No Surprise Over Salary Discrepancies Resulting From Structural Sexism

by Thomas Luxon | 11/4/94 6:00am

To the Editor:

When I read Brian Sung '97's piece on the Stroh-Reitman study of salary discrepancies (" ... Sexism the Cause?," Nov. 2), I was stunned by the difference between Sung's intuition and my own.

When we discover that professional men whose spouses work in their homes raising children, keeping house, arranging calendars, attending teacher conferences and school events, shopping, preparing meals and caring for sick children generally make 20 to 25 percent more than men who have to perform some (or, in rare cases, most) of these tasks themselves, it seems counter-intuitive to Sung to suspect sexism.

To me, a father who performs many of these household and child-rearing tasks, the sexism seems not just apparent, but downright obvious. I think this is because I think of sexism as something structural and Sung does not.

I think there is something structurally sexist about job descriptions and promotion standards that assume an employee needn't be bothered with picking up the kids on time every day, taking a day off when they are sick, making several meals a week and dedicating a day once in a fortnight to cleaning the house.

I don't have to suppose my boss means to make things hard for me because my spouse has a career; things simply are hard for me. What's more, job descriptions and promotion standards that require candidates to be largely free of such responsibilities automatically leave mothers and wives (traditionally conceived) out in the cold.

Sung, of course, sees what I am talking about here. He acknowldeges that "those extra late nights at the office [or library, or out-of-town conference, or visiting professorship, or residential fellowship] undoubtedly help when it comes time to hand out pay raises and promotions," but he doesn't regard this as structurally sexist. I do.

Somebody has to take care of the children, keep the house, make the meals, and see to the thousand invisible chores requisite to family life. If the person who does these things is assumed to be a wife and mother, and is thereby disqualified from career advancement, the system is structurally sexist. And if men who assume such responsibilities also suffer some in their careers, then there is that much more encouragement to maintain a sexist status quo.

When we've managed to eliminate all the intentional sexism from our society, we will have accomplished only a very tiny bit of the task, for structural sexism is everywhere.

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