One of the most pressing women’s rights issues today is the gender wage gap. Even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, rendering gender-based pay discrimination illegal, the truth is that women are still paid less than men.
Today, the gender wage gap is one of the biggest barriers to economic justice for women. Most people have heard this statistic: women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes in the workplace.
It’s a shocking fact, but it only tells part of the story.
In reality, this figure holds true for white women in relation to white men. For women of color, this gap is much wider. Black women typically make 64 cents to every white man’s dollar, while Latina women only make 54 cents. Asian American women make 91 cents to every dollar earned by a white man, but even this figure is misleading: It’s true for Indian American and Chinese American women while Cambodian American and Hmong American women, for example, make a much lower figure.
So why is it that we only talk about the gender wage gap as it affects white women? To many women of color, this comes as no surprise. The feminist movement has a history of excluding women of color in the fight for gender equality. Even some of the most revered feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, disregarded the voices of black feminists in order to advance the rights of white women.
— Soraya Chemaly (@schemaly) February 23, 2015
But in order for the feminist movement to work for the rights of all women, we need to look at women’s issues through an intersectional lens.
Intersectionality is a term coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to refer to the specific ways in which black women experience oppression. Crenshaw explained that women of color do not experience racism and sexism as two separate forms of marginalization. Rather, they face a distinct form of racialized and gendered oppression that is greater than the sum of its parts. Although Crenshaw coined this term specifically with regards to race, scholars have applied it to other forms of oppression as well, including sexual orientation, class and disability.
Intersectionality is critical when discussing economic justice as a feminist issue. Of course, the fact that white women make 78 percent of what a similarly qualified white man makes is a clear injustice.
But when the struggles of women are homogenized without acknowledging the specific issues faced by women of color, disabled women and LGBT women in the workforce, we aren’t truly doing enough for women’s rights. Feminism means working towards full equality for all women, not just the privileged few.