How Does Children’s Media Relate To Equal Pay?

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is focused on increasing and improving the representation of women and girls in media. Building on the idea that young girls "cant be what they can't see" they've created an organization call SeeJane.org.

The way that women and girls are represented in media is no small matter. Let's take the is the issue of equal pay for women. While most people are busy debating the statistics around whether or not women get equal pay for equal work I see a deeper, more complex problem. The bigger problem for me is that we still push women and men into certain career and societal roles based on gender. We hear from pundits and columnists that women lose out on career advancement because they "choose" lower paying jobs or because they "choose" to take time off to raise kids. That line of thinking - which we hear A LOT - is damaging because it fails to acknowledge the role that culture and society make in those decisions.   It's also damaging to men because their choices are being limited.

Men often choose higher paying fields because they get the message from a very early age that they are the breadwinners and their status and self-worth should be based on how much money they make.   As a result the world may be missing out on some really awesome Kindergarten teachers or stay-at-home dads. Among my acquaintances there are a growing number of well-educated men who are choosing to stay home with their children (or work fewer hours) while their wives are the primary earners. Those men aren't large in number, but to see men with law and engineering degrees choose to stay home with their children is admirable. Especially when, according to Chris Routly of DaddyDoctrines.com,  those men hear judgmental comments like, "Babysitting today, huh?" or "I wish I could stay home and nap or watch TV all day."

Photo courtesy of Jay Johnson

Photo courtesy of Jay Johnson

Heck, I have a friend who is married to woman in a high status, high salary profession. He works, but she is the primary breadwinner and he is the primary parent.   I've heard people accuse him of being lazy or 'not doing very much.' If the genders were reversed no one would have said that. It's no wonder that both boys and girls get the message early on that men are supposed to be breadwinners and women are the caretakers. For some families that might be the right choice, but it's hardly the only choice.

It's also admirable when women set aside successful careers to care for their children knowing that they'll lose economic and leadership ground, but it's not as socially stigmatizing as it is for men. For women, the challenge is different. We're socialized from an early age that our husbands' careers will take the lead. We're also trained to be nurturers and by default encouraged to enter lower paying fields like education and social work. Why those female dominated fields - some of them incredibly important jobs - pay less than other fields which often require a similar amount of education may also be related to gender discrimination.

By Upper Arlington Community (Ohio) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Upper Arlington Community (Ohio) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to Gail Collins, author of "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present," before the women's movement of the '60s and '70s high achieving American women were pushed into education because school systems could get away with paying them less than men. When career options opened up for women many of the best and brightest started going into other fields. Why teach high school biology when you could be a doctor? Unlike L&P's own Bobbi Jo Rohrberg, most National Merit Scholars probably don't choose to go into education given all the options available to them. This has hurt education in general and we haven't adjusted the salaries or the perception of the profession to attract and retain men and women.  

Women are choosing a wider variety of careers than ever before and  girls are outperforming boys academically, but that success isn't translating into career and leadership success. The reasons for this are extremely complex and most likely include a combination of factors ranging from socialization to hormones (testosterone may encourage entrepreneurial risk taking). One simple thing that we could change right now are the expectations that young girls have for their own lives. Women have made great strides towards equality in the last 50 years, but we've hardly reached parity with men.

Photo courtesy of Intel Free Press

Photo courtesy of Intel Free Press

Saying that women make less money than men because of their own "choices" is lazy and only tells part of the story. It's dismissive of larger, societal problems. Many of us have chosen to slow our own careers down because our husbands' jobs were the priority or because we never questioned that it was the mom who would stay home with the kids.   Many men have been sent subtle messages that they are expected to be the primary breadwinners or that there is something wrong with them if their wife takes on that role. Heck, for high achieving men it might even mean choosing to be a Wall Street multi-millionaire instead of an upper-middle class physician. A female dentist and dental professor in New York City once told me that her profession was slowly becoming female dominated because men were realizing that they could make more money in a shorter amount of time by entering the financial industry instead of healthcare, which is comparatively lower paying and requires a longer educational commitment.   Both genders are trapped and short changed because of societal expectations when it comes to careers and money.

Yes, we all make these choices as individuals, but we don't make them in a bubble.  We learn what society expects from men and women starting at an early age. The message comes from media as much as it does from our family and community.   This is why SeeJane.org, Miss Representation and other organizations are critical. Seeing positive and equal portrayals of girls and women in media helps teach children that girls and women have an equal role to play in society.