiful.

As a final message to our readers, remember that everyone struggles with their self-esteem at some point in their lives and sometimes we might need to take a break. Always be kind to yourself, you deserve the same love and compassion you give to others!

— Rachael Bailey, Undergraduate Intern

The Power of Microaggressions

“Well you don’t really look Black.” “You speak good English for an Asian.” “I’m not racist, I have a lot of Black friends.” “She’s so aggressive.” “No, where are you really from?” “He doesn’t even act gay.”

These insults, snubs, and attitudes against marginalized populations are called microaggressions. Defined by Columbia University Psychologists, these are “brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that are hostile, derogatory or negative.”

It is often difficult to identify microaggressions. This is because when they do occur, the receiver may be met with disbelief and is told to stop being overly touchy or sensitive. Although this concept tends to deem people “thin-skinned,” public health experts have revealed that the implicit bias against marginalized populations goes hand-in-hand with long term stress and deteriorating mental health.

Although the snide comments or jokes may be subtle, the body tends to react with both anger and anxiety, placing a large amount of stress on the brain.

Imagine being placed into the same box or category, over and over again. This chronic exposure, which often begins at a young age, prematurely ages both the body and the mind. Repeated exposure to prejudice and discrimination leads to the accumulation of depressive symptoms, unhealthy behaviors like overeating, increased likelihood of traumatic stress disorders as well as substance abuse.

So, what can be done? How can we work to minimize the physical and psychological harm of covert racism?

The first step is our willingness to recognize how we each contribute to the problem. Acknowledging our own bias, privilege, and power can help create a larger understanding of the impact we each have on each other as human beings.

It is also critical that we speak up and hold each other accountable. Microaggressions occur every day, although they might be subtle, they are there. When you hear someone tell a woman to “act more like a lady,” or tell an Indian Muslim to “go back to your country,” speak up. Do not continue the cycle. As a bystander, you hold so much power in being able to show the perpetrator that it is not appropriate behavior.

Calling out microaggressions for what they are, holds individuals and our systems and institutions accountable. It incentivizes more thoughtful communication across gender, sexuality, race, and religion.

After you’ve paid attention to what you notice in your own environment, I encourage our readers to also look within yourself as to what we have been trained to believe about others. When we see other people, our brain is automatically going to pick up differences amongst ourselves. However, it is our job to not focus on or call out these differences but rather to embrace the diversity of those around us.

Although it can often be difficult for majority groups to recognize the trauma of minority groups simply because they haven’t lived it, it’s important to believe that people are telling the truth when it comes to what they experience. I implore our readers to listen, even when it means leaning into the scary realization that what marginalized populations have to deal with is worse than you thought.

It is uncomfortable, but this is also where empathy comes in. And the key to confronting bias is to expose yourself to what makes you uncomfortable, to different ideas, different environments, and different individuals.

Although you may not know exactly how the other person feels, you can simply be there for them. Remember that being empathetic is just about being a good friend, not finding a solution. This reliance on empathy and human decency in our society can help lead to a more inclusive atmosphere.

To that end, as we become an increasingly multi-cultural society, seek advice on how to become a more inclusive individual. If someone says you offend them, try not to get defensive, take a moment to calm down and recognize that it probably took courage for the other person to bring it up. When someone calls you out, they are not saying you are a bad person, they are showing you the bigger picture.  

To our readers who find themselves feeling overwhelmed: start small. When it comes to battling huge issues like systemic racism, it’s easier to start at home and focus on the impact you can have on the people around you.

Individual actions can go a long way, and that change can very well start with each of you.

— Rachael Bailey, Intern

Domestic Violence & COVID-19: The Perfect Storm

Avoiding public spaces and staying home might help stop the spread of COVID-19, but for many survivors of domestic violence, staying home is another, more personal, pandemic.

Home can be a dangerous place for domestic violence victims, most of which are children, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Existing data has revealed an increase in sexual violence cases as well as an increase in calls to the domestic violence hotline number, specifically in marginalized communities.

It is important to remember that domestic violence was a global pandemic long before COVID-19.

Since February of this year, the UN has expressed enormous concern for women living in countries with fewer legislation preventing gender-based violence. These include places like the Middle East, North Africa and China where a large population of their citizens have been subject to domestic violence since a young age.

This spike in domestic violence reporting however can also justify the drop in formal complaints in countries like Chile and Bolivia. Places with preexisting gendered risks and vulnerabilities, as well as widened inequalities are often home to women who are hesitant to seek help or assistance due to movement restrictions of stay-at-home orders.

Today, rising numbers of individuals infected with COVID-19 as well as increased anxiety, unemployment, and financial stress has set the stage for a domestic violence crisis.

As a result of heightened stress, abusers have the ability to refer to an increased intake of drugs and alcohol or the purchase of guns as safety precautions, all of which can create a ticking time bomb. And with the separation of families and friends across our communities, these victims have found themselves stuck in violent environments, completely isolated from any possible resources.

As cities around the world have seen a dramatic increase in the need for social services like childcare offices, healthcare centers, sexual violence hotlines, and food banks, all of which are most likely both overwhelmed and understaffed. Unfortunately, until the governments can provide sufficient resources, people of vulnerable conditions will continue to be subject to the high likelihood of sexual violence.

It is no surprise that rates of domestic violence go up whenever families spend more time together during Christmas, Thanksgiving and summer vacations for example.

And now with families in a worldwide lockdown, it is important to advocate for our governments to address this crisis that they should have seen coming.

One can only hope that our elected officials of government and public offices will be mindful of the consequences in holding economics at a higher value than that of human lives during a global public health crisis. This pandemic has the power to open our eyes to the struggles that many victims of gender-based violence face in terms of mental health, financial stability, job security, and general safety.

In support of survivors and victims of domestic violence, we as a society must urge our government officials to incorporate a gender perspective as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several organizations and campaigns around the world have already taken innovative steps to spread awareness as well as resources available to survivors. Many of these resources include hotlines, text message-based reporting as well as many mobile applications.

So what can those who have not been personally impacted by domestic violence do? How can we help those who are walking on eggshells in their own homes?

A huge way to help is to build a safe community around victims and survivors. If any of our readers know or suspect that someone suffers from domestic abuse, I encourage you to reach out and reassure them that you are a vital line of support and trust. By checking in with people regularly, you can keep an eye out for warning signs of abuse by partners or family members.

Speaking up and getting help is not easy, and there is an increasingly important need for us to listen and acknowledge the stories of victims and survivors.

We must remember that by believing survivors, we are pushing forward to creating a safe space for people to step up and talk about their stories, and consequently heal.

If you are unsure of what to say or how to go about speaking with a victim or survivor, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) suggests their TALK acronym: Thank them for telling you; Ask how you can help; Listen without judgement; and Keep supporting them. 

Humans are social and emotional beings. We need community, and now is the time to stand together with a common mindset to help each other get through the fear and uncertainty of isolation.

Now more than ever, it is our job to look out for one another. Whether you’re a victim, a survivor or a supporter, please know that you’re not alone and that help is always available. Even in times like these, there is still hope and as human beings we must encourage each other to be there for one another.

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic or intimate partner violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Additional resources are available on its website. Here are also chat or text services you can reach either through the website or by texting LOVEIS to 222522, should you not be able to speak safely.

— Rachael Bailey, Intern, she/her

Colorism: Self Esteem & Self Love

Since the beginning of time, skin color has continued to serve as the most obvious determinant in how a person will be judged and treated. Because this country was built on the principles of racism, it is a known concept that light skin is favored over dark skin. This privilege of lighter skinned persons over dark-skinned persons is called colorism.

Colorism is not something that only impacts Black Americans of the United States however, colorism is felt around the world including Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. During our country’s period of enslaving people, those with lighter skin or more European features were given more favorable treatment. This strategy was intended to pit darker skinned people against lighter skinned people.

Although it would be wonderful to live in a world where skin color didn’t matter, this “colorblindness” suggests that in our society, race does not matter when it very much does.

And, like racism, colorism is also engrained into the fabric of America.

Therefore, in order to correct the past damage of our forefathers, we have to acknowledge our history and embrace our responsibility to see color better than those who lived before us.

That said, the conversation surrounding our societal preference of lighter skinned women is one that should begin in our homes. Families of every ethnicity and nationality should begin to celebrate the spectrum of human skin color instead of praising one over the other. It is in doing so that we can become a more inclusive society, equalizing the path to success for all women, regardless of the color of our skin.

Existing research suggests that the darker the skin tone of a woman, the more likely they are to report suffering from discrimination and prejudice in their daily lives. In terms of access to mental health resources, lighter-skinned women have better outcomes than those of darker-skinned women.

And as a result of this ill-minded favoritism, one’s health, opportunity for success, housing, wealth, education and mental health is very well determined by the color of their skin.

Colorism also plays a large role in the presence of low self-esteem of darker-skinned African American women.  These ideas of wanting to be accepted or “beautiful” are relatable, however there shouldn’t be standards held to which skin tone is more beautiful.

Many light-skinned African American women like myself, are constantly having our race or ethnicity questioned.

“What are you?”

Although the question might not result in any form of actual oppression, it does result in a psychological burden. Because of this, many light-skinned women have felt the need to prove their blackness to both Black and non-Black people. Considering how significant racial-identity is to our society, feeling like you can’t identify with a group presents a variety of mental health problems.

“You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl”

This statement might seem like a compliment however it is actually both insulting and belittling. In exposing the multiple stigmas surrounding colorism, we can work to spark a conversation and enlighten those around us on how this racial favoritism affects our mental health.

Teaching the little girls and boys of our community to embrace their genetic makeup and to accept themselves without altering their features, can have a profound impact on the generations to come.

We must work together to create a society that teaches us to value our own skin color whether we are light or dark. 

I encourage our readers to “love the skin that you’re in”, to love every bit of yourself. Being confident and knowing your worth is something we have to apply to both ourselves as well as those around us. Women are the strongest people on earth, and taking the time to support other strong women regardless of how light or dark she is, can work wonders on someone’s self-esteem.

Learning to embrace all parts of ourselves is a constant and ever-growing process, but loving yourself is the first step in being happy and being able to acknowledge your full potential.

I hope to encourage our readers to stand with those who want a better future for the next generation, a future where we embrace all shades of skin color and wear it proudly.

— Rachael Bailey, She/Her

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