Since the Women’s March on Washington, I’ve seen a new wave of feminism cascade into my composition classrooms with Generation Z females, which has done my heart considerable good since it is certainly still needed. In recent years, leading up to police brutality coming to the attention of the Fourth Estate and the 2016 presidential election, I was having difficulty convincing many white Generation Y students that we don’t live in a post –ism world, including sexism. My current female students are mainly addressing the gender wage gap, which is only about 79 or 80 cents to every man’s dollar, if you are a white woman, and even more shamefully, less than women on average made in the 1970’s, if you are a woman of color.
As a female in my late 40’s, post-Women’s March, during Women’s History Month, and as a creative writer who has spent half of her life teaching college, I cannot help but reflect upon where I am and what it says about where we as women are today.
I like what I am reading in my students’ papers. One bit of advice is that women need to learn about the salaries of their colleagues, so that they know whether or not they are being discriminated against financially. I explained to one student writer that historically, etiquette has dictated that one should never ask someone, “How much money do you make?” Perhaps such etiquette needs to change? Or better yet, maybe we should demand transparency from our employers.
Another best practice suggested to women is that we use our voices. Evidently, most men negotiate their salaries when being hired; the majority of women do not. I remember being so happy that I was being offered a job and a pittance of a raise as compared to my last position that I would eagerly take it without ever thinking to ask for more money. If I had, I would surely have conned myself out of it with the thinking, If I ask for more money, perhaps they’ll decide not to hire me and go with the next person on their list – their back-up person. Even today, as qualified as I am, I’ve gone through life practically having to beg for any type of upward mobility, so the thought of entering a hiring situation having confidence in my worth is daunting, especially now that I am getting older and in an economy that is so competitive and precariously balanced, and especially so in the Liberal Arts. Life experience has taught me to whisper and now, I will need to retrain myself to assert myself in ways that I haven’t previously. Not impossible, but certainly not easy.
Women are encouraged to use our voices on the job as well. I always thought – must have been taught either directly or indirectly while growing up (perhaps because I was raised by Silent Generation parents?) — that if I worked diligently, made strong contributions, that my work would be recognized and reward would be fairly allotted. I never bought into “it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” or “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” However, academia is still largely an “ol’ boys’ club.” I look at the president, chancellor, and vice-chancellors of my own university, and six out of eight positions are held by white men. It seems as though they’ve thrown in a token black woman and a token Latina for good measure. During an informal meeting a few years’ ago, academic and activist Sue Eleuterio told me that she’d learned that a person can only soar as high as their network allows, which is often a problem for minorities, women included. I’ve always thought that an employee’s work should speak for itself. However, I’ve begun to see through fresh eyes that women should give voice individually as well as unite, fostering voices collectively, so that we may rise.
Furthermore, when examining layoffs of non-tenure track academics and lack of conversion of positions from temporary contracts to permanent at my university, the majority of instructors affected have been female. While the university can undoubtedly show “reasons” for these layoffs, ultimately, the message is clear – the treatment women have received in academia (and maybe even the lives that took the women into non-tenure track directions to begin with) – signal that we are often considered expendable. I witness and I participate as a woman in a work world where women almost always take on one more responsibility and then one more, one more responsibility, rarely expecting anything additional in return. And that’s what women get in terms of financial compensation – nada. It is for such reasons that the life expectancy of women is decreasing. On March 8th, as one of the “10 Actions in the First 100 Days,” follow-up to the Women’s March, women went on strike. Had it been a true strike, in academia the university would fall apart within weeks. My university is a microcosm of the whole in the United States – no worse, no better. Women need to expect fair compensation for our work and for additional work; we deserve it; we need to squeak to be recognized at the table.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a coal miner. I don’t pick burnt Frosted Flakes off of a conveyor belt for eight hours per day to make a living. As both an academic and writer, I perform work that I find extremely gratifying; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I never went into the discipline that I chose to get rich. However, as I approach what is supposed to be the “peak” of my earning potential, in a job that pays me what would be considered an entry-level salary in other fields and with a downturn in recent years out of nowhere that has led to no security, I cannot help but feel a bit depressed, hurt, and well, cheated. I am writing this blog for my younger sisters – the Y’s and the Z’s – because social change is again imbuing the air, and I want better for you than socialization within patriarchy or than I have allowed for myself to date. My 12-year-old daughter, Jianna, recently said, “I think that I’ll become an artist now and president of the United States later on.” I want it for her.