Rich Girl Poor Girl: Both Get Screwed Over
Women can’t catch a break these days. Scratch that - they haven’t been able to catch a break for about, oh, over 2,000 years. But the point is: they still can’t catch a break. Forget the fact that they’re bombarded with images and cultural expectations that make them feel too fat, too ugly, too stupid, too incapable, and too insecure in comparison to your average male. Forget the fact that women make anywhere from 67-77 cents per man’s dollar. Forget the fact that the USA is now rife with high-ranking politicians who believe that women’s bodies can ‘shut down legitimate rape’. There’s a new reason on the block to remind us why it’s so utterly awesome to be a woman today.
Whether you’re a rich, well-educated, professional woman working 70-plus hours a week as a lawyer or academic, or a woman working less than 30 hours a week in health care, retail or the restaurant industry, your “availability” is going to determine your ultimate “employability”. More than ever before, “availability” is a kind of human capital, and for women - the ‘fairer’ sex that will more often drop what they’re doing at work to be there for their kids - this wreaks havoc on a woman’s life.
Consider this: you’re a retail worker. You have kids at home who go to school. You work eight hours one week, and 35 the next. Your kids never know when you’ll be there to make them dinner, help with their homework, or tuck them in. You’re called in or sent home as needed, so life is unpredictable, both in terms of money and hours. Now imagine you’re a high-level lawyer or CEO with kids. You make great money, but you work 12-15 hours a day, and seldom make it home for dinner. Your kids are falling behind at school. Your Blackberry can never be turned off.
The “availability” trade-off is similar for the professional and the service-industry worker: they both can’t say “no” to their work situations for fear of losing their jobs. But it’s the latter group that enjoys some very fringe perks. While getting only minimum wage, service industry workers (of which there are millions in Canada, mostly women) never see their hours hit 40 per week. Full-time status would initiate benefit and pension pay-outs, so employers keep their labour just shy of a full work week. Exploitation...it comes in many shades, colours, and costumes. But women are the primary benefactors of this mass brand of profiteering.
But there are ways to fix this imbalance, and it means re-jigging our labour laws.
1). Move beyond a minimum hourly wage, to “minimum, guaranteed weekly hours”. This would keep employers from over-hiring - cheaply - a roster of on-call employees, and ensure some modicum of stability for shift workers.
2). Require that overtime be paid not only to shift workers, but to salaried workers. This would ease the burden put on professionals to be working the equivalent of 2 or 3 jobs under one title and create ‘assistant’ jobs to cover the change in work load.
These kinds of changes to our labour laws wouldn’t benefit corporations, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll come into being. But that would mean that one person gets - and works - one job, which would have a ripple effect: professionals (and non-professionals) could strike a feasible work-life balance; more entry-level jobs would be created for graduates; and more low-income families could enter the middle class.
Don’t you think it’s time women were given a break?