In a country that seems almost embarrassingly desperate to prove that it is making headway in regards to women's wage equality and employment opportunities, there is nothing particularly incendiary or groundbreaking in the statement that this is not the case. And, perhaps, that is a quite sugary-sweet way to phrase it. While the media often self-consciously reminds us that we have women in power positions at such behemoths as YouTube, PepsiCo and H-P, these assertions and namedrops seem touted more to distract us from reality than provide truthful accounts of the situation. These women, quite bluntly, are diamonds in the rough. In fact, the statement that women still make only 78 cents for every male dollar is not far off. As Jenna Goudreau so un-ironically put it back in 2012: "It's been a standout year for women in business. For the first time in history, there are now 20 female CEOs at the 500 biggest U.S. corporations." Wow. Go us.
These statistics have more subtle, real-world implications as well. In my experience in the male-dominated world of entertainment, the situation is heart-rending. Take, for example, the summer smash hit Guardians of The Galaxy. The writer, Nicole Perlman, is the first female to ever have a writing credit on a Marvel movie. E-ver. And I'd task you to find ten people outside of the industry who know her name. What "might have been a watershed moment for female filmmakers hoping to be taken seriously in a wildly popular movie genre that is often considered reserved for men" was instead barely a footnote. When I attended AFI's Female Directing Workshop showcase earlier this year, in order to support a talented friend of mine who had been accepted into the program, Kim Peirce put the situation quite eloquently, speaking of the question that was posed to her repeatedly on her press tours. "Why did it take so long to make a second movie? I feel that I can safely say that none of the women directors in this room would probably ever ask that about another woman director. We all know why. Less than 6% of the top 250 films and only 14% of television episodes in 2013 were directed by women."
And anyone who tries to fight their way around the realities of this gender-income gap is kidding themselves. How about the article in the Daily Beast, in which Christina Hoff Sommers tries to explain-away the situation by pointing out the fact that women are perhaps choosing more superfluous careers. "Women, far more than men, appear to be drawn to jobs in the caring professions; and men are more likely to turn up in people-free zones." As if that is something to hang a bonnet on. And, it just so happens, is completely untrue.
So what about males and females with exactly the same college degrees and majors, pursuing exactly the same career path? Of all of the promotions that I have seen since my graduation in 2010, I can state definitively that majority of them have been my male friends. Of two friends who started at the same company in 2010, one male and one female, my male friend has already been promoted twice, as well as garnered some widespread industry acclaim for his work. My female friend, by contrast, is just as capable and talented, and yet has not enjoyed the same benefits and accolades. She is a hard worker and damn good at what she does, and has been that way since high school. Recently, three male friends of mine were all promoted simultaneously, while two of my female roommates in the same industry have yet to move up in rank. We even had a party to celebrate their simultaneous good fortune. While these men are similarly talented, these instances seem too curious to be coincidental.
Now, you could say that these are just the growing pains of fledgling careers. That we will all catch up in the end. But it gets bigger.
One of the best gifts I've been given in my life was the good fortune to grow up the daughter of a strong-willed, working mother. When I was four years old, and she was pregnant with my second brother and her third child, she was elected First Selectman in my hometown of Simsbury, Connecticut. My childhood quickly became a whirl of endless parades, ribbon cuttings, and those exciting fall campaigns during election time. I felt a part of the town. The residents were good to us. And so, in turn, was my mother to them. During her sixteen years as First Selectman (there are no term limits, so long as you have enough overwhelming support to win an election every two years) she has helped put Simsbury on the map. In 2013, Money Magazine voted Simsbury as one of the best places to live in the country.
This morning, my mother was forced to resign when Republican members of the Town Committee voted to cut her pay by 35% in the middle of her term. Thirty-five percent, for a woman who had served the town in head office for sixteen years, helping change the very fabric of it with the establishment of the Connecticut Greenway and bike share program, as well as a Summer Concert Series, which brought in the likes of Allison Krauss and Harry Connick Jr. She had even been tapped by current governor Dannel Malloy to run by his side for lieutenant governor in 2006, and again by businessman Ned Lamont in 2010. This woman's got talent, and everyone can see it.
In 2007, my mother was tapped as Chief of Staff for Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan. During that time, Republican Tom Vincent was elected in her stead, and the same Republican committee voted to increase his salary. TWICE. When he first turned down a proposed 3.4% pay increase, the Republicans seemed intent on pushing it forward anyway, voting 3-2 to raise his salary by 13.4%. The salary was bumped up again by 3.5% the next year. Tom Vincent was only in his third term, while my mother had served over four without a pay raise of this caliber. Watching my mother, who had grown up fatherless and put herself through law school, work her way up to a highly-respected leader of a small town, is an ascent which has left a mark on me.
And this event, no doubt, will leave an even bigger one. For if what us women see at twenty-seven, with our male friends often enjoying faster career growth and larger salaries than us, is destined to continue through the peaks of our careers, how can we say that equality exists? When a male political figure can assume office and quickly enjoy the benefits of an inflated salary, yet that salary can be cut haphazardly by the same committee for a woman with a long-term commitment to a town, where is the precedent for protection and proper treatment of working women?