Edmonton Sun

March 15, 2001

Pink-collar jobs are a matter of choice

By MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun

In order to justify the continued existence of the federal Status of Women Department, it's in the interests of the powers that be to convince Canadians that women still get the short end of the stick.

Hence this week's remarks by Hedy Fry, secretary of state for the Status of Women.

"We really haven't come such a long way, baby," she told reporters after the release of a Statistics Canada study on the differences in workload and pay between men and women.

Women are still working more (including unpaid work) for less money, the report noted. Indeed, a casual glance at the statistics seems to suggest that women's lot remains a miserable one.

Women only made 63% of men's average after-tax income in 1997, up from 52% in 1986 but still a big gap.

In some feminist quarters, this is a cause for alarm and as good a reason as any to blame men for the economic disparity between the sexes.

Laying blame is easier than accepting the day-to-day realities that are the real contributors to inequality. It's all about kids, folks. Almost 30% of women opt for part-time jobs because of family responsibilities. In contrast, the vast majority of men work full-time to fulfil their traditional roles as providers.

So it should be neither a shock nor a surprise that women as a whole earn substantially less than men. They generally work less. There is no patriarchal plot to keep women poor. It is simply a matter of practicalities.

Unless you choose day care or a nanny, someone has to take care of the kids. And despite several decades of women's lib, the child-rearing responsibility still falls primarily on women.

Why? Because while most men want children, they generally balk at the mundane tasks necessary to get through a day. The poopy diapers. The baby spit-up. The food thrown all over the kitchen wall. The temper tantrums. The whiny sibling squabbles.

Oh, yes, there are some dads out there who handle all of that and more without complaining. But if Canadian women decided next week they wanted kids and full-time jobs - and that it would be up to their husbands to curtail their careers to make room for child-rearing - men would bolt as fast as they could.

On the other hand, if women were burdened with the cultural imperative of supporting their husbands and children through thick and thin (including divorce), they, too, might crack from the stress. In many respects, a man's life is not an easy one. Feminists sometimes forget that.

But back to the statistics. The more valid comparison between men's and women's salaries encompasses full-time workers alone. In that light, women are not doing so badly after all. Females working full-time earn 73% of what men make.

While there's still a gap, that's largely due to the fact that women are increasingly entering lower-paying female-dominated fields.

In 1981, according to Statistics Canada, 70% of students who graduated with degrees in female-dominated professions were female. Two decades later, women's share of degrees granted in female fields (including teaching, nursing, social work, household science and applied arts) is now 75% - higher than ever.

On a positive note, more women are going into male-dominated fields like architecture, engineering and computer science (25% of those degrees were obtained by women in 1998 compared to 15% in 1981.)

"This is not a great gain," Fry told reporters, expressing concern about the job ghettoization of women.

I have written columns in the past encouraging women to pursue non-traditional careers. Some female readers responded that women simply aren't interested in entering male-dominated professions. That's not entirely true. Men used to predominate in law and medicine. These days, more than half of the students in those faculties are women.

In fact, for statistical purposes, law and medicine are now considered gender-neutral fields. That must both amuse and gratify the women who blazed the trail in those professions in years past.

But if the majority of women choose to stay in the lower-paying pink-collar ghetto, they have no one to blame but themselves. Smart choices are the best weapons in the fight for gender equality.

Mindelle can be reached by e-mail at mjacobs@edm.sunpub.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@edm.sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.