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Gender Wage Gap Wyoming Tour, Update

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Good morning! Here I am with a bad news update in your inbox first thing.

I spoke in another part of Wyoming on the gender wage gap yesterday. My presentation and notes will come up later in the week as their own post. Now, on to the debrief.

I have to say, it did not go well.

The room was probably 55/45 men and women (actual headcount as well as ratio). Club leadership is largely women. I was cautioned, just before speaking:

  1. Speak up for the men who are hard of hearing.

  2. Do not bash men in any way. "Is this presentation man-bashing? Club members have expressed concern."

As it turns out, volume was not an issue. I was too loud. I know because a man in the back raised his hand to tell me that I was too loud. And, as it turns out, man-bashing is in the ear of the beholder.

When I finished, men bombarded me with questions. Mostly, they wanted to make clear that they 100% did not believe me (or any of the data) and were unpersuaded by the evidence that the gender wage gap exists and has real economic consequences. They wanted me and everyone in the room to know it. I took 16 questions in all; 14 from men, 2 from women (neither of whom believed the gender wage gap exists and who issued their own "gotcha" questions in solidarity with the men). Two men offered supportive questions and commentary. Two men were straight up belligerent. So that's at least an offsetting ratio.

Mostly, 14 people were trying to shoot holes in the research and the presentation, calmly but firmly and with jaws set slightly on edge, apparently in an effort to protect their personal views of reality. At least there was no yelling, though one gentleman seemed very close. A woman on the club's leadership team felt compelled to return to the Ramkota after it was over to apologize.

It was mildly contentious. I doubt I will be asked back.

  On my drive home, I thought: This would make an excellent essay on mansplaining. Woman comes to present. Uses expertise and data sets. Demonstrates comprehensive understanding of the issues. Men explain that none of it is true because it hasn't happened to them. 

On second thought, that's the whole story, and it is neither essay-length nor very compelling. 

But here's the thing.

When I sort through all of it - my embarrassment about being too loud and talking too close to the mic and not realizing it; my sense that I didn't manage the questions very well and was visibly rattled which led to more piling on; my inability to have total control over my own chronic disease and the way that intersects with and interrupts this work (that's a topic for a different essay) - and find my way through to the other side, I realize that there was something else going on in that room. Simultaneously. Quietly.

Several women took the fact sheet and surreptitiously folded it up and put it in their purses. Several women told me that they wanted the stats for later but didn't want anyone to see them take the information. Several women nodded through the presentation but asked no questions. Several women came up afterwards to thank me; it resonated, they said.

When I gave a similar talk in Sublette County, the men opted out. There were no more than three men in the room. That left about 70 women and girls the opportunity to talk amongst themselves, so to speak. And that room had different questions. The women had voices they felt confident about using. In that room, the women said the information was validating of their personal experience. In that room, they told me that the conversation made them finally feel as though they weren't at all crazy. As though someone was shining a light on a thing that they had been told wasn't real or true or, if it was real and true, was their fault and any wage gap was a reflection on their shortcomings in either negotiation or performance or both.

But it wasn't and it isn't. This is not a personal issue. This is a structural issue. And we're only going to get real traction when we treat it as such.

On balance, this is what I learned from my trip:

Nothing has happened in all of recorded time between Casper and Shoshoni. You also won't find a gas station in that stretch, so check your fuel gauge before you leave either place.

There's more cell service than you think coming over Togwotee. There is less cell service than you think everywhere else.

The National Museum of Military Vehicles is drawing ever-nearer to opening. We're told this will be an economic boon for Wyoming and for Dubois. Interesting that we're on board with this as an economic driver but not on board with closing the gender wage gap to spur economic development.

Most importantly, we have to keep having these conversations, we have to keep talking about women in Wyoming - especially in the rooms where people don't want to hear it and won't believe it - because, when we do, we have the opportunity to move the Overton Window. And we're not going to move policy or make the economic difference that we want and need to until we change the conversation.


[Author's note: I want to be clear that I, *in no way*, think that this perspective is endemic to the part of the state to which I traveled. (Which is, in part, why I have now updated this post to remove the location.) They are the particular that illuminates something more universal. Women across this state have described similar behavior, from men and women in their communities; the same kinds of questions, the same kind of marginalization of women. This is not confined to any one geographic location. Casual misogyny is still the air that we breathe.]

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