The women’s officer of the National Union of Student (NUS) began the year with a controversial campaign around the gender pay gap. The gender gap campaign can be useful in highlighting that men are still getting paid more than women for the same work. Unfortunately, gender gap campaign are often executed in a simplistic framework that ignores other factors that contribute to workforce inequity. These gender gap campaigns are indicative of white feminism, a form of feminism that benefits bourgeois white women overlooking the struggles different women face; women who are oppressed based on their colour, sexuality, ability, socio-economic background and so forth. White feminism is best encapsulated by the notion of ‘breaking the glass ceiling’, the white feminist version of the trickle-down effect. This is the belief that once a woman manages to occupy a high position of power, this will also benefit the most disadvantaged women. Tony Abbott said in his International Women’s Day speech that Australian women have cracked almost every ceiling, as if Gina Reinhart getting richer through tax rebates would benefit the women who lost their single parent payments.
The gender gap campaign relies on statistics that fail to recognise that in Australia coloured women are paid less than white women, and indigenous women are paid even less than the average colour woman. In fact, the average white woman earns more than a coloured man. Furthermore, those who are transgender are more vulnerable to lower wages with a lack of legal protection. A campaign blind to the compound difficulties non-normative white women face within the workforce will be ineffective in improving the wage gap for all women.
As a university orientated campaign, it focuses on graduate jobs, ignoring the barriers women face in receiving a higher education. Many women of colour and of poor socio-economic background have different access to education, especially those attending rural and public schools. By focusing on graduate jobs, the gender gap campaigns also excludes housework and illegal work, work that is often invisible because it is not recognised by wider society. The invisibility of this work is fundamental to perpetuating the exploitation and devaluation of women labour. A feminist campaign should challenge this invisibility but not contribute to it. In fact, our society is founded on the exploitation of women and their free labour in the household. Even women with professional jobs complete more housework then their male counterparts.
Lastly, the gender campaign fails to challenge broader structure of the workforce, for example what jobs are deemed important are dictated by masculine, patriarchal values. Occupations associated with women, because either traditionally occupied by women or seen as feminine, such as teaching and social work are some of the lowest paid jobs, despite the amount of labour these jobs require and their contribution to society.
Monash student union’s Women Affairs Committee (WAC) voted unanimously against endorsing NUS’s gender gap campaign because the poster and slogans of the campaign endorse a form of white feminist that erases the struggles of women who tackle other forms of marginalisation. While the NUS Women’s Officer argued the campaign was planned in conjunction with the NUS disability and Indigenous wage-gap campaign, none of their material for the campaign reflected this. The NUS gender gap campaign benefits the already advantaged university educated white women instead of helping the most disadvantaged women. These types of campaigns are rehashed year after year without critical revaluation and reflection. It is important to take a stance against them because #weareworthmore.