For those far removed from the issue, it is easy to read the words “gender gap” and think of it merely as a myth made up by feminists, or as evidence of a misogynistic world worthy of an Instagram post. But, the gender gap is so much more than that. It's a real issue looming over the lives of millions of women.
The anti-feminist rhetoric brewing during the pandemic necessitates a new lens from which to look through in order to understand the issue and the possible solutions.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recently released Global Gender Gap Report proves exactly why the gender gap is worth considering during the pandemic. It is no secret that women have disproportionately faced the economic hardship of the pandemic, but the lasting harm from this, has set back progress in the fight for gender equality. Under current trajectories, the report predicts the global gender gap taking 135.6 years to close.
Economic participation and opportunity is the second-largest gap measured in the report, with only 58 percent of the gap closed so far. Typically referred to as the “wage gap,” this issue must be a greater priority for the U.S. to address now and post-pandemic. Gendered occupational segregation and childcare norms, the very conditions for the wage gap, have showcased their harm in a unique fashion throughout the pandemic.
For example in 2019, 26 of the 30 highest-paying jobs in the U.S. were male-dominated, whereas 23 of the 30 lowest-paying jobs in the U.S. were female dominated. Generally, earnings in female-dominated occupations like nursing, personal aid and teaching (averaged on account of skill) make 73.5 percent of earnings in male-dominated occupations.
Though this can be interpreted as women “clustering in low-paying careers . . . and men in more lucrative professions,” perhaps it more so reflects a disparity in what our country values as work.
Though the principles upholding our economic system are quite complex, clearly the standards of “real work” in this country culturally excludes interpersonal and domestic labor, as they historically have been executed by women. It’s a culture that allows domestic work to continue going unpaid despite the market totaling $1.5 trillion worth of labor.
Domestic care and female-dominated jobs continue to be perceived as “not real work” by the greater part of our society. After all, it is easy to justify a greater value for dangerous, manual labor in the rather male-dominated occupations as opposed to the safe, interpersonal labor of the typically female-dominated occupations.
That was, until the pandemic, of course.
COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, and if climate change continues as it is now, we can expect more viruses in our future. Jobs held by women will continue to be high-risk long after the public stops perceiving COVID-19 as a major threat. This increased risk in interpersonal labor, therefore, should result in a greater value—culturally and economically—for female-dominated occupations.
Almost like a long-term hero pay, a greater investment for the wages in female-dominated occupations is key to closing the economic participation and opportunity gap outlined by the World Economic Forum.
Women working in these under-appreciated sectors of labor have long been neglected as our society's heroes. If companies in these interpersonal industries won’t come to value women’s work on their own, then strikes, boycotts and union backing may be the only options left for advocating to close the gender gap post-pandemic.
This is the opinion of Mekai Watson, a freshman screenwriting major from Dallas, Texas. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.