As is news to no one, the wage gap is historically fucked. Women’s work is and has been undervalued and under-compensated for far too long, and despite calls to right this wrong, little has been done to address the issue. Of course, this is deeply rooted in the sexism and misogyny which capitalism thrives off of (not to mention the racism and classism inherent in pay discrepancy), which has attempted to codify the work women do as being less valuable than that of a man. However, according to a report from The New York Times, women are the people currently keeping the United States running, and not only that, they are on the front lines.
This doesn’t mean women’s work is suddenly valuable, it highlights the fact that it has always been, and that their work has long been the invisible infrastructure that allows society to function. According to the Times analysis, 1 in 3 jobs held by women has been deemed essential, and non-white women are more likely to hold these positions than anyone else. As written in the Times:
Women make up nearly nine out of 10 nurses and nursing assistants, most respiratory therapists, a majority of pharmacists and an overwhelming majority of pharmacy aides and technicians. More than two-thirds of the workers at grocery store checkouts and fast food counters are women.
In other words, the people who are allowing us to live a life as close to normal as possible right now, and those who are supporting and caring for the people in need, are more likely the be women than they are not to be. While men have traditionally made up a majority of the workforce, under our current circumstances, that just isn’t the case.
The report does note that men do, of course, hold essential jobs that put them at risk each day, like law enforcement and public utilities jobs, but the number of men employed in those fields going to work every day is vastly overshadowed by the number of women working in health care alone who are facing the pandemic head-on.
And these healthcare workers aren’t just doctors and nurses, they are also home care aides who sometimes make little more than minimum wage and who have been largely unrecognized as part of the healthcare system, according to the Times, “Of the 5.8 million people working health care jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, half are nonwhite and 83 percent are women.”
This is all to say nothing of the fact that, because the federal classification of educator is unclear, teachers were not included in the analysis of essential workers. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that, were they to be included, the numbers would look vastly different and highlight an even higher percentage of work being done by women, as class is still very much in session, albeit online.
The piece closes with a quote from Crystal Patterson, a home health aide, who had this to say, “As a woman, this is nothing new to me. That’s how it’s always been in this country: ‘When we’re sick, get us through this.’” During WWII women went to work and took over the workforce because men went to war. During this pandemic, women make up a greater percentage of the workforce not because the men have gone to war, but because the work women do has been deemed essential to keep our country functioning. It would do us all better to remember when we reach a stasis point again that it’s only possible because of women.