The gender pay gap is a ‘feminist’ myth



The gender pay gap myth shows no signs of letting up; the same old tired headlines resurface like clockwork, perpetuating misleading narratives around women in work.

Of course, the feminist lobby conveniently buries all the good news – including that the gap has disappeared for women under 40 – for to admit that women are in fact excelling in the workplace would put at risk their raison d’être. 

It’s unsurprising that it’s at this age that the gap begins to widen: the time women take out of the workplace to bear and care for children of course impacts future and lifetime earning potential – leading to the more aptly named ‘motherhood pay gap’.  

Feminist groups tend to frame this discussion through the prism of discrimination, with the blame laid squarely at the feet of the patriarchy – a term feminists find notoriously difficult to define.

Certainly, there is a question here for society – and for families – as to whether the expectations we put on women to carry out traditionally female tasks are fair and reasonable. 

But while we should be honest about the trade-offs women face when it comes to motherhood, the whole pay gap debate raises an interesting question as to why feminists have so little positive to say about motherhood.

It seems to me that many feminists cannot cope with the fact that not all women value their careers over family life. And it’s this bullying attitude that is in part why women are largely uninterested in feminism.

Recent statistics show that only one in five working-class women now calls herself a feminist. And why would they, when today’s feminists seem so preoccupied with the concerns of elite, metropolitan women?

Women’s media is constantly aflush with campaigns around the number of female CEOs, boardroom quotas or all-female shortlists for executive roles, alienating most women for whom these issues are a minor concern, if even a concern at all.

Feminism should be about freedom and the freedom to choose our path in life. For some women this means striving for career and financial success, but for others this means striking a far more family-minded balance.

But instead of celebrating the privilege and joy of motherhood, feminists too often frame children as a burden – an obstacle in the way of climbing the greasy pole. To forgo a promotion to restore a work-life balance or to give up work entirely to be ‘just a housewife’ is deemed in some way weak and demeaning to the feminist cause or alternatively the result of sexism and male oppression.

The refusal to believe that women might prefer to – or shock horror deem it beneficial – to stay at home has the unintended consequence of alienating those women who don’t feel this makes them victims.

If feminists truly care about women’s lives, they must start focusing on what women want, not what they think they should want.

Emily Carver is media manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs. Follow her on twitter: @CarverEmily