Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

2016 “Equal Pay” Campaign Explicitly Featured Trans Woman to Prove an Important Point

Europe’s “Equal Pay Now” organization made a splash on International Womens’ Day back in March by releasing an ad on YouTube featuring a trans woman. The video, prepared by Brussels-based ad agency mortierbrigade (brand in lowercase), is designed to bring attention to Equal Pay Day and tackle the gender wage gap: The difference in average earnings between what women and men earn for performing identical jobs. Their tagline: “Treat me like a woman. #PayMeLikeAMan.”

Equal Pay Day, observed on a date which varies from country to country depending on the gender wage gap, symbolizes the day of the year on which men would need to start working in order to finish that year with equal earnings as a woman who started working on January 1st. Or alternatively, the time between New Year’s and Equal Pay Day represents the extra amount of time women must work, essentially without pay, in order to earn the same annual income as a man. It tends to fall in March or April.

Amazon Eve pictured in #PayMeLikeAMan video.

Amazon Eve, featured in Equal Pay Day #PayMeLikeAMan campaign video.

The woman in the ad is Amazon Eve (the stage name of American model, actress and fitness instructor Erika Ervin). In the ad Eve addresses her challenges as a woman, including the gender wage gap.

What’s interesting and special about this ad is that it presents what is hopefully the beginning of a new trend in mass-media acceptance of trans women. Ms Eve isn’t included here because she’s “almost” a woman, or because she’s “also” a woman, a “woman with something extra,” or even just for the sake of bluntly pointing out that trans women are women “too.” Her appearance in this ad transcends those tropes. Targeted, of course, at cis people (primarily cis men, more likely to be found in charge of hiring practices and pay decisions), the unmistakable implication of the ad is that as far as the issue of equal rate of pay for equivalent work is concerned, trans women are “especially” women.

I spoke to Jens Mortier, one of the Creative Directors on the project. “Transgenders [sic] are a hot topic, and we thought they might be the ideal persons to make our point.”

It stands to reason, too. Statistics show the gender wage gap is 19.2% in the UK, 21% in the U.S., and 26% in Canada (which is more than twice the global average, with Ontario at 31.5% being one of the absolute worst in the world). But trans women? Our unemployment rates have been measured at double the national average, and we are four times more likely to be so underemployed that we live below the poverty line.

And yet due to legal restrictions on how we can identify ourselves, our incomes often go misreported as being “male.” Which, ironically, skews the gender wage statistics in favour of men (making the wage gap appear less severe than it really is). I myself was fired from a successful five year career after arguments erupted over which bathroom I should use, my employer told me he was “no longer satisfied with the quality of my work.” I went unemployed for two years, and eventually had to take a more junior role and a $12 thousand dollar pay cut.

The ad is hardly the perfect feminist masterpiece… It begins with some unfortunate misogynist stereotypes that our heroine has apparently taken to heart.

“Women have more choices, when it comes to clothes and shoes.” Yes, but they’re more expensive, come in a limited range of size, and you’ll be judged more harshly for not wearing the right ones and for how you look in general. “When we’re having a bad day, a little make-up is always good to cover the imperfections.” It’s also an unspoken requirement that you’ll be subtly punished for not following. “I love ‘ladies first.'” That one can be nice, until a stranger acts as though he’s entitled to your attention after holding the door for you.

“If I don’t want to have sex, I can just say I have a headache.” Actually you can just say no. If he persists, it’s harassment, and if he forces you it’s rape.

Overall though, the ad redeems itself. When we get to the meat of the message, the point is clear. “You know what? Women are considered inferior to men. I know what I’m talking about, I used to be one of them… I’m a woman. Since 2004, I’m paid like one.”

While not all people (or employers) accept trans women as women, the gender wage gap sure does. It’s just one concrete example how, in truth, we’re all in this together.

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Christin Milloy