Whenever the issue of gender inequality comes up up, some people inevitably rise up in arms. So when International Women’s Day rolled around recently, I read with interest a letter written by a 23-year-old female graduate who had just returned to Singapore after a study stint in Australia.
In it, she wrote about how she had always assumed that she has equal opportunity as any Singaporean male. Imagine her surprise when she realised upon applying to NIE to become a teacher that men have higher salaries in comparison to women. For my foreign readers who are not familiar with Singapore, males who have served National Service for 2.5 years are entitled to a higher pay in the public sector so as to make up for their late entry into the workforce. Private sectors, on the other hand, do not really have such distinctions. If I’m not wrong, that is.
This fact, however, doesn’t sit so well with the writer of the aforementioned letter because she firmly believes that women are being discriminated against in a patriarchal society.
Before I offer my views, let me just say upfront that I’m aware and empathise with instances of gender discrimination. I do not approve of sexist practices where women are fired from their jobs because they’re pregnant, where they’re deliberately given lower salaries because they are female or where they are made to suffer because they are assumed to be inferior to their male counterparts.
To be frank, I have always taken for granted the fact that guys have a higher salary because of their National Service stint. It has never bothered me before either because I see it as a fair trade-off for the time they put in to learn how to protect our country. Think of it this way, a girl can enter the workforce straight after graduation but a guy has to spend 2.5 years surviving on a small allowance. Even when he enters the workforce after his mandatory service to his country, he is at least a couple of years behind his female counterpart. Let me do the Math for you:
Let’s say a guy gets $400 allowance per month throughout his 2.5 years of NS, he would have earned:
$400 x 30 months = $12 000
A woman who enters the workforce at the same time her male counterpart (who is the same age) enters NS, assuming she earns $2 000 per month and consistently stays at her job without resignation or retrenchment, excluding any pay increment, bonuses or other miscellaneous benefits:
$2 500 x 30 months = $75 000
You see the HUGE difference? A female literally earns $63 000 more than a male during the same period of time yet certain women are raging about the fact that they earn less than a man. They forget about the fact that by the time their male peers finish serving their mandatory NS, they are at least 2 years ahead of them in terms of promotions or any academic upgrade to secure a better salary.
Granted, there are overwhelming evidence from other countries such as UK and USA that show women earning less than their male counterparts. To date, women in most countries enjoy freer access to quality education and more women are earning the majority of diplomas and degrees in fields where men used to dominate. The question is: since women have had a better start in life than their mothers and grandmothers, why are they still lagging behind in terms of salary, promotions and increments?
The answer lies in this article. According to it, women and men are indeed different, not just genetically but in motivations. Since eons ago, men have been conditioned to be the breadwinner (aka the hunter) while women are supposed to nurture the family (aka the gatherer). Neither group are inferior to each other because they each fulfill a vital function that kept the society going.
The reason why men appear to be earning more is because they are supposed to. Their main motivation is to provide for the family. Women, on the other hand, dare I say…are not as motivated to provide for the family. Now, before you hardcore feminists throw rotten tomatoes at me, let me just say point you towards this article written by a business writer and a feminist:
“I shouldn’t have left the finances to my husband.”
In it, the writer describes how she became overly dependent on her ex-husband financially. Although she does make a living as a writer, her salary was only one-tenth of her ex-husband’s.
At the beginning of each year he gave me a certain amount of cash (we were both too politically savvy to call it an allowance), which, combined with my comparatively low earnings as a writer, funded my life throughout the year.
While her husband kept her updated on all their financial investments and the house’s mortgage that he was financing, the writer was always too tired and too busy from caring for the family to look into them.
…while my husband worked, pursuing a coveted law partnership and spending much of his limited free time researching stocks, retirement vehicles and various high-tech gadgets, I focused on pink-collar work: the kids, grocery shopping, housecleaning, cooking meals, supervising homework, picking up dry cleaning and arranging play dates. My freelance writing career was squeezed into what little space existed between everyone else’s needs. I had little energy left over to request passwords to the mutual fund accounts so I could check on how things were doing, or ponder changing the allocation of our investment portfolio.
The article writer had, unfortunately, fallen into what Colette Dowling describes in her book as the “Cinderella Complex” where women become afraid of being independent. In this case, the article writer had clearly chose not to educate herself about the family finances because women had traditionally not been brought up to talk about money or manage their own. Again, motivations play a huge part here.
The thing that struck me the most was the instance when the writer described her difficulty in getting the mortgage officer to release details of the mortgage account that her ex-husband had passed to her, which she later found out that it wasn’t under her name.
“Why?” I asked him. “Why would we have a mortgage without my name on it?” He paused, then said: “I didn’t need you.”
I don’t know about you, but I personally feel that it’s quite humiliating.
Another reason why women could possibly be making less than their counterparts is this: they are choosing to opt out. They are highly educated but they are choosing their families over their high flying careers or well-paid jobs. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s shameful to choose one’s family over career. After all, as Ang Fung Fung (KPMG) said in a recent interview, “what it means by balance to you may not be the same to me.”
Everyone’s idea of “balance” is different. Everyone’s idea of adding value is different, and that’s where motivations, again come into play. Women may choose jobs that pay them less than men, because perhaps that’s where their natural talents lie. It doesn’t make them any less inferior because, hey, can you do without your administrative department? Can you handle your job in addition to all the administration that are quite simply, time suckers?
If you, as a woman, have chosen a job that fits your talents and pays you well at the same time, KUDOS. Just don’t forget to ask for your much needed promotion and salary increment when the time comes. Don’t wait until your boss remembers to reward you because they won’t. Sure, good bosses will remember but there is nothing wrong with opening your golden mouth to ask for something you deserve.
Remember: the key word is ask with a firm conviction. NOT demand.
It won’t do us women any good to over-victimise our situation and play tug of war with the guys. Try seeing things from a more gender-neutral view instead. =3
Try to think less of what the society owes you as a woman, but more of how you can add value to the society and your family as a woman instead. Work on your talents and fulfill your potential.