The Intersecting Features of Pay Inequality

The network “Good4Utah” recently covered an interesting advocacy experiment. The call for advocacy occurred at Jordan high school in Sandy, Utah where the Young Democrats club sold cookies at the price of 77 cents for women and 1 dollar for men in order to raise awareness on the issue of gender pay inequality. The story itself was reported by two older white men who within racial/gender-based pay comparisons, being a white male would be part of the top percentile. Recent pay comparisons from the U.S. Current Population Survey show that in 2010 in the United States for every 1 dollar a white man earns a white women earns 80.5 cents (“The Wage Gap, by Gender and Race.”). Furthermore, when the intersecting category of race accompanies gender* these statistics show that black men earn 74.5 cents, Hispanic men 65.9 cents, , black women 69.6 cents and Hispanic women 59.8 cents in the United States to a white man’s dollar. This shows that there is not a wage gap, but rather many wage gaps. A look at these wage gap(s) statistic raises questions in regards to pay inequality not only for the Young Democrats of that Utah high school, but for myself as well. It is perhaps easy to mention what should determine a worker’s compensation such as, experience, knowledge, skills etc. What is not easy, is to examine the actual intersecting features and structures that determine a worker’s pay in 21st– century North America. How do the intersecting features of racism, sexism, cissexism, ableism and more really influence pay equality, or rather INequality? A look at examples of the structures that buttress pay inequality as well as discrimination that leads to pay inequality may shed more light on the issue.

The structures that support the various wage gaps among groups include the division of the labour market. In North America labour is quite gender-segregated as social structures/constructs segregate occupations into “men’s work” and “women’s work”. Comments made under this Good4Utah piece show that many in society believe that there are “male skills” and “female skills”. For example, Aaron Webb commented, “. . . some jobs require the male strength and aptitude towards not noticing pain and so forth, most women would freak if they cut their finger off, a guy would probably duct tape it and work the rest of the day before leaving work. . .”. While interviews at Jordan high school showed that not everyone thinks that men and women are genetically predisposed towards different skill sets, it is clear that a large portion of society does. This is evident in the pattern of pay stagflation within fields that are dominated by women (e.g. nurse wages, teaching wages, childcare wages) versus those that are dominated by men (e.g. managers (not retail sales, construction laborers, janitors) (Judy Aulette 194). As well as this pattern of gender-based pay stagflation, patterns of what North-American labour markets hold to be of value arise in the area of emotional labour and invisible labour. Emotional labour (face-to-face/voice-to-contact) components involved in certain female dominated fields (e.g. flight attendant, secretary, etc.) and invisible labour (labour associated with maternal tasks e.g. direct child care, laundry, cooking, etc.) receive no/less monetary compensation which communicates that they are of a lesser value than other labour, that is if they are of any value at all. Moreover, these areas of labour in addition to having lower wage rates are often structured to give less benefits to the workers, for example domestic and clothing factory work are often structured to be part-time at very low wages which disproportionally effects women, and immigrant and lower-wage-class women at that (Aulette 502). These androcentric social structures that intersect with categories of class, race, and more facilitate and support the wage gaps.

In addition to labour structures that support pay inequality indirect and direct discrimination also facilitates wage gaps. Discrimination that stems from racism, cissexism, ableism and sexism often impacts the hiring and wage patterns of varying groups. For example, a study showed that trans women “respondents experienced discrimination in hiring at 55%, compared to 40% of [trans men] respondents. Gender non-conforming respondents experienced this form of discrimination at 32%” (Sohpia Kerby). Thus direct discrimination that stems from systems of oppression such as transphobia impact workers’ labour rights and income. In addition even when “controlling for education, race, occupation, and years of work experience . . . (t)he Williams Institute finds that gay and bisexual men earn 10 percent to 32 percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual men, in a meta-analysis of 12 studies examining earnings and sexual orientation in the United States.” (Crosby Burns). Furthermore race and homophobia intersect in data that shows the average Latina lesbian couple earns $3,000 less than Latino opposite-sex couples (Sohpia Kerby). Indirect discrimination where workers’ are not hired because they’re “just not the right fit” as well as direct discrimination clearly has an impact on labour patterns and the livelihoods of many varying groups.

All in all, it can be seen that the intersecting features of oppression that litter labour structures as well as labour discrimination practices have a large impact on society. These systematic intersecting features arguably make many groups in society more vulnerable. For example, social security benefits are tied to income and as well the gender-segregation of the labour market is part the foundation of the feminization of poverty. In addition, just viewing portions of the article as well as comments made under the article show the social effects of wage gaps. For example comments made by fruitbot, “ (m)en are often taught basic construction skills early by their dads and most women are not.” highlight that wage gaps and representation in different labour markets affects the way we socialize our children. Wage gaps form a part of the socialization process that transparently displays that some people by nature of their personal characteristics are literally worth less than others and is a multi-tiered problem that I’m glad the Young Democrats group at the Utah high school began to address.

*gender in these statistics is limited to cisgender individuals


Aulette, Judy Root., Judith G. Wittner, and Kristin Blakely. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Burns, Crosby. “The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap.” Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Kerby, Sohpia. “How Pay Inequity Hurts Women of Color.” Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

“The Wage Gap, by Gender and Race.” Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.


Catastrophic Love: A Response to the Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous cultures

The article, An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses discusses the cultural appropriation of Canadian Plain’s culture when non-natives where the headdress of Canada’s Plains peoples. The author, who calls herself, âpihtawikosisân uses comparisons of restricted symbols such as a Bachelor’s degree and military medals to highlight that certain items in any social culture cannot be possessed by just anyone, and as such are restricted. She states that “headdresses are restricted items” and have to be earned through a strict criteria. Thus when non-indigenous people wear the headdress it is an act of offensive cultural appropriation.

To me, cultural appropriation occurs when the most dominant or powerful culture or group takes possession of elements of a foreign and less powerful culture without invitation. When we look at the cultural appropriation of elements indigenous culture it is clear that this cultural appropriation has its roots in settler colonialism. The cultural appropriation of indigenous culture is part of the larger narrative of settlers stealing indigenous lands and systematically raiding and erasing indigenous cultures. This settler colonialism in North America that resulted in the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples in Canada is a notable catastrophe in Canadian history. In the instance of another North American catastrophe, slavery, Rev. Dr. Cornel West describes the social justice work of abolitionists and civil rights activists that was a response to this particular instance of colonialism as ‘catastrophic love’. Catastrophic love can be described as the beauty and work that arises as a response to world catastrophes (Baxter Justice is Love Made Public). According to West the fight for justice in response to catastrophe is a public form of compassion and love in that, “justice is what love looks like in public” (Baxter Justice is Love Made Public).

The idea of catastrophe and catastrophic love can also be applied to the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada and the countless Canadian indigenous struggles for justice that have occurred in response. The justice that indigenous peoples in Canada seek by staging protests, creating social movements, and seeking legal action may be labelled as catastrophic love. As I write this at “Queen’s University” on stolen traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe land I wonder about the love/methods of justice that indigenous peoples such as the author of this article in her patient explanations have shown towards non-indigenous peoples, including myself. What kind of love has been shown to indigenous peoples by us in return?

Examples of responses to the actions of justice seeking activists can be found in the comments of the article that display the wider patterns of love or lack of it present in Canadian society. Comments range from praise of the author for sharing her knowledge of how cultural symbols should be used, to accusations of hypocrisy and comparisons of red face to people dressing up as priests. These comments raise important questions about whether one can ‘appropriate’ a culture that one is a part of (not possible) and questions of the sense of majority entitlement of some when they feel they should have the dominant voice when it comes to matters of a culture that is not their own. These questions can only be answered by looking at responses to catastrophe, the power dynamics between different cultures and looking at how cultures assimilate.

To date, the majority of modern Canadian society have responded to the catastrophe and catastrophic love of indigenous activists with a continued lack of love. For example, when indigenous cultures are reduced to “princess”, “squaw” and other stereotypes is a lack of love. How we culturally appropriate in mass symbols (e.g. the ‘Indian princess’ costumes bought every Canadian Halloween to represent indigenous peoples) of indigenous cultures is a lack of love. Our lack of love in the form of cultural appropriation continues in our representations of indigenous peoples in the media when white actors in films become “one with nature” and take on without a full authentic understanding restricted traditions and mannerisms of an indigenous group (i.e. John Dunbar played by Kevin Cosner in Dances with Wolves, Jake in Avatar). These examples of modern cultural appropriation are a continued pattern of the reductionism of indigenous peoples to negative and false stereotypes.

These patterns of cultural appropriation are not harmless. The appropriation and reduction of indigenous cultures is a way of using cultural hegemony to oppress indigenous peoples. Though Canada prides itself on multiculturalism and the historical advancement of Canada, our pressure on indigenous peoples to assimilate into Canadian culture when we pressure them for example to abandon certain lands and seek jobs that we think are more modern is an example of anglo-conformity and contradictory to Canada’s multicultural mandate. Cultural appropriation in this vein when it represents indigenous peoples as temporarily fixed in the past (e.g. in the media depictions of indigenous peoples) or represents many indigenous groups as one synonymous culture is another hegemonic method of oppressing indigenous peoples. These patterns of cultural hegemony and appropriation that we participate is really part of how we reduce and essentially disappear (#HowWeDisappear) indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide.

The article by âpihtawikosisân is a presentation of the social justice and love for the public that arises out of catastrophe. Her action of trying to educate majority Canadian society and assist in our unlearning of negative indigenous stereotypes and the assumption that we have a right to parts of indigenous culture whether restricted (headdresses, indigenous facial markings) or unrestricted (moccasins, indigenous art) is the type of response to violent catastrophe that Rev. Dr. West spoke of. This article shows that cultural appropriation has ramifications and that our actions of consuming other cultures needs to be taken up at all times with the utmost respect.

All in all, how we show love to the indigenous activists in return for the love they show when they seek justice in the public sphere is through as the writer states, real celebration of the culture by accessing the unrestricted parts of their culture. The act of showing love to and seeking justice for the indigenous peoples of Canada, our fellow Canadian citizens is not just the responsibility of Canadian policy. We as Canadian citizens need to assure the rights of fellow citizens because as surely as writers such as âpihtawikosisân share their knowledge and search for justice and love with us, we must love them in kind.