Look, I get it. We live in the Time of the Hashtag and if we want to rally a community around a shared ideal, that’s one of the quickest and most effective ways to do so. For the most part, I’ve been behind this movement, especially as it became one of the top platforms for feminist expression last year. I stood behind my girlfriends as they shared their #MeToo stories and I participated in the gloriously snarky #NastyWoman trend after Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate with that ridiculous attribution.
But Tuesday, April 10 was deemed Equal Pay Day in the United States, and with it, a familiar hashtag from 2017 received a rebirth. It was #AskForMore and women around the country took to social media to share their stories about overcoming inequality in the workplace. At its crux, the hashtag makes sense, and the facts are hard to ignore. According to research by the Pew Research Center, women make 87% of what their male counterparts make at work. Looked at differently, that means that women would have to work 47 extra days per year to eliminate that gap. Moreover, four in 10 of your female coworkers have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, with earnings inequality the most commonly reported form.
Absolutely, this is a dynamic that needs to shift and some pretty significant conversations need to take place. Yet, are Twitter or Instagram the places for it? Or, is Capitol Hill? On her campaign trail, First Daughter Ivanka Trump promised to help close the pay gap and work alongside her father to ensure women’s rights are upheld.
Equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter announced last month that she’d like to work with Ivanka on this issue. Ledbetter, who famously sued Goodyear in 1999 after being tipped off by an anonymous coworker that she was making 50% less than her male colleagues performing the same job, told CNN that this wasn’t her first time reaching out to Ivanka. She’d emailed her back in 2017 and received a reply that Ivanka would love to meet with her for coffee and a discussion.
The only problem? Ledbetter, the woman behind the Obama administration’s 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act designed to prohibit and discourage discriminatory compensation, lives in rural Alabama, and can’t afford to fly to Washington, D.C. Ironically, the very dialogue around monetary issues that needs to take place cannot because money is tight.
Still, my beef isn’t with policymakers. Rather, I take issue with the hashtag itself, especially the use of the word “Ask.”
To ask for something is to request it from someone who has the power to give it. I ask my lender to loan me the money to pay my mortgage each month. I ask my in-laws to keep the kids so my husband and I can get a date night once every two years. I shouldn’t have to ask my male boss to receive the same treatment as Jeff down the hall.
The very notion that if women are feeling discriminated against, they should #AskForMore, in many ways feels like taking a gigantic step backward. Asking is only one minuscule level above groveling, and if I have to beg to be treated fairly, I don’t think I’m doing much to spur progress along.
I recently read an article about 17 inspirational women, each of whom shared her story about how she worked up the nerve to ask for higher compensation at work. One of the anecdotes that really stood out to me was “I was really nervous and I felt a bit selfish and unworthy…then, the most amazing thing happened! They offered me slightly more than I asked for.” Is this where we are now? A woman fakes an iron gut and suffers through an uncomfortable conversation, only to be absolutely blown away by the notion that maybe she was worth even more than she thought?
I’m a woman, and I want equality. I want to go to work without wondering if my skirt is too tight or if I’m the only one in the office who sees those same numbers on my paycheck twice a month. I want the same for my daughter. When she finally makes up her mind whether she wants to be an ice cream truck driver, a tree climber, or the tooth fairy, I want her to never question whether she’s being paid unfairly in her role. Maybe the directive shouldn’t be #AskForMore. Maybe it should be #DemandIt.