This March, Jordan High School in Utah has gained national attention after a bake sale. 16 year old Kari Schott, president and founder of the Young Democrats Club organized the bake sale and decided to target a specific social issue – the gender wage gap. She did this by charging the students different prices: the boys would pay a dollar, while the girls would pay 77 cents. This was done in order to reflect the statistics that state women earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2012, in a study targeting men and women who worked full-time, year-round jobs. This number increased in 2013 to 78 cents.
The event has since attracted a lot of media and has been titled controversial, causing a lot of disagreements on social media as well as within the high school. The website Good4Utah.com featured the story along with a 1:31 minute long video. Starting off with the words “sounds strange, but the issue is gender equality”, a reporter talks to Schott and other students at the high school. One comment comes from fellow student Helamen Matmata, who says “I really think that women should be paid equally. A lot of women out there are just as good as men out there”. Another student, Jake Knaphus, states “I believe in what they’re doing. I believe in their standing for a cause, but I just don’t believe the statistics they’re using are correct. I would love to have a debate with them about what they believe in. But the fact that they tell me to go away is kind of disheartening”. In the feature itself, this critique is not brought to Schott by the reporter, but it is evident in the video as well as through the coverage from other media outlets that Schott and her friends handed out information about the cause: “We told them we would be happy to debate them, but only after they took the time to read the fact sheets we had printed up for the event,” Kari said. “When we did that, they walked away.” (huffingtonpost.com)
Nevertheless, this disheartening matter is not mentioned in the Good4Utah report and is left hanging as an unaddressed problem and questions the girls’ credibility and the disbelief in the statistics is echoed online, with people refusing to acknowledge that the wage comparison might be fair and is the result of discrimination and the persistent existence of a glass ceiling in companies. One reader, Beth Mccartney-Faint, comments on buzzfeed.com: “I worked a decade in a place my co-workers called the ‘mens club’. One of the largest companies in the world. I hold business degrees and some of my male equals did not. Busted my ass to get there and had a young man I trained promoted to a lower position than I and promoted to my salary, less time in the company, too, fresh out of college! I confronted my MALE division manager and was told “he is a energetic young man and deserved the salary” As a parent of 3 sons who complain all the time that I work more than dad, I’m happy they are exposed to the reality of non-equality.”
No work is put in by the reporters to clarify, ask for, or provide the source of the statistics, (which is the United States Census Bureau) something news sources such as buzzfeed.com and huffingtonpost.com took time to do.
Overall, the Good4Utah report takes the issue quite lightly and the tone of the piece ends up feeling shallow, resembling a “feel-good”, local piece, undermining the seriousness of the issue that the girls try to bring to light. The story might have benefitted from a few adult voices and their opinions on the issue, but it allows only one, which is a closing quote from Schott’s father, reproduced by the reporter “he’s proud of Kari for getting involved and working for a better future”. It is interesting how the concept of a better future is presented at the end, at the same time as the station chose to start with “sounds strange, but the issue is gender equality”. Apart from this comment, the station makes sure not to voice any opinions themselves, but allows the students to speak. Perhaps some of this lighthearted approach to gender equality comes from the fact that Utah is a Republican state (the most republican state in 2011, gallup.com). A great deal of the comments against the bake sale, have claimed that the girls are pushing a liberal agenda.
The student quotes chosen for the piece serve to further undermine the validity of the situation, with statements such as “a lot of women are as good as men” and the questioning of the statistics without giving any cause for it. These are perhaps statements teenagers do not consider too carefully, but they are statements the channel chose to keep in the feature. The issue is never directly acknowledged. The video ends with the reporter, stating, “It raised some controversy, but it made a point”, with the girls counting their money in the background.
Further, buzzfeed.com, along with people commenting on the case on social media, have chosen to highlight that the wage gap is even greater when it takes race into account. Asian-American women earn an entire 90 % of the amount a white man earns, while other ethnicities range from 65 to 54 %, Hispanic or Latina women earning the least. The evasion of these statistics seems to echo the second wave feminism, the main beneficiaries of which were white middle class women.