Doing the rounds on Twitter this morning is this clip of a Polish MEP arguing that women should be paid less than men. To quote directly: “And of course women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.” …Yep. Really. If you’ve made it on to this blog, I’m going to assume you already know that these views are abhorrent, that equal work deserves equal pay regardless of any stereotypes attached to the worker, and these discriminatory stereotypes certainly can’t be used to justify further discrimination in pay, because that’s just an awful circular argument when instead we should be fighting to end discrimination in the first place. At this point, in 2017, it isn’t even up for debate in the minds of all but the most extreme misogynists. Incidentally, a quick scroll through Google and Wikipedia shows that Janusz Korwin-Mikke has daughters, but that evidently hasn’t even stopped him being actively sexist, never mind giving him a free pass to speak on behalf of all women on the basis that he happens to be a parent of girls.
Keep this in mind.
Doing the rounds on Twitter yesterday was a ~debate~ over whether or not disabled people should be “allowed” to work for less than the minimum wage. (I’m not 100% comfortable giving that article more clicks, so instead I’ll link to this great Twitter thread by Stavvers which does also link to the article if you’re interested.) This argument did not come from a disabled person who wants to be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage; it came from an abled person who happens to be a parent of a woman with Down’s Syndrome (whose opinion, as far as I can tell, has never even been asked for). She also happens to employ disabled people in her own business; she’s effectively saying she should be allowed to pay her own employees less.
To be fair, a lot of people seem to be seeing this for the awful retrogressive ableist argument that it is, but it turns out there’s also a worryingly high number of people who don’t – or at least, they’re saying it’s so hard and complex, because it’s better than nothing and it could be a stepping stone and you can’t just easily fix society, y’know? Maybe this shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did, because equal pay should not still be up for debate. Honestly, this post should end here. But given that these arguments do still have a lot of traction, I think it’s worth going through some of them.
Because it apparently needs to be pointed out, paid work and volunteering are not the same thing. At this point I feel I should say that I now volunteer with an autism organisation myself – I won’t go into details for anonymity reasons, but I will say that I and the other autistic volunteers have been treated with nothing but respect from the start, it’s all about real autistic participation in shaping how they run and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience, and it’s absolutely NOT the same as a paid job. It’s volunteering, as in voluntary, as in I actively want to be a part of this and I’m not being pushed into it by other constraints, and it’s something I do every so often on an irregular basis for a few hours at a time around the degree that I’m doing full-time. If I got a regular job with them or somewhere else in the sector, I would expect to be paid, as their autistic and neurodivergent employees are. Of course, there’s also the ongoing issue of lengthy unpaid internships that basically amount to unpaid work, but that can’t be used to justify “allowing” (read: coercing) disabled people into unpaid work either – one exploitation doesn’t justify another exploitation, they’re just both exploitative.
And let’s not make the patronising assumption that disabled people are somehow exempt from the system of money. Disabled people are people – we need to eat, and have somewhere to live, and clothes to wear, and all kinds of other needs just like everyone else. Not all disabled people live with their parents or even have the option of doing so (it’s almost as if disabled people aren’t just extensions of abled parents or something…) and even for those who do, not all families can so easily support the needs (disability-specific or otherwise) of that person with their existing funds, especially as the Tory government continues to decimate disability benefits. A “fulfilling and purposeful life” is nice, but we also need money. And besides, why is work necessary for a fulfilling and purposeful life? What does that say about how society views those disabled people who are unable to work?
Another argument that I keep seeing conflates accessibility and adaptation of jobs for disabled people with paying disabled people a lower wage for some reason. It’s this idea of it being the first rung on the ladder, the idea that if only disabled people were “allowed” to work for less than the minimum wage, employers would jump to make all the accommodations necessary and eventually provide a fair wage. Even if I set aside my scepticism as to whether that would actually happen (why would employers want to take experienced disabled people on at a fair wage if there were allowed to take them on at an exploitative wage?), this ignores the fact that employers shouldn’t need cookies for bearing the oh-so-tragic-burden of accommodating disabled people – employers should accommodate disabled employees because it is legally required.
The next response is usually something along the lines of “but changing society is hard, this is better than nothing in the meantime”. And this is something I find really infuriating. Some accommodations are as simple as clear directions, as simple as moving to a calmer area, as simple as understanding and acceptance, basically as simple as not actively being ableist. That’s not the case for all accommodations for all people, but it would be a huge step forward, and it’s easy – if only abled people would listen. Some accommodations are less straightforward and would take longer to implement, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try. The gender pay gap persists after years of campaigning, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and accept that that’s the way it is, even though ending the gender pay gap would involve huge changes to the current way work life is structured which disadvantages maternity. Society has undergone lots of major long-term changes over the years – this is just saying disabled people aren’t worth making the changes for. The “better than nothing” approach is essentially expecting disabled people to just give up, to accept our lot, to be grateful for scraps because abled people couldn’t be bothered to give us anything better. “In the meantime” says that we should just wait our turn until a magical day in the future when abled people can be bothered, even though conceding ground such as this will decrease what little political will there is to actually empower disabled people currently. Discrimination is an artificial problem – rather than just acting like it can’t be helped, we need to end it.
These kinds of arguments were used decades ago, and apparently even today, to block equal pay for women. We know, fundamentally, that equal pay for women is not up for debate. So why are we even entertaining the idea for disabled people?