A Field Guide to the Mansplainers Who Emerge Every Equal Pay Day

Every April, equal pay advocates observe Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date representing how far into the current year women have to work in order to catch up to what men were paid by the end of the last year—and throughout the year, we note other Equal Pay Days, marking when women of different racial and ethnic groups catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men were paid the year before. And every time, like clockwork, mansplainers emerge to try to tell us that the wage gap isn’t real. We’re out here minding our own business, and trying to get paid fairly for it. Yet they can’t help but interrupt us, in an attempt to deny the existence of sexism armed almost exclusively with — you guessed it! — more sexism.

Fortunately and unfortunately, because these folks make the same tired arguments every time anybody mentions pay inequity, there’s no need for you to spend new energy trying to refute every level at which they’re totally wrong. As soon as you see or hear any of the following ‘splainers initiating their signature anti-mating call – “Well, actually…” — just send them this link and move on with your life. Especially if you’re a woman who may have to work  10 or more extra years to match their career earnings, you really don’t have time or energy to waste arguing with them.

The Discrimination Denier

The Discrimination Denier believes that discrimination is a thing of the past, because a handful of heroes he barely remembers from social studies fixed that stuff back in the ’60s or whatever. Anyone still talking about discrimination, they reason, is just making excuses (as opposed to correctly observing that it takes a long time to dismantle longstanding oppression, and progress is often followed by backlash).

Danny Denial here simply can’t wrap his mind around the fact that, yes, even now, some employers will straight up pay women less than men for the same work, or pass women over for promotions and other opportunities. He also misses that the absence of women – particularly women of color who grew up in poverty – in many higher paying positions is also often the result of barriers to opportunity that disproportionately impact these girls and women. It’s a lot harder to advance in tech, for example, if you have to overcome under-funded schools that don’t offer STEM courses or college counselors, and numerous family obligations, while dealing with peers, supervisors, or investors who don’t take your work seriously, or sexually harass you with impunity.

Captain Distinction-Without-a-Difference

Like his pal the Discrimination Denier, Captain Distinction-Without-a-Difference also believes that there’s no such thing as workplace discrimination. However, he takes things a step further by accusing us little ladies of cheating ourselves, by choosing to concentrate in fields that just so happen to pay less than their male-dominated counterparts. This guy is as oblivious to his conversation partners’ eye-rolls as he is to the fact that being underpaid as a class is as problematic as being underpaid strictly on an individual basis.

The one thing guys like this get right in their argument is that the gender wage gap is the result of people’s choices. Their problem is that they focus on the choices of female workers, instead of the choices of (disproportionately male) employers. They ignore that economic conditions like relative pay across professions aren’t handed down on stone tablets by an invisible hand, but are affected by employers’ and policymakers’ decisions, which means they’re subject to those people’s conscious and unconscious biases.

Not-so-fun fact: Researchers have tracked how pay levels in a career field change based on how female- or male-dominated they are. They find that all else equal, employers seem to value work based on who is doing it, rather than the nature of the work itself. For example, you know those STEM jobs the discrimination deniers often tell women to pursue instead of “lesser” fields like teaching? Back when computer programming was predominantly done by women, it was considered menial labor and paid accordingly, until men started entering the field in larger numbers and pushing women out.

The Mommy Tracker

The Mommy Tracker thinks that the wage gap isn’t real because women choose to have children, choose to do the bulk of the work related to raising those children, and then choose to do less paying work as a result. He doesn’t see any sexism in the fact that parenthood often results in major hits to moms’ pay and career advancement, but frequently has the opposite effect for dads. (What’s a six-letter word that describes many employers’ assumption that parenthood makes fathers better employees, but makes mothers worse ones? Sexism, maybe?)

Moreover, counter to his 1950s throwback assumptions, research reveals that many women choose to leave their jobs because they’re caught in an economic bind: their pay is so low, the cost of child care is so high, and our country’s family leave policies are so inadequate that it’s often physically, emotionally, and economically impractical to do paid work on a full-time basis before her kids reach school age. Some “choice.”

The Pence

It’s not just what you know, but who you know — and how often you get face time with them — that often determines career success. Yet the Pences among us think women just don’t try hard enough to get ahead, even as they’re doing everything they can to hold us back. Often close friends with Mommy Trackers, a Pence will do everything he can to deny women access to birth control and abortion, then turn around and claim we’re “choosing” to harm our earning potential by having children.

Pences are also the type to conduct important business on the golf course or during after-hours dinner and drinking events, yet refuse to interact with women in such settings (or even one-on-one at the office) unless closely supervised by their wives. They fail to see how economically powerful men making choices like these robs women of critical opportunities to impress and build trust with higher-ups in the workplace. That, combined with many of these guys’ failure to do their fair share of housework and/or child care, often leaves the women in their lives rushing home to handle dinner and bedtime with the kids – instead of going to networking happy hours, drafting proposals for high-profile conferences, or otherwise seizing opportunities that could translate into better pay.

The Benedict Arnold

A Benedict is a guy who claims to be a feminist, and says he’s on our side. But instead of spending his time educating his fellow men on how they can be better allies in pursuit of equality, he wastes our time glibly “playing Devil’s Advocate” with us over the most serious economic issues of our lives, and lecturing us on how he thinks we can “advance ourselves” or “better represent our cause.” Every time I encounter a Benedict in the wild, I just hold up my hand and tell him that the devil has enough advocates. If they’re truly trying to make positive change in the world, they’ll reflect, apologize, and commit to doing better in the future. If not, then you now know they’re not as woke as they pretend to be.

The Schlafly

The Schlafly might honestly be the worst mansplainer of the bunch, because she’s actually a woman who dutifully echoes the same arguments that keep her own self down. She may even go so far as to praise men for being confident enough to negotiate better pay, while ignoring the fact that women frequently attempt to negotiate in the same way, yet get penalized for doing so. It’s hard to even know where to begin when talking to a Schlafly, but I desperately want to know why she’s ignoring Mother Maya’s sage words about feminism, and why she is not on her own side.