Equal Pay for Women Should Be a No-Brainer for One Weirdly Obvious Reason

Author Mark Greene breaks down man box culture and pay equity for women.

This article is adapted from a chapter from Greene’s newly released The Little #MeToo Book for Men, which explores our culture of manhood’s reaction to the #MeToo movement. It picks up threads from earlier chapters such as man box culture, which refers to the bullying and shaming enforcement of a narrow set of rules for being a “real man.”


The good news about this article? You don’t have to read past the first few paragraphs to get my point about why this already should have happened. But I’ll give you a quick hint. Men like money. That’s how simple my pay equity argument actually is.

Let’s do a little thought experiment: Women earn about eighty cents for every dollar earned by men, for equal work. The gap is often larger among higher-paying jobs.

Next: How many men have a life partner who is a working woman (or will have one at some point in our lives)? Yet, collectively, men accept a 20% shortfall in our partners’ income level, simply because, you know, …girls. That’s a new car. That’s a vacation. That’s a dishwasher. Why isn’t every man with a working female spouse or life partner out in the streets demanding that equal pay be the law of the land? Forget fairness for women. Forget morality or ethics. These are our families’ bank balances we’re talking about.

There. Thought experiment over. And it’s not even an experiment. This is just plain old how we do it in America.

Over a decade or two, this 20% gap in women’s pay can be the difference between borrowing for or paying cash for a child’s college costs. It can be a retirement fund. It can be a rental property or health insurance. Yet we continue to live in a nation in which men accept lower pay for our own family members, wives, sisters, and mothers, which is yet another example of male silence playing out. They get paid less. We say nothing. How do we know this? Because if every man who has a working female spouse got behind pay equity tomorrow, it would be the law of the land the day after.

Instead, men collectively shrug. “Oh, yeah, that’s a thing. Women get paid less. But what are you going to do?” This general response leaves a lot unsaid. Not the least of which is, “but you know, they’re women…” And as much as it should be framed as an issue of simple fairness, that’s not the point I am making here, either. That millions of men are voluntarily giving up such a sizable sum of money must mean we’re exchanging it for something we value more.

“Yes sir, a new SUV would be nice, but instead, you get this lovely 2018 model ‘status over women.’ We realize it pretty much looks like last decade’s model, but enjoy it anyway.”

And there you have it. We are literally exchanging our child’s college fund for the illusion of status over women. We are that easily manipulated. Or, for those of us who are more equality minded, have decades of suppressing fire from more dominant conservative male voices have left us unwilling to openly challenge our collective cultural narrative that women are less. And because men in man box culture don’t talk about this stuff (Sports only, boys!), we all assume general agreement with lower pay for women even though collectively, we might actually support having more money in our families’ bank accounts.

It’s no accident that many voices in media and politics model the angry bullying voice of man box culture, further suppressing men’s willingness to challenge demonstrably terrible policies for fear that the men in our networks will “kick us out of the club” or worse, that we will be shamed and abused until we get back in line. Decades of being policed in man box culture has bullied us into silence. As a result, what is very likely collective support for more progressive policies, even in our own immediate social or professional circles, remains hidden from us.

The question is often posed, why do Americans so consistently vote against our own self-interest? Equal pay legislation is one example of this, bogged down as it has been for years in the U.S. Congress. In a pattern that plays out over and over across a wide range of issues including healthcare, education and the environment, men are conditioned to act against our own communities, our own families, our own spouses, and ourselves. And for what do we give up so much? This is the power of our dominant man box culture, that it can convince men to live shorter, more isolated, more impoverished lives in exchange for the illusion of status over women.

And that’s a rotten deal for everybody.