Are Men Just Better Than Women at Everything?

Well, yesterday I got all Tigger-ish about marriage equality

But ladies, we’re still losing ground. Today, your Senators discuss whether you deserve a more robust law protecting your right to equal pay for equal work. Why do we need one? Well, consider this article in Women’s E-News in which Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett analyze the fact that as white men increasingly move into what once were considered women’s occupations—nurses, teachers, social workers, dental hygienists, and the like—they get paid more and get promoted faster.

Yes, you read that right. When white men go into “women’s work,” they earn more money and move up more quickly, out-earning equally qualified women. Because, you know, white guys are just better at everything.

Social scientists have been writing about this phenomenon for a least a decade. They call it the “glass escalator”—men are moved up invisibly by social expectations – and contrast it with the “sticky floor”—women have a harder time proving themselves competent, much less promotable.

Here’s the really depressing part: the white men move up fastest when their supervisors are either female or nonwhite. Barnett and Rivers cite three proposed reasons:

No. 1: White men bring their privileges with them when they enter female-dominated occupations, and women and minority supervisors may simply yield to the weight of these societal stereotypes.

No. 2: Women and minority supervisors may cater to white male subordinates to bolster the perception that they are fair and unbiased and perhaps to ward off any accusations of reverse discrimination.

No. 3: They may favor white male subordinates to increase their own status in the eyes of their white male peers and superiors. As Smith says, “just as some mentors are partial to their most promising protégés, women and minority mentors may take a special interest in white male protégés because they possess two socially valued statuses.”

In the process, of course, women and minority males may be reinforcing job barriers built on a foundation of bias. By buying into the legitimacy of white male privilege, they make it harder for others to rise up the ranks and enjoy top pay, promotions and benefits.

On the plus side, having men move into the “pink ghetto” could heighten the prestige of these fields and increase benefits for everybody. But this good effect could be blunted if white men on the Glass Escalator leave everybody else behind.


What, you thought “women’s work” and “men’s work” were relics from the Mad Men past? Nuh-uh. Joan would feel right at home today. “Women’s” occupations employ 30 percent of all working women: secretaries, administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers, nursing and health aides, customer service representatives, first-line retail supervisors, cashiers, receptionists, accountants, auditors. Meanwhile, the well-paying “men’s” trades—electricians, plumbers, construction workers, and the like—are 97 percent male, or more.

Sociologists have also noted that any time a profession—or even a department or a specialty within a profession—becomes female-dominated, it loses status and its pay rates go down. Talk to anyone who’s worked a long time in human resources, say, or sociology. I’ve interviewed female engineers who told me that it’s happened within engineering subspecialties or departments within their companies.

Ladies earn less. We don’t have to support families, after all. That’s the man’s job. So if the Senate declines to pass the upgraded Paycheck Fairness Act, perhaps they will instead pass a law promising all women that some man will support us. Can you just imagine getting your rights read to you at age 21: You have the right to be supported. If you cannot afford a man, a man will be assigned to you.

I just hope I get a gay man, so he doesn’t expect—you know. A girl can dream, can’t she? 

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