(By Mikaela Myers, 1776 Scholar) In between bites of his haphazardly built ham sandwich, my friend glanced up and asked me, “So what did you think?” We were sitting in the cafeteria after just finishing a particularly heated class discussion about feminism and gender roles within the US society. My high school theology class was infamous for aggressively debating sensitive topics which often led to food for thought. Quite literally. I took several half-hearted stabs at a slippery, round, cherry tomato and tried to put my feelings to words. Up until that point, the wage gap had not been a topic that I had deeply considered. I knew the principle but I never applied it to myself or my future. Hearing that women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation was a cold glass of water dumped on my ambitions.

But what exactly does the wage gap mean? Are women paid less because they pick lower paying jobs than men? Is it because women work less? Is there a little person stealing extra money from women’s paychecks? I didn’t know. Could this seemingly distant wage gap detrimentally impact my worth to employers? It was a sobering thought.  I recently stumbled across an article that caught my eye. In a commentary piece titled Equal Pay For Equal Work: Not Even College Helps Women, Korva Coleman wrote, “A startling report finds freshly graduated women are worth less than equally educated men.” Excuse me? The article further explains that when men and women attend the same kind of college, pick the same major and accept the same type of job, women tend to earn 82 cents to every man’s dollar. According to the study, females who graduated in teaching earned 89 percent of what men did. In business, they earned 86 percent and in sales, women earned 77 percent of an average man’s paycheck.

Coleman gives several potential reasons for this apparent discrimination, including acknowledging historical withstanding biases against women who work in traditionally male dominated fields. Employers who buy into the preconceived notions that women are less efficient than men are directly influencing this gender gap. Furthermore, because of this instability of status in the workplace, many women find themselves unable or unwilling to negotiate salaries. The authors of the study write that, “this difference may reflect women’s awareness that employers are likely to view negotiations by men more favorably than negotiations by women.” These are a few explanations to an incredibly complex topic.

80 percent. According to statistics provided by AAUW, women, on average through the entire US, make 80 cents to every man’s dollar. These arguments are discouraging because they ask me to accept that this 20 percent gap of pay is based solely on the biases and thinking of others, predominantly men. The women of the 21st century are strong and independent. They are educated, competitive and exercise their right to freedom of speech regularly. There must be more to this wage gap then just men deciding our fiscal worth.

During that discussion, my theology professor presented a convincing argument that may offer a more conclusive connection between women and the wage gap. James and Mia are twin siblings. They were raised in an affluent household, attended private school since first grade and equally presented opportunities in life. James and Mia are ambitious and graduated high school at the top of their class, while committing to the same four-year university in the same discipline of study. Years pass and both James and Mia apply to the same company and have almost identical resumes. They are both hired as entry level employees and work hard and happily for several years. Mia, in her late 20s, decides to get married and have children. After months of a rather stressful pregnancy, Mia is blessed with a beautiful baby girl and takes a month maternity leave. Meanwhile, James has been working diligently and closed a huge account, making a large portion of money. Mia returns and continues working and ends up closing a large account as well. Two months later, a higher management position opens and both James and Mia apply for the job. Who gets hired?

To me, this example represents the traditional life path that is commonly followed by the average working class woman. It is a traditional, societal norm that women are more often the nurturing, caregivers of the household rather than the personifications of strength and efficiency that are more commonly associated with men. To some, the example above may be an example of systematic discrimination. To me, it is a reality check. As a hiring manager, regardless of age, sex or race, I would want the best candidate, even if that means choosing a man because he did not take a leave of absence. To be clear, this is not a discrediting argument towards the wage gap but merely a partial representation as to why it may be slightly unproportioned.

As women, we should be proud and ambitious in the workplace but also equally proud to be entrusted with the upbringing of the next generation. If I must endure a pay decrease so that I may raise and teach a child who has the potential to change the world, the trade off doesn’t seem quite as detrimental. I am a proud and well educated woman with goals and dreams that transcend the typical college senior. Yes, this systematic discrimination is hard to accept but when viewing the problem with a secular understanding of both how the economy and familial responsibility contribute to this divide, the gap seems much smaller. I will continue to fight for equal representation in the workplace and strive for the best but with respect to the honor and privilege it is to be a traditional woman.