Don’t Just Read This Headline
“A woman makes 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.”
I’ve heard this statistic countless times, but I never bothered to delve deeper into the gender pay gap until this year, when one of my teachers asked us to write a paper discussing whether it was real. What I found during my research was that my perception of the pay gap — that it was the result of sexist employers paying women less than men for the same jobs — was grossly oversimplified. The problem has much more complexity than this one facet; we could consider conditioned gender roles, lack of workplace flexibility, and copious double standards, and we’d still be barely scratching the surface. Another surprise I met with was various sources’ statistics leaving wildly different impressions when I did not consider the mode of measurement: a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research cites a 51% wage gap based on 2001-2015 figures while compensation software company PayScale claims a 21% gap in 2019.
Building our beliefs off of surface level statements only hurts us — when we don’t take the time to understand topics in depth, we not only shortchange ourselves by inhibiting our learning, but we also have the potential to circulate misinformation when we try to discuss these subjects without appreciating their complexity. Statistics are particularly tricky — before accepting them as truth, we should make a habit of analyzing their source and method of data collection: whether they make a valid comparison of apples to apples or they’re cherry-picked to tell only part of the story, whether the conductor of the study is potentially biased or the survey questions themselves are skewed.
We don’t have to be experts on every aspect of every social issue or current event, but we should at least make an effort to look beyond the headlines; otherwise, we’re left with only oversimplified assumptions that, left untended, feed into beliefs that shape our actions. If we drift through life with an incomplete understanding of concerns like climate change, gun control, or racial inequality — problems that shape and will continue to shape all of our lives — we cannot hope to ever contribute to their solutions. And if we are not part of the solution, then we are, to an extent, part of the problem.
So the next time you see a statistic, take the time to consider where those numbers came from. The next time you hear someone make a claim, use your abundance of resources to decide whether or not you agree — cultivate your critical thinking skills and build beliefs that are really your own.
Cut out the Undercutting
A few weeks ago, I complimented my friend on her thorough annotations for English class, and her immediate response was, “No what, yours are ten times better than mine!” Before I could respond, another classmate added on, with a smile, “My god, you tryhards are really out here raising the bar for the rest of us!” Though it was just a joke, her response as well as my friend’s made me realize how often we undercut any compliments given to other people or even ourselves. Our tendency to do this is rooted in the fact that we define ourselves based on comparing ourselves to others, a mindset that needs to be dismantled.
It’s common for MSJ students to tend to reject or one-up any compliments that we receive: “What do you mean — you’re better than me at _____” or “No, I’m not good at _____ at all” are common responses to compliments. Some say these comments as humble responses, but for many, it’s caused by the comparison culture at MSJ. Since many of us hold ourselves to high standards in terms of the work we produce or grades we get, it’s easy to look around and compare ourselves to peers that we feel like are doing better. In healthy doses, this comparison can help motivate us to do better; however, when we’re constantly comparing ourselves, which often ends up being the case, we start to define our self-worth based on how we measure up to others. This mindset can lead to us feeling like we are undeserving of praise: if there’s another student who is better than us, how good are we really? Believing that we can’t be good at something simply because someone else might be better is inherently flawed and leads to larger problems of self-esteem that can heavily impact our view of ourselves. Every time we see ourselves undeserving of compliments and reject them, we reinforce the idea that we are “not good,” which can cause more insecurity in our capabilities.
Undercutting compliments given to us not only impacts ourselves but the people around us: when other students hear these comments, it may prompt them to start making comparisons of their own. If a student who sees you as “better” than them hears you rejecting praise, they may feel even less worthy of any compliments given to them. Overall, it creates a situation where students attempt to place their self worth on an inequality by ordering themselves: her > him > me > etc. However, self worth is such a complex idea that isn’t solely defined by capability, especially in comparison to others, making it impossible to quantify with such an equation.
The idea that our self worth is tied to our ability to perform well and our comparison with how well our peers are doing is ingrained into MSJ: it’s something that will take a long time to fix. However, we can take the first steps by reminding ourselves not to undercut compliments from others. The fact that someone excels at something does not mean that you can’t as well; your success is not invalidated by someone else’s success.
Graphic by Web Editor Gregory Wu