Letters to the editor

Special edition: Do women deliberately earn less in order to attract men?

Published February 28, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Pros and amateurs

Ann Marlowe is right on. It's incredible how much one can internalize other people's expectations. When women begin to think of themselves as weak, financially or otherwise, they contribute to their own degradation. And who, besides an actual pro wants to think of herself as selling her favors? I used to reach for the dinner check all the time, but over the years I was reprimanded by both men and women for my behavior. At the time, I defended myself by saying that he worked hard for the money, and so did I, so why not? Apparently, both sexes find that statement sufficiently frightening that I started wondering if I was wrong. Well, I'm not wrong. Look, I don't want to tell the young men I date not to send me flowers. But I send them flowers too.

-- T. Sanchez

The problem is not that women want to make less money
but that "women's work" is always valued less. Why should an engineer make more money than a teacher? Are engineers more necessary to the world? Or why should the person who mows your lawn make more than one who takes care of your children? Why should we have to choose between a satisfying job and a high-paying one?

If all women left low-paying fields, the world would fall apart.

-- Rachel Orfila

I want to leave a profession of mindless spinning for money for something with a contribution towards society either through teaching, working with the elderly or on public policy. I'm the first to admit it's for me and not anyone else. If a man thinks that's sexy because it seems altruistic and sweet or appears like he could take on the role of financial protector that is his problem and I don't think I'd be interested. But I in no way am setting my sights on a millionaire (I work with some people lucky to be blessed by this Internet economy and frankly am not impressed by their interpersonal skills, inadequate attention to their families, four-day-a-week travel schedules, etc.) I'm interested in a man who is intelligent, responsible, warm and fun regardless of the profession he chooses, be it janitor, writer, web designer, teacher, investment banker or bus driver.

-- Bronwyn O'Malley

I am a married woman who has always made much more money than my husband, and that doesn't bother either of us.

Some of Marlowe's arguments seemed to be based on the assumption that women have a choice in how far their careers will go. I am here to tell you that there are still gross inequities in salaries between men and women who have the same job, and that the glass ceiling really does exist. These inequities are not because women are "settling." You have to be a voraciously ambitious woman to make it to the same level as a moderately ambitious man in corporate America today. And competence has nothing to do with it. I have seen many male twits promoted over the heads of competent women. Say what you will, it is still a boy's club out here in corporate

-- Kay Robart

This is one thought-provoking article! But I am afraid Ann Marlowe is too quick to label people who don't want to climb the career ladder in the traditional sense, be they male or female, as some sort of resentful underclass. "Getting to the top" takes time and energy that might be spent elsewhere, say, raising children or having friends and interests outside the workplace or just plain having a balanced life. Women are less pressured, in general, to give up everything else to have a "great career" (that is, a high-paying one), so is it surprising that some of them decide to do other things with their time, other things that may not have as much monetary value but are valuable in other ways?

-- Ann Muir Thomas

It's not "bad" for women to lower their ambitions, just as it's not "bad" for women to want to look physically attractive. It's part of the mating game.

By intellectualizing the mating ritual, you are turning people into asexual beings. Making statistical differences between male and female salaries insignificant is like turning Rebecca Romjin into the Hulk. Nobody wants to see that.

I'd like to thank Marlowe for pointing out that sexual diversity is alive and well, and I'm looking forward to reading her book.

-- Howard Goldowsky

Ann Marlowe makes some valid points, but she too blithely dismisses women's work-versus-family conflicts as a cause of income inequality, because she assumes that these conflicts only begin to affect women after they become mothers. I think they affect us much sooner.

Many young women assume they will take time off from their careers to start families a few years after college or grad school, and will have to balance work and family thereafter. Some women may feel, consciously or unconsciously, that it's not worthwhile to devote massive time and energy to pursuing high-powered careers that are bound to be derailed a few years down the road, before they've had sufficient time to achieve many of their long-term goals.

Perhaps more important, since young men may anticipate that they'll have to support their families single-handedly for some length of time -- a length of time most likely determined by their wives, not by themselves -- they're likely to feel more pressure than women do to choose higher-paying careers.

Marlowe heaps scorn on low-paying jobs in publishing, auction houses and private schools, but these are careers that many people love passionately and find deeply rewarding. If women pursue them more often than men do, perhaps this is not because we lack the self-respect to choose careers based solely on their income potential, but because we feel freer than men do to choose work that we truly love, regardless of salary. That's not fair or equal, but I don't think the advantage here is entirely on the side of the men.

-- Sonya Martinez Mukherjee

Marlowe identified many ways in which women create situations, through choice of profession and choice of mate, in which their marriages are economically beneficial. While she attributes these choices to women's desire to be supported, I believe that there is another dynamic at play. Women know that most men want to play the role of provider. When women are extremely successful in lucrative careers, it becomes impossible for men to play that role. Thus, many women, either consciously or subconsciously, insure that their careers will not threaten men. I know many women who seek out men who are more "successful" for fear that a relationship with a man whose career has stalled will eventually fail due to his insecurity.

-- Karyn Schwartz

I didn't howl in outrage as Marlowe presumes some readers would. I did shake my head and say, She's got to be kidding.

Yes, money is a factor when a woman chooses a mate. And some women marry for money. But of course, men do too and always have. Does the term dowry ring any bells?

To say women take low paying jobs to make themselves more attractive marriage partners is ludicrous. Marlowe uses the phrase "post-deb, waiting-to-wed" and believe me, "post-deb" is the key part of that phrase. I doubt a post-deb's future husband sees her as his little under-achiever that he can rescue, but he may see her finishing school manners, college education, family money and connections and future inheritance.

Marlowe is right that men rarely say, "What a great person, but we can't get married because she's a nursery school teacher and doesn't have a dime." But you also don't often hear middle or upper class men say, "I don't care if she's a high school drop out and bags groceries at the A & P, we're in love." People tend to choose marriage partners within their economic group.

-- Susan Ochs-Scher

Ann Marlowe's article, in the guise of alerting us to a feminist issue, manages to be sexist and classist at the same time. True, some women do set a priority on their potential partner's (male OR female) earning potential. But the statement that "Girls still grow up thinking of work as an option, while boys know it as a necessity" situates Marlowe squarely in the ranks of the upper classes. Moreover, she maligns women who choose "helping professions" such as teaching as deluded saps of the patriarchy, waiting for their multimillionaire to come -- therefore they choose "a less responsible, less stressful or less remunerative" profession.

There is an element of sexism that steers women toward teaching or nursing because of a putative female caregiving nature, but to say that these jobs are less valuable simply because they pay less feeds into the sexism that Marlowe purports to deride.

Yes, some women do like money. But to attribute many women's job choices to an internalized sexist view of male financial power ultimately effaces to the true sexism in the workplace. For example, instead of asking why women teach, why not ask why teachers, whose jobs are demanding, responsible, and stressful, are not paid adequately?

Feminism does demand that we examine our actions. But Marlowe's essay gives too little credit to the women of all classes who work hard for too little reward.

-- Marya Janoff

Interesting point and not without some validity, however reams of social science research, most notably by Paula England, shows women get paid less than men in all fields, regardless of years of education or experience or productivity. Even women who don't send out "take care of me vibes" by taking female jobs or working less hard are short-shrifted on average.
This has been proven true at in a wide range of fields: Male professors are paid more than comparable female professors at the same universities. Male lawyers are paid more than female lawyers at the same firms, again controlling for hours worked, years of experience, education, you name it. It is also true in traditionally female jobs such as nursing and elementary school teaching where women are still paid less than comparable men.

Low expectations is not the only problem, and individuals changing their personal outlooks are not going to change the pay-gap status quo.

-- Shazia R. Miller

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