Changing wage gap starts with youth

This story originally ran in USC’s Daily Trojan on Oct. 20, 2015. 

I have always stood by the fact that I am not a feminist.

While Beyoncé and Emma Watson sing and speak about how their political beliefs influence their work and the way they encourage women, I believe that they could do all those same things without labeling it “feminism.”

Despite the fact that I’m a double minority — I am a person of color and a woman — my political beliefs and views on social justice have revolved around my racial status more so than being a woman. Maybe that’s because I’ve been African American longer than I’ve been a full-fledged woman compared to a girl. I’m not sure, but feminism just didn’t seem right for me.

Plus, I was never really sure what it was. We have the right to vote, we are way more present in the classroom than men and Hillary Clinton is a sure frontrunner in the Democratic presidential debates. Things, for the most part, seem OK.

Oh yes, and we also have Beyoncé. She’s everything and more.

Yet last week, while I was completing my new favorite pastime of filling out job applications, I was thrown right into the midst of the recurring wage inequality debate. On the application, when I reached the section that prompted me to list “expected wage,” I typed in a number, then I deleted it. I had quickly determined that the wage I was asking for was too high and would take away my chances of getting an interview. So my solution was to ask for less.

It was a split-second decision that was built on years of being told how much less women should expect from society. It was built on years of being told to be thankful for opportunities and not question the status quo. Or maybe it was from years of not receiving a constant stream of pep talks about being a go-getter, fearless and ruthless — conversations that our society tells young men each day.

The traits that have been instilled or not instilled in me led to that moment of stopping negotiations before they even started. I mean, the worst that could happen was being told “no.”

I’ve read and been told stories like mine many times before. Yet they never resonated because income inequality hadn’t directly affected me yet.

So that’s why when Jennifer Lawrence penned her 658 eloquent words on wage inequality this past week, it stuck with me. The actress, who is the face of the Hunger Games franchise, wrote that when she learned she was being paid millions less than men, she realized that it came from a perception of wanting to maintain the double standard society puts on women.

She wrote, “But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

Lawrence listed her age and her personality as contributing factors to the wage gap. I’m not saying that I could be making millions more than I do already, but she definitely wrote on a relatable topic.

But thoughts like the one she expressed are being swept under the rug. Before I deleted my expected salary, I couldn’t imagine not asking for what I needed — and I’m an only child, so trust me, I know the art of asking for what I need.

When it comes to asking for what they need in a job, female millennials may not be speaking up as frequently as they could be.

Yet, women who fall under the millennial banner have a unique opportunity to start reversing this trend. The first step to tackle these systematic injustices starts with redefining what women’s equality means. It’s not just voting rights, and it’s not just about getting hired in boys’ club industries like tech and accounting.

It’s about creating a culture of feeling comfortable asking for what we need after we’ve worked our way to that interview chair.

This generation, the most diverse in the country’s history, has many faults. We all have different needs and various understandings of self. But the root of social justice issues is asking for what we need from those who are able to give it and just might not understand certain pressures and standards put on women.

For millennials who are women, we must show all our cards and fight for equal wages. I still don’t think I’m at the point of calling myself a feminist, but I’ve sure learned that feminism is definitely a valid cause. It creates an avenue to fight for issues that need to be changed.

I believe the world, one that is being shaped more and more by millennial opinion, should start helping us create these changes as well.

After reading “Wait An L.A. Minute” on Tuesdays, join Jordyn Holman in her millennial conversations on Twitter @JordynJournals. She’s a senior studying print and digital journalism.

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