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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

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

What is Intersectionality, and What Does It Have To Do With Me?

Here at the Women’s Center, intersectionality is central to the work we do.

We know that everyone reading this has come to follow the Women’s Center from different entry points. Some of us hold women’s empowerment close to heart, seeking a more equitable world. Some of us have experienced trauma personally, perhaps through generations of our daily. Some of us have little experience with social justice, but seek a better understanding of inequity in Greater Lansing. All of us seek change in our community, no matter how we became involved.

Despite our shared vision, social equity and justice work can oftentimes feel exclusionary to those who are not familiar with the lingo. Intersectionality, in particular, is a term that many people and organizations deem as important, but that others are unclear on. Understanding the terminology is useful for people expanding their knowledge on the issues they care about.

What is it and where does it come from?

Intersectionality, n. The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise. (Oxford Dictionary)

Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.

In other words, intersectional theory states that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “woman” and “black”) do not exist independently of each other, and that each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression. For example, a Black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, respectively. Black women, faced with multiple forms of oppression, only make $0.64. Understanding Intersectionality is essential to combatting the interwoven prejudices people face in their daily lives.

Kimberle Crenshaw, law professor and social theorist, first coined the term in her 1989 paper “Demarginalizing The Intersection Of Race And Sex: A Black Feminist Critique Of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory And Antiracist Politics.” The theory emerged two decades earlier, however, when Black feminists began to speak out about the white, middle-class nature of the mainstream feminist movement. Many Black women found it difficult to identify with the issues of the mainstream (white) feminist movement, such as the pressure to be a homemaker. Black women, who often had to work in order to keep their family afloat and therefor did not have the luxury of being homemakers, did not feel as though these issues pertained to their experiences. At the same time, many Black women experienced sexism while participating in the Civil Rights movement and were often shut out of leadership positions. This intersectional experience of facing racisms in the feminist movement and sexism in civil rights encouraged Black women to call for a feminist practice that centralized their lived experiences.

While many who championed intersectionality early on where Black women, the theory has proven necessary to understanding a wide range of difference, including individuals’ sexual orientation, age, class, disability, and more.

Currently, intersectionality is considered crucial to social equity work. Activists and community organizations are calling for and participating in more dynamic conversations about the differences in experience among people with different overlapping identities. Without an intersectional lens, events and movements that aim to address injustice towards one group may end up perpetuating systems of inequities towards other groups.

Intersectionality full informs the Women’s Center’s work, by encouraging nuanced conversations around inequity. It enlightens us to health disparities among women of color, provides pathways for our youth to understand identity, and is crucial to the advocacy work we support.

What can I do?

Intersectionality may seem theoretical, but it is meant to be utilized. No matter how or when you have become involved with equity work, it is always possible to more fully integrate intersectionality into your view of these issues.

Is your work toward social equity intersectional? Check out these tips and reflect:

Recognize difference.

Oftentimes, it is easier to believe and to explain to others that “all women feel” a certain way or that “LGBTQ+ people believe” some common understanding, but this does not reflect reality. We must recognize that all unique experiences of identity, and particularly ones that involve multiple overlapping oppressions, are valid.

Do not shy away from recognizing that people experience the world differently based on their overlapping identity markers. Because of the way we have been socialized to continue feeding systems of oppression, we often feel it is rude to formally recognize others’ difference. We see this in how people are uncomfortable naming another person’s perceived race or asking for someone’s preferred pronouns. However, we must recognize these identities as a way to step beyond our assumptions that our experience is common. One way of doing so is when you attend rallies, take a look at the signs that others hold — how do they assert their identity and how does this inform the issues they care most about?

Avoid oversimplified language.

Once we recognize this difference, we can move away from language that seeks to define people by a singular identity. You may have heard after the Women’s March that many trans folks and allies felt uncomfortable with the vagina-centric themes of the march. Assuming that all women have vaginas or are defined by their bodies is an oversimplification that erases the experiences of those who exist beyond the gender binary. By avoiding language that assumes our own experiences are baseline, we can open ourselves up to listening to others’ points of view.

Analyze the space you occupy.

Becoming comfortable recognizing difference also involves recognizing when that difference is not represented in the spaces you occupy. Diversity of all kinds matter in your workplace, your activism, your community spaces, and more. If you are meeting with a local LGBTQ+ organization, is there representation of LGBTQ+ people of color? You may feel that your workplace is racially and ethnically diverse, but is it accessible to people with disabilities? Take note of the welcoming or distancing practices of the spaces you frequent.

Seek other points of view.

Explore the narratives of those with different interlocking identities than you. This includes surrounding yourself with others with differing interwoven identities, but keep in mind that oftentimes, even when you have a diverse group of people in an activist space, it falls on people to educate others about the oppressions they face. When these people share their experiences, take the opportunity to listen. However, do not expect people with identity markers other than your own to be there or to want to educate others. In your own time, seek out existing intersectional narratives, from your podcasts to your television. If you are unsure about a concept or want to learn more about a specific intersection of identity, Google it! This will help you be better prepared to enter into conversations with others and progress together.

Show up.

Do not expect people who face different systems of oppression than you to rally for causes you care about if you do not rally for theirs. As you hear about issues others face, learn about the work that is currently being done around these topics. Listen and defer to those who live with these intersectional identities each day. As you do, you will likely deepen your understanding of your own identity and the subjects you care about most.

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