Feminists can’t keep their story straight

A few weeks ago feminists were bemoaning the 23% gender wage gap and how it was crippling women’s economic futures, despite the fact that their interpretation of the figure as evidence of sexism is hopelessly wrong. Let’s briefly review what feminists say about the gender wage gap.

Consider this quote from a CNN opinion article:

So what can be done? For starters, we can fix the wage discrepancy between men and women. This could cut the poverty rate in half for struggling working women and it would represent an economic stimulus of half a trillion dollars.

Or consider this quote from the Huffington Post:

Women are also lagging behind men in terms of re-employment after the recession. The number of men working full time year-round increased by 1 million between 2011 and 2012, while the number of full-time working women remained close to the same.

“We are disappointed by the Census Bureau’s latest economic snapshot showing that the gender wage gap remains stagnant,” Hallman said. “Unfortunately for women and their families, it’s the same old story — another year of no improvement. It’s clear that this problem is not going to fix itself — we need strategies to address it…”

House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), are working with progressive advocacy groups to launch a major initiative aimed at improving women’s economic security. They will push to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and close some of the loopholes employers use to pay women less than men for the same work…

This article from American Progress specifically bemoans the gender wage gap’s harm to single women and to mothers:

Single women are even more adversely affected by the wage gap than married women. Single women earn only 78.8 percent of what married women earn, and only 57 cents for every dollar that married males earn.

Mothers earn about 7 percent less per child than childless women. For women under 35 years of age, the wage gap between mothers and women without children is greater than the gap between women and men.

However, just a few weeks later Slate published an article from feminist professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone titled “Just Say No: For white working-class women, it makes more sense to stay single mothers”. In the article, Cahn and Carbone recount the story of a pregnant single woman named Lily:

Lily…was four months pregnant and not feeling well, and she was in tears. She was also not married, but that’s not what was upsetting her. The car that she needed to get to her two jobs in the city had broken down, and she had no other way to get to work. We asked whether her boyfriend, Carl, could help her. Lily frowned. She had recently broken up with Carl, she explained, because “I can support myself. I always have. I can support myself and our kid. I just can’t support myself, the kid, and him.”

Poor Lily! Why can’t she depend on Carl? Cahn and Carbone explain:

Carl has quit more than one job because he got fed up with his boss. More recently, he was laid off because construction work dried up during a particularly cold spell during the winter. After the layoff, he hung around with his friends, drinking and playing video games. Lily finally had enough when she found out that Carl had run up several hundred dollars in expenses on her credit card.  Lily knows she will never be able to depend on him and, particularly now that she has a child, she doesn’t believe she can afford the risk.

That loser Carl! What a bum! No wonder Lily can’t depend on him to help support her (let’s not stop and wonder why Lily would date and sleep around with such a loser in the first place…). Cahn and Carbone argue the problem is that women like Lily just can’t find a good man:

Although it defies logic, socioeconomic, cultural, and economic changes have brought white working-class women like Lily to the point where going it alone can be the wiser choice…When Lily looks around at the available men, they don’t offer what she is looking for…Nor does she believe that she will meet someone who will meet her standards anytime soon, and the statistics back her up…The  women ready for marriage in this group have grown larger than the group of marriageable men who would be good partners.

It certainly defies logic, which isn’t exactly feminists’ strong suit. Cahn and Carbone’s narrative also defies the narrative advanced by other feminists just last month. We were told that working women had a high poverty rate, that men have been more successful in getting jobs after the last recession, and the gender wage gap has remained stagnant. And we were told that single women and mothers — like single mother Lily — in particular suffered the most as a result of the wage gap. So how can Cahn and Carbone argue with a straight face that working class women (white ones, at least) should choose single motherhood?

Cahn and Carbone’s argument hinges on the statistics they cited, which state that there is a relative dearth of employed, single men for women who are not college graduates and/or who are black. Their argument is that if there is a relative dearth of men available for women like Lily then such women should just go it alone. A lot can be said about the statistics cited (the data is limited to metro areas and a short time frame, the author himself admits that his assumptions cause the statistics to “understate the number of men available to White women”, etc.), but even if we charitably take the statistics at face value it by no means follows from a relative scarcity of marriageable men that a woman should just forgo marriage and try to raise a child all by herself. If the only men available to women like Lily are losers like Carl, the solution isn’t to shack up with them and get pregnant by them before “going it alone” — it’s to avoid them altogether.

Cahn and Carbone would have (white) women deliberately choose single motherhood simply on anecdotal evidence from one woman and some vaguely relevant statistics, but there are other statistics which argue against them: namely, the gender wage gap itself. The gender wage gap of 23% means that a woman with median earnings earns 23% less than a man with median earnings. This means that over half of full time male workers earn as much or more than a women with median earnings (all the men who earn above the male median and some below it). Moreover, we are told Lily is “working-class” so she probably earns less than the female median — which means that an even higher percentage of full time male workers (well over 50%) earn more than Lily. For example, if Lily is at the 25th percentile of female earnings and the 25th percentile of male earnings is higher than hers (which it very likely is) then more than 75% of all full time male workers earn more than Lily. The gender wage gap by itself does not quantify the number of men vs. women who work full time nor the number of those men vs. women who are single, but with all the men who earn more than Lily it is statistically unlikely that Lily could only find a man who earns less than her — much less one who is unemployed entirely like Carl.

In short, the statistics — including the gender wage gap feminists love to complain about — just don’t support Cahn and Carbone’s idea that white, working-class women are forced to choose single motherhood. As they put it themselves, it defies logic. Or, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy: if you think that women suffer from a gender wage gap yet should nonetheless choose single motherhood, you might be a feminist.

P.S. Happy National Offend a Feminist Week!


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