A Big Fat Salary Disparity

Last year, the National Women’s Law Center made a video about the wage gap that was soundly criticised. In the short video, comedian Sarah Silverman hit the doctor’s office for a ‘sex change,’ deciding that turning herself into a dude would give her access to better pay. Aside from the obvious transphobic aspect (and inaccuracy — trans men do not, in fact, make more than cis women on average, though they do make more than trans women), it also cut out discussions of the racial pay gap, and even included a bonus nastygram about sex work. All in all, it was a delightfully charming entry into the long line of clueless, rude, and grotesque ‘awareness’ pieces produced by mainstream feminist organisations — and when the group ‘apologised,’ it showed a lack of understanding about what the problem was.

Fast forward. A Vanderbilt University study released a few weeks later made note of yet another wage gap: The obesity tax, or obesity penalty, or whatever one wants to call it. (I’m personally not a fan of the word ‘obese’ because it’s used so pejoratively, and I don’t like ‘overweight’ because it raises the inevitable question of ‘over what weight?’ but I digress: If you prefer using these terms, more power to you.) Notably, this wage gap isn’t just about size (fat men are pretty comparable to men of other sizes in terms of the industries they work in and the compensation they receive). It’s highly gendered. Fat women are more likely to be shunted away from the public eye (stockroom, not counter clerk), and take pay cuts over their peers, above and beyond existing gendered wage gaps — and, if history is any indication, fat women of colour are undoubtedly hit harder than their white counterparts.

Yet, this is not new information. In 2012, people were discussing fat bias in the workplace. 10 years prior, the same issue was raised, illustrating that it was a problem even before the current ‘war on obesity.’ Fat women struggle in particular to get into executive positions (and access the corresponding pay hike), and thus are forced to pursue thinness even if it endangers their health and wellness and distracts from their jobs. For fat women, the workplace is perilous, says Joanne Ikeda, a science advisor to NAAFA with considerable experience in health and nutrition:

There has been just study after study showing fat people are discriminated against in housing, employment, college admission, even in adoption. You can today fire a fat person for no other reason other than they are fat, and you don’t want a fat employee. In the workplace, this is getting worse. The whole ‘war on obesity’ has focused a whole lot of attention on fat people and the general impression of the public is they can be shamed or scared into getting thin. Which is absolutely ludicrous. If every fat person who has been shamed was motivated to somehow get thin, believe me they would be.

Fat issues, and coverage of same, are indisputably growing in society. There’s an increasing hatred of fat people, sponsored in no small part by healthist and sizeist campaigns shaming fat people for existing and attempting to pressure them into losing weight by sheer force of will. In addition, there are in fact more fat people than before, which creates a significant contribution to the issue — with more of us out and about in the world, the amount of moral panic increases in correspondence, because we are boldly going where no fatty has gone before.

Yet, coverage of the wage gap almost never tackles size issues. The wage gap is an intersectional problem, and it’s rarely taken on that way. Primarily, it’s framed as a gender problem: If only men and women were equal, everyone would receive equal pay for equal work. If only society respected women and treated them as human beings, this kind of discrimination would no longer be a problem, and women would enjoy not just equal pay, but full access to the workplace — they could be executives, influencers, leaders, rocket scientists at the same rate men are.

This approach, though, leaves out the obvious racial elements to the wage gap, as people of colour and those working in solidarity with them have repeatedly tried to remind white feminists; feminists seem so determined to ‘avoid muddying the waters’ or ‘focus on one issue at a time’ that they willfully ignore the needs of everyone, forgetting that liberation for some is justice for none. The wage gap will never be fixed if its racial component is not addressed, not least because of the stark and simple fact that if white men and women are earning equal pay, people of colour of all genders will still be paid less than they are — and the low salaries paid to women of colour will drag the overall average for women’s salaries down.

Race isn’t the only issue ignored, as highlighted by the responses to the awful NWLC video. Critics also pointed out that there’s a significant trans wage gap that makes it hard for trans people of all genders to participate fairly in the workplace. While trans men do experience a modest increase in salary post-transition, it’s still not equal to that of cis men. Trans women, on the other hand, experience major pay cuts, earning far less after transition and definitely less than cis women. When these issues are ignored, it means that people aren’t even covering the gendered aspect of the wage gap fairly.

Size discrimination is yet another thing allowed to fall by the wayside in simplistic explorations of the wage gap. Fat people make less, period, and this issue needs to be addressed — unless, of course, feminists are afraid of fatties.

Image: Body Wrap3, Christi Nielsen, Flickr