Tag Archives: wage gap

“Why Won’t You Educate Me About Feminism?”

22 Feb

He doesn’t hate women.

Above and beyond everything else, he wants you to know this: he does not hate women.

He has two daughters, for god’s sake, and a wife that he adores beyond anything else, and a sister that he texts every day and a mother who is the strongest person that he’s ever known – yes, stronger than any of the men he’s met. So don’t think that this is because he hates women.

If anything, his real problem is loving women too much.

See, he just wants his daughters to grow up safe and happy. And to be honest, some of the things that you’re saying – that these feminists are saying – are troubling to him.

He just wants to have a sort of academic chat. Peer to peer. Grownup to grownup. That’s all. He’s not saying you’re wrong – not by a long shot! He just wants you to explain a few things. He’s a reasonable, logical man, and he’s only asking for what any reasonable, logical person would want: proof.

After all, if you’re going to call yourself a feminist, you should be willing to back that belief up with facts, right?

And if you’ve got all the facts, it should be easy enough to convince him, shouldn’t it?

And after all, how is he supposed to understand anything if you won’t educate him?

He just wants so badly to understand.

If you don’t mind, could you start by providing him with some kind empirical data that women continue to suffer from systematic oppression? He doesn’t care about the past, and doesn’t want a history lesson. He wants to talk about the here and now. And from what he can see in the here and now, women are doing pretty well. Just look at you! Smart, well-educated, pretty. What about your gender could you possibly imagine has ever held you back? If anything, it’s probably done you a few favours!

He wonders if, for instance, you knew that there are now more women in post-secondary institutions than men? Gee, it sure seems like being a woman has benefited you in that regard!

He wonders if knew that more men were killed on the job than women, or that more men died violent deaths than women.

He wonders if you were aware that the rate of suicide was higher for men than for women.

He wonders if you even care about men, the way that he cares so much about women.

When you bring up the wage gap, he tells you that women make less because they work, on average, fewer hours. He tells you that men receive bonuses for doing more hazardous work, which skews the numbers. He tells you that the wage gap isn’t based on discrimination, but rather on mitigating factors that you obviously haven’t taken into consideration.

When you bring up rape and domestic violence statistics, he tells you that of course he’s sympathetic to female victims, but then asks why you didn’t mention male victims. He ponders aloud how interesting it is, the fact that you focus so much on women and seem to care so little about men. Don’t you think that men are victims of rape and domestic violence too? Have you ever thought about the fact that men’s numbers might be so much lower because stigma prevents so many victims from reporting their attacks? When a woman is raped or beaten, she’s treated with kindness and pity, but if it happens to a man, well, you can only imagine the comments about his masculinity and sexuality. And there are no men’s shelters for male victims of domestic abuse, there are no workshops for men to learn how to defend themselves against rapists. So wouldn’t you say that men actually have it worse with regards to these issues?

He doesn’t like the term “victim-blaming,” because, well, he finds that people use it when they want to escape the consequences of their actions. The thing is, if you’re a young girl out drinking and partying with the boys, he’s sure we all know that certain things might happen. Of course any rapist is a terrible person and deserves to be punished, but. Well. Women need to practice risk management, don’t they? If we know that rapists exist (and we do), then logically why would women make certain choices that would increase their risk of being raped? Rapists are monsters and we can’t change that, but women can certainly do their part to make sure that they stay safe.

After all, if someone’s house is robbed because they didn’t lock their door, we acknowledge that locking the door could have prevented the crime, don’t we? We don’t hold the person whose house was robbed to be completely blameless just because in a perfect world crimes would never be committed, do we?

Or to put it another way, when we drive cars, we wear seat belts, not because we think that we are bad drivers, but because we can’t control what other people on the road might do.

He wants his daughters to dress and behave modestly because although he trusts them, he can’t trust other people. That’s not victim-blaming, that’s just common sense.

He asks if you think that his daughters should serve as collateral damage for some point you are trying to prove.

He asks why it’s fine to put his daughter’ lives at risk for your so-called feminist principles.

He asks why you would want his daughters to dress and act like sluts – wouldn’t you rather they attract boys with their brains and character rather than their looks?

You see, it’s not that he hates women – not at all. He cares a great deal – obviously more than you do – about their health and safety. He wants his daughters to marry men who treat them well – men who hold open doors, men who pull out chairs, men who treat women as the exalted creatures that they are. He tells you that women – all women – deserve nothing less than this, because they are better, kinder, sweeter people than men. Women are stronger than men, he says – how else could they endure childbirth? Women are more nurturing and loving than men, he says – that’s why for thousands of years they’ve stayed home with the children while the men were out providing for the family.

Why would you want to deny his daughters all these wonderful qualities of womanhood and femininity?

Why would you want his daughters to be more like men, who are so obviously the lesser sex in so many regards?

You bring up the way that we as a society perpetuate and reinforce traditional gender roles; he counters with anecdotes about little boys being naturally interested in trucks, while little girls gravitate towards dolls and cooking sets.

You bring up the extreme beauty standards that women are held up to; he scoffs and asks if you’ve noticed how attractive the men in Hollywood are. He wonders if you think that women are alone when it comes to having body image issues – do you truly believe that men don’t face the same pressure that women do?

You bring up abortion; he bemoans the fact that men have no say over whether their child, their own flesh and blood, is born.

He uses the term “logical fallacy.”

He uses the term “straw man argument.”

He uses the term “ad hominem attack.”

When you tell him that he is not using any of these terms correctly, he calls that an ad hominem attack.

When you try to end the discussion, he accuses you of being too emotional about this. After all, here he is being all calm and rational, while you seem very, very upset. Here he has sat politely listening to you, presenting some very valid arguments, treating you exactly as he would treat a man, but you can’t seem to handle it. He humbly suggests that, if you cannot have a calm, rational discussion with him, perhaps women are not as equal as you imagine.

He asks why you so enjoy the role of the victim.

He asks why you would want to reduce his smart, competent daughters to victims.

He asks why you want to think of his mother, his brave, strong mother who raised him all on her own, as a victim.

He would never think of women as victims because, unlike you, he does not hate women.


The Ten Dollar T-Shirt Is Not The Problem

6 May

In the wake of the April 24th Bangladesh factory collapse, which is now considered to be the most deadly accident in the history of the garment industry, I’ve been hearing a lot of people sharing some pretty uneducated and uninformed opinions.

I’ve heard stuff like, “Well, where did you think your ten dollar t-shirt came from?”

And, “Major clothing brands should refuse to do business with manufacturers in Bangladesh.”

And, “Why do we even make stuff overseas anyway? It’s all crap.”

There are a lot of problems with these types of statements. For one thing, the price of a piece of clothing is not at all indicative of the working conditions of its manufacturer. For another, implying (or outright saying) that there is something morally wrong with paying ten dollars for a t-shirt is incredibly classist. And finally, saying stuff like this shows a serious lack of understanding about how the garment industry works.

So let’s debunk a few of these myths, shall we?

1. Expensive, high end brands are ethically preferable

This is not at all true. Spending more money on an item of clothing doesn’t guarantee that the factory worker in Bangladesh who made it is earning a higher wage. It doesn’t even mean that the quality of the garment is any “better” than something you could buy for half the price. The truth is that when brand names charge higher prices for their items, that extra cash usually goes to two places: into the pockets of CEOs and other higher-ups, and into the company’s advertising budget.

Even buying clothing with a “Made in Italy” or “Made in the USA” label doesn’t guarantee that that piece of clothing was made by people working in decent conditions. In Italy, for example, labelling laws are extremely lax. A product can be almost totally manufactured elsewhere, but so long as it’s “finalized” in Italy (adding leather trim, for example, or sewing on buttons) it can be labelled as “Made in Italy.” As well, it should be noted that just because something is manufactured in Western Europe or North America doesn’t mean that the factory employees who made the item were paid a fare wage – illegal immigrants are often hired and paid under the table, meaning that employers can pay them whatever they like and the employees believe that they have no recourse for action. In Prato, Italy, Chinese immigrants were found to be working in garment factories for as little as €2 an hour.

But even when companies do pay their workers minimum wage, it’s often not enough. In many countries, minimum wage is not a living wage, especially if you live in a big city.

2. Our society’s desire for cheap clothing is exploitative and unsustainable. People should be willing to pay more money for their clothing.

First of all, let’s talk about how classist this assumption is. I mean, if you’re well off, then sure, you can probably afford to pay more than ten dollars for a t-shirt. But if you’re making minimum wage and living below the poverty line, then cheap clothing is the only type of clothing you can afford.

Take Toronto, for instance. Ontario’s minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, and the average cost to rent a bachelor apartment in Toronto is $840 per month (this figure most likely does not include utilities, phone/internet, or parking). If you’re making minimum wage, then you’re only bringing home $1,640 monthly before taxes. If you’re paying the bare minimum in income taxes (so, no union fees or anything like that), then you’ll be taxed $236.38 a month (according to this calculator on a government website), leaving you with $1,403.62. After paying rent, you’ll have $563.62. That $563.62 has to pay for everything other than rent – your phone, internet, food, transportation, utilities, clothing. And those are just the basics – what about entertainment? Things like going out to see a movie or having a few drinks with friends at a bar?

And all that is assuming that you’re single, childless and living in a bachelor apartment. Imagine how little would be left if you were the only breadwinner in a family with several dependents.

At that point, even a ten dollar t-shirt starts to seem astronomically expensive.

3. Major brands should just stop doing business with manufacturers in Bangladesh

And this would solve what, exactly? It certainly wouldn’t improve working conditions in Bangladesh factories. In fact, it would probably lead to a loss of employment opportunities in Bangladesh, meaning that the few companies that still hiring would be able to pay their employees even lower wages if they chose. People would be scrambling and competing for jobs, and would have to accept whatever came their way, no matter how badly it paid.

The other thing is that no matter what country those companies are manufacturing their goods in, so long as they are trying to keep their wholesale prices as low as they are, the manufacturers will have to cut corners, pay their workers substandard wages and skirt safety regulations in order to satisfy the companies’ demands.

Here’s what major brands actually should do: cut CEO salaries. Seriously. In the US, the average multiple of CEO compensation to rank-and-file employee is 204. Yes, you read that correctly. A CEO earns, on average, two hundred and four times what their retail employees earn. And let’s not even get into how much more a CEO earns when compared to one of the employees in their overseas factories.

How is that even a little bit ok?

Imagine how inexpensive clothing could be if we cut CEO wages. Imagine how much we could improve working conditions in countries like Bangladesh if CEO salaries were cut in half?

Companies also need to institute frequent, surprise inspections of the factories that manufacture their goods. They need to find ways to ensure that their goods are being made by employees who have fair wages and decent work environments. They need to actually take responsibility for how their business is being operated.

4. Why do we even make stuff overseas? Why not manufacture more stuff in North America/Europe/etc.?

The truth is that manufacturing clothing in North America and Europe is becoming more and more difficult. It’s less expensive to manufacture in Asia for a variety of reasons, and not just because labour is cheaper there. Another important cost factor is that many of the raw materials are now more readily available overseas than they are here. For example, China is the leading grower of cotton in the world, meaning that even if an item of clothing was sewn in Canada, the used would most likely come from overseas. Is there really a difference in how “ethical” your clothing is if the finished product is made here but the raw materials are harvested and processed by underpaid workers overseas? How ethical is it if the water used to grow those raw materials (cotton, for example, is a notoriously water-intensive crop) is partly responsible major water shortage in China? How can we ever make sure that every person who has somehow contributed to making our clothing is treated fairly?

Look. The garment industry is fucked up and major changes need to happen. Factories need to be unionized, workers need better conditions, and CEO pay needs to be cut. Here at home we need to increase minimum wage to a livable wage. We need to figure out a way to make sure that everyone who participates in the garment industry, whether they’re an employee in a retail store, a worker in a factory or a small child whose water supply is being used to water cotton crops, is getting a fair deal.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how we can make any of this happen, or what the world would look like if these changes were to take place. But what I do know is that the way that we live now is not sustainable, not by a long shot. I know that we need more accountability from the companies that make our clothing, and more tools like Good Guide to hep us figure out where to spend out money. We need to make more of an effort to educate ourselves about how and where our goods are made.

Most of all, though, I know that the ten dollar t-shirt is not the problem. It’s just a symptom of the problem.