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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

Women’s Equal Pay Day 2021

In addition to celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day this month, Equal Pay Day falls on March 24 this year for all women in the U.S. 

In 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) first observed Equal Pay Day as a symbolic way to raise awareness about the gender wage gap and push toward equal pay. 

Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year women would have to work to earn the same as men did in the previous year. Therefore, it would take an additional three months for the average woman in the U.S. to earn the same amount as the average man does in 2020. In a typical 9:00-5:00 workday, this would mean that women begin working for free starting at 2:40 pm

However, even greater disparities exist for women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Women of color experience larger gender wage gaps and must work even longer to earn the same amount as men. Equal Pay Day for different racial and ethnic groups reveal how many days women have to work into the next year to receive the same earnings as white men. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on March 9, 2021. On average, Asian American and Pacific Islander women make $0.85 for every dollar made by a white man.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is August 3, 2021. Black women typically earn $0.63 for every dollar that a white man earns. 

Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on September 8, 2021. Native women, on average, are paid $0.60 for every dollar paid to white men. 

Latina Equal Pay Day is on October 21, 2021. As the last Equal Pay Day observance of the year, Latinas experience the greatest pay disparity, as Latinas typically earn $0.55 for every dollar earned by white men. 

These wage discrepancies highlight the unequal financial power between men and women in the workforce. The gender wage gap persists, despite the Equal Pay Act being passed over half a century ago. In the U.S. Women in the U.S. earn 82 cents for every dollar that a man earns. Furthermore, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that pay equity will not be reached until 2059. 

Although progress has been made over the years, the fight for economic equity must continue until all women earn the same as their male equivalents.  

— Sophia Zhang, Advocacy Intern

Celebrating Us This Black History Month

“I just want a week without a major event that causes me to worry about my livelihood as a Black woman.”

I recently texted a friend this after a conversation about our naïve hope that February will be less brutal somehow because it is Black History Month. But since this conversation, it seems like other Black folks share the same apprehensive enthusiasm – instead of being excited for a month intended to uplift our stories, culture, and leaders, we find ourselves anxious about the days to come.

It is peculiar to celebrate on cue, for just one month; the shortest month of the year at that. We’re expected to celebrate historical Black figures, to yell about our struggles, to push forward despite our utter exhaustion and anger to take advantage of the one time of year that the country is paying attention. So often Black people have to immediately power through our trauma so that we can stand up and shout our pain when people are finally listening. Constantly explaining out personhood is something we are all too familiar with and a burden we are trying to release after an unrelenting year.

Black History Month has felt like it was forced on us rather than being for us. It is exhausting constantly being bombarded with reminders of what we don’t have and were never meant to have in this country. Growing up as one of the only Black girls in my predominantly white high school, and even in college, it seems like a betrayal to reject it. But it feels fake, tiresome, and it is just not enough. I felt, and still feel sometimes, like Black History Month was treated by my peers as an article you read and forget about as soon as it’s over.

These feelings are too familiar. Our history, no matter how you put it, still comes with an emotional sting that never truly goes away. For Black people, 2020 was maddeningly and infuriatingly much of the same. In the middle of a global pandemic, our businesses were closing, our families were torn through by a virus that was compounded by our lack of access to healthcare, and our community was mourning. Then, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other names of Black people who were taken toon soon dominated media. This year felt like a soul-crushing re-opening of wounds we’ve never healed from. Yes, we now have VP Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to serve in this position, but this month should serve as a teachable moment for us to acknowledge the complicated history of being the first Black anything, and the dangers of placing a nation’s hopes on one Black woman.

2021 Black History Month has a heavy responsibility of setting an example in this new world, while also reminding us that our own realities haven’t changed as much. Maternal mortality is still three times higher for Black women than it is for white women. Black people are still up to ten times more likely to be arrested for minor crimes. A young Black boy can’t even ride an elevator holding his phone without being violated.

At the Women’s Center, we encourage women to share their stories and heal from them. But it doesn’t end there. Our goal is to empower women of all ages today, tomorrow, and forever. We are writing our history now as the victors, not the victims.

Over and over, Black people – particularly Black women – have moved the wheel of history in real time. It was brilliant Black women whose joy, perseverance, and determination to be seen could not be contained. Women like Stacey Abrams, Amanda Gorman, Aurora James, Dr. Kissmekia Corbett, Rosalind Brewer, Megan Thee Stallion, and more whose spirits moved us to action. To vote. To buy Black. To believe. To Lead. To heal.

So do the Black women we know and cheer for, hype up on Instagram, and tweet about daily. Because, quite simply, we ARE them.

Instead of learning about ourselves through the removed lens of Black history articulated by white researchers, let’s commit to meeting and challenging our past this month. Let’s recognize that we can celebrate progress while still remaining resolute in our cry for personhood. Let’s share our stories, not as heroes, but as whole humans.

This Black History Month, we are acknowledging our past while weaving together new history. We are re-educating ourselves on the things our history books didn’t teach us: the brilliance of communities like Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the unburdened joy of Black roller skate culture, the New Black Renaissance of culture happening right now, and the complicated history of hearing Black melodies and seeing our dances on mainstream white stages. We’re going to delve into all of that this month.

This Black History Month, we’re celebrating, not because the calendar is telling us to, but because our community compels us to. And if that means ignoring the whole thing and just doing us, so be it. Because if nothing else this month, we’re going to be our Blackest selves – just like we are every day.

Melina Brann

Executive Director of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing

Mental Health Resolutions for the New Year

Not all New Year resolutions focus on finances, weight, and general health, some extend to mental health as well. Below are some mental health resolutions that are solid goals for not only this year, but every year.

1. I will commit myself to being physically active each day. Studies show that there is a strong link between mental and physical health.

2. I will learn to relax and enjoy life. I will commit myself to carving out some time each day to “shutting down” and doing something for myself that helps me rest and research my mental and emotional batteries.

3. I will diligently speak nicely about myself and treat myself with respect. Good things begin from within, and a positive outlook on ourselves is a key to attracting more positivity into our lives.

4. I won’t be too hard on myself. I will remind myself daily that as a human, I will make mistakes or miss goals, and that is okay. What is important is going forward in these situations in a positive manner.

5. I will stay mindful in the moment. I won’t dwell too much on the past or spend too much time fixating on the future. I will remember to live in the here and now and enjoy what life has to offer.

6. I will act instead of reacting. Rather than allowing myself to get caught up in reacting to the actions of others that push my buttons, I will be prepared with a mental list of disarming statements to counteract the negative statements of others.

7. I will not allow myself to be defined by a label. Instead of thinking and speaking of myself as overweight, anxious, depressed, etc.. I will say instead “I have depression and today I will exercise to help manage that.”

8. I will strive to become the person I want to be. I will view life as a journey full of adventures rather than a series of obstacles I have to overcome. I will enjoy the ride that life is, rather than focusing on the bumps in the road.

Always remember that you are worth it and worthy. Cheers to a year of growth!

Preparing For the Holidays During COVID-19

For many people, the holiday season will look different this year. Often, the last few months of the year are busy with parties and visiting family and friends. But due to COVID-19, things like traveling and gathering in large groups may not be possible.

Many people have lost loved ones and will be missing someone’s presence during the festivities, and even more have lost their jobs and are dealing with financial stress. Others, like healthcare workers, may be working overtime and unable to take as much time off around the holidays as they usually can. It can be hard to cope with these kinds of changes, especially if certain holidays are the only time you see some of your loved ones. 

If you live with a mental health condition, you may have an especially difficult time with the uncertainty and the change of plans this year. Many people with mental health conditions find consistency important in their recovery, especially during times of high stress – like both the pandemic and the holiday season. A sudden shift in tradition may have you feeling an extreme loss of control on top of disappointment.

Change is difficult for most people, especially when you didn’t ask for or even expect these changes. But that doesn’t mean that the holidays are destined to be a disappointment this year. There are plenty of ways to cope with the tough feelings you’re having while still enjoying the holidays: 

Identify How You’re Feeling. 

Figuring out your emotions about the upcoming holidays can make things feel less overwhelming. Most people are feeling a lot of different ways at once right now, which is hard for our brains to process and understand. This year has been a difficult year for many reasons. That means that some of your distress is likely related to things other than the holidays. It is completely normal for you to be feeling a bit more emotional than usual right now. Take some time to sort through your emotions in whatever way is most productive for you – you can journal, talk to a friend, or just spend some quiet time alone thinking. Once you have a better idea of the specific feelings you’re experiencing, you can start making plans to cope with them.

Acknowledge What You’ve Lost.

While the holidays are mainly about thankfulness and celebration, this can also be a really hard time of year, even during normal circumstances. If you’re missing a loved one, think of ways to honor them during your festivities. If you’ve lost a job or had to drop out of school, take the time to recognize the challenges that came with that. Even if you haven’t lost anything concrete, we’ve all lost our sense of normalcy this year – it’s okay to grieve that during this time.

Make The Most Of It. 

There’s no denying that things will be different this year, but holidays don’t need to be canceled. There will be some things that you can’t do right now, but there are surely some that you can. You can still send sweets to your friends and family, make your favorite holiday meal, light the menorah, decorate gingerbread houses, and break out confetti poppers for New Year’s Eve.

For the things you can’t do – brainstorm how to adapt them for COVID times. If you’re disappointed about holiday parties being cancelled, come up with virtual games to play over Zoom instead. Start a new tradition with your household. Feeling lonely because you won’t get to see your extended family? Round up your cousins to video chat while preparing a dinner. 

Don’t Romanticize Your Typical Holiday Plans. 

Remember that while your holiday season may normally be full of excitement and joy, it can also be a time of high stress. Long days of travel, endless to-do lists, and dinners with that one family member you don’t get along with are all part of the holidays too. Even though you may be giving up some of your favorite things about the holidays this year, you’re probably leaving some stressors behind too. You don’t need to be happy about this – sometimes the chaos is part of the fun! – but be careful not to distort the situation and make it seem worse than it really is. 

Practice Gratitude. 

Gratitude is a major focus this time of year, and while it may seem harder to find things to appreciate, there is still plenty to be thankful for. Make a conscious effort to regularly identify some things that you’re grateful for. It can be something as broad as your health, or something as specific as your favorite song playing on the radio the last time you got in the car. Change is hard, but it isn’t always bad. There are still ways to celebrate the season with your loved ones, even if you must give up some of your favorite traditions. Find creative ways to adapt. Or start new traditions – they may even add more meaning to your holiday season.

If you’re still finding yourself sad, hopeless, or unable to enjoy the holidays this year, you may be struggling with a mental health condition. Please feel free to call us to discuss options.

Coping With Seasonal Depression During COVID

With the end of daylight saving time, daylight arrives earlier in the morning while darkness falls earlier in the day. For many people, this stretch of shortened days, extended nights and colder weather triggers a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Combined with all the uncertainty connected to employment and the COVID-19 pandemic, SAD season could be more difficult than usual this year.

Except for its seasonal pattern, the symptoms of SAD are similar to those of clinical depression: pervasive sadness, undue fatigue, difficulty concentrating, excessive sleep, lost interest in normally enjoyed activities, and cravings for starches and sweets and its attendant weight gain.

About 6% of the US population is diagnosed with SAD, and of that, women are diagnosis four times more often than men. Younger adults have a higher risk than older adults and those with existing depression may experience more problems during the winter season. This year we are expecting even more people to experience symptoms.

The anxiety and stress provoked by the pandemic will increase the risk and severity of seasonal depression for everyone, especially with restrictions limiting what we can do to stay well, even if we normally have good coping resources.

So what are some practical things to do this winter to help seasonal depression?

  • See a professional – book an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist
  • Get some sunlight – a morning or midday walk gives you the benefit of both daylight and exercise
  • Finding joy in the little things around you – for example, take notice of the beautiful birds on your daily walk)
  • Taking classes online – follow tutorials on youtube for free or sign up for local classes
  • Online social groups – sign up for the WCGL Social Group here
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule – regulating your body rhythms helps manage SAD symptoms
  • Stay connected with people – call one family member or friend every week
  • Exercise regularly – any type of exercise will work!
  • Structure in daily activities – establish and maintain structure by doing things in a set pattern every day

A number of therapies, medications, and behavioral modifications can be used to effectively manage SAD symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, keep in mind that the symptoms of other mental health conditions may be nearly identical to those of SAD. Always visit a health care provider for a proper diagnosis.

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