French Women Walked out of the Office Early to Protest the Pay Gap. What If American Women Did the Same?
- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Liberté, égalité, equal pay.
On Monday, the French groups Les Glorieuses, Les Effrontées, and Osez le Féminisme organized a nationwide workplace walkout by women employees at 4:34 p.m. local time. Per the Financial Times, that’s “the theoretical moment when French women, in effect, start working for free until the end of the year because of the average pay gap to the country’s men.” Several hundred protesters demonstrated in the Place de la République in Paris, and French women and men alike tweeted about the moment using the hashtag, “#7novembre16H34.”
France borrowed this idea from Iceland, where, just last month, women left work at 2:38 p.m. to similarly highlight the average time at which their gendered deficit means they start working for free each day. And Iceland, for the eighth year in a row, ranks first in this year’s World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, which measures “gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in countries.” France, on the other hand, is 17th.
And the United States, on the non-existent third hand, ranks 45th. This raises the question: Would American women leave work early in such a protest? And what time would they leave if they were to do so?
The answer is not quite as easy as it is in France, and certainly not as simple as it is in Iceland, and not only because the United States covers six time zones.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (hardly a feminist conspiracy coven), women make 79 cents for every $1 men earn. Let’s take the simpler Icelandic model and say that this means that a woman working eight hours — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — would leave work after completing 6.32 hours. That is, she would leave after 3 p.m.
Yet that is not, in fact, the statistic for all American women, but for white American women. Black women earn 60 cents for every $1 a white man makes, which means they would leave the office before 2 p.m. And Hispanic women earn 55 cents for every dollar a white man makes, which means that they should leave shortly after 1 p.m.
So far, we’re at 18 different walkout times across the country — and white, black, and Hispanic are hardly the only demographic groups in America.
The point here is not that American women would need to scatter their hypothetical walkouts, but rather that there are balances some countries need to strike more than others when it comes to gender solidarity and acknowledging that gender impacts different demographics differently.
But maybe it’s possible to find that balance: Just this year, right-wing French presidential candidate Alain Juppé managed to both tweet about the importance of gender equality and reach out to French Muslims.
Photo credit: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images