Written by: Ms Frances Powell
There is a strong current trend in South Africa calling for anti-discriminatory legislation to protect women in business, led by such ‘feminists’ as Dr Sandra van der Merwe, Jane Raphaely, Adele van der Spuy and Roberta Johnston.
Let us examine whether forcing employers to hire a certain quota of women at ‘equal pay for equal work’ will end the wastage of women-power and prevent discrimination.
Femininity: production vs reproduction
In our society, women are conditioned from birth into the ‘female role’. They are taught to be followers rather than leaders; to ask for help rather than to make decisions; to regard a career as a stop-gap until marriage and childrearing takes over as a full-time occupation; and to train for traditional service-orientated jobs such as nursing, teaching, secretarial work and telephone operating.
That women can and are breaking away from this stereotyped role there is no question. The fact that girls from co-educational schools tend to follow the ‘female role’ more closely than those from single-sex schools is a good example of how important education is in helping them to break free.
However, many women, liberated and unliberated, do wish to have children, and do wish to stop working for a number of years to rear them. This does reduce their market value, and they are free to opt for it on the grounds that the satisfaction they gain from childrearing outweighs that which they would gain from a more productive and financially rewarding job.
Who discriminates: employers or employees?
The conditioning of most women discussed above, and the fact that they are likely to prove a short-term investment, will affect whether an employer hires a woman or not. His decision is, however, unlikely to be based on unfair prejudice, as he is interested only in employing the best person to do the job at the best price.
But there is another pressure group he has to contend with: that of his competitors. Both men and women have been incorrectly conditioned into believing women are incapable of doing many things, such as giving instructions on a construction site or making major policy decisions. Both men and women baulk against working for a female boss. It is not unusual for an employer to accept a woman in a managerial position only to find that his staff of both sexes are up in arms against it. There seem to be reasons for this which are perhaps stronger than the belief that the woman is incapable of doing he job – the fear that a female boss will be petty or bitchy, the resentment against having to take others from a woman, and perhaps most importantly of all, the fear held by many men of losing their jobs to women.
It is clear that both sexes require extensive re-education regarding the female role.
Coercion or the free market?
Th alternative suggested to education is legislation against discrimination. What will result from forcing employers to pay women a minimum wage? The law will not change the employer’s belief that a woman is a bad investment. He will continue to employ a man in preference even though the woman may be as well qualified, on the basis that the woman is a bad risk. Women will lose their trump card – their ability to sell their labour at a lower rate and undercut the male labour market. If a woman or any other so-called discriminated person can get the job by accepting a lower wage, she is then in a position to prove her worth and demand a higher wage. The company which employs a man of whose ability he is unsure, in preference to paying an equal wage to a woman who has proved her worth, is not likely to stay in business in competition with a company which uses he best labour available.
The feminists are advocating a form of minimum wage laws. Before proposing a solution of this nature, they would do well to study the history of minimum wage laws. These laws have invariably been advocated by misinformed ‘do-gooders’ along with trade unions and other interested pressure groups under the cloak of social justice. Th result of these laws has everywhere been the same: they discriminate against the very group that they set out to protect by preventing those people who are prepared to work for a lower wage from doing so.
The ‘feminists’ seem to be aware that enforcing equal pay for equal work will cause female unemployment. Their answer to this is a quota system whereby companies are forced to employ a certain number of women. In other words, sheltered employment. What would this form of coercion lead to? First and foremost, the reinforcement of the belief amongst men that women are in fact inferior, since they are not prepared to compete on an equal basis with men and do not appear to consider themselves capable of doing so. Secondly, tremendous resentment against women when employers find themselves forced to hire inadequate workers which would to some extent be inevitable. Thirdly, a mind-boggling increase of bureaucracy to decide how many women are trained in different areas and what jobs should be held for them, and finally, untold damage to the economy, which inevitably results from further government intervention into the labour market and wage laws.
Deregulation = equal rights
There are certain areas in which women are not free to compete. Job reservation applies in heavy industry, underground mining, and the police and defence forces. The government has different salary scales for male and female teachers. These are valid areas for attack – delegislation to open up the market for free competition is what is required. (Incidentally, the government is not likely to increase wages for female teachers as long as women continue to pour into the Teachers’ Training Colleges when the Education Department has more teachers than they can place.) Although there are no statistics available on this subject, Mr Terblanche of the Institute for Manpower Research says that he is unaware of any private sector companies which have different salary scales for men and women doing the same job. If it is company policy in some cases, it will eventually change if women prove their worth. For example, the computer industry initially paid women progammers less than men, but now they receive equal pay. Furthermore, the income tax system (lumping together the husband’s and wife’s income for tax purposes) does not encourage women to work.
Women have to prove themselves
Apart from certain areas of government intervention where delegislation is required, the only way in which woman-power is going to be optimally utilised is by a change of attitude amongst both men and women.
It is true that at present, as Dr Sandra van der Merwe has said, “the woman has to keep proving she’s good if she wants to retain her job. A man has to prove he’s no good to lose his”. But the underlying assumption of this state of affairs has a lot of validity. At present, it is truly the unusual woman who breaks free of her conditioning and takes up a position of leadership effectively. But the situation is improving. In 1969, women accounted for only 6.5% of people in managerial positions, whereas now the figure is 10.8% – an increase of 66%.
When the average woman has proved that she is as capable as the average man of holding down any position, and that she is not a short-term proposition, she will be able to demand and will receive the same jobs and the same pay as men.
But this process is a slow one. Advocating legislation will only delay it. The removal of all forms of control allows women to use their trump card – their ability to sell their labour at a lower rate and thus undercut the male labour market in a free enterprise economy.
Disclaimer: This article originally appeared in The Individualist of March 1978 (Vol. 3 No. 3). The Individualist was last published by the Libertarian Society of South Africa.