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Capitalism and Patriarchy: As of Wednesday Morning, French Women Are Working for Free Due to Gender Pay Gap

Women in France are now working for free until the end of the year — because of wage inequalities between men and women. The increasing wage gap stems from the growing number of women in precarious jobs.

Cléo Rivierre

November 4, 2021
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Image: Ben Lacasse/The State Press

According to the feminist newsletter Les Glorieuses, women in France began working for free at 9:22 AM on Wednesday, November 3, and will do so until the end of the year, because of wage inequalities between men and women. The data from Eurostat, the European Statistics Office, reveals that the wage gap has become more pronounced in recent years. As Télérama magazine explains, “In 2018, the date of this symbolic halt to paying women was November 6. In 2019, it was November 5, and last year it was November 4. This year, it has moved up to November 3.” While there are several calculation methods, not all of which return the exact same result, there is no doubt that wage inequality persists in France.

Several factors explain the gap. The most obvious one is wage inequality for men and women in the same position at the same company. In France, the gap is 5 to 7 percent. In addition, women tend to have less access to positions of responsibility, which are better paid. But women also tend to work fewer hours, on average: according to Les Glorieuses, “Wage inequalities between women and men for the same amount of work are low at the beginning of working life, but they tend to increase throughout the professional career, especially after the arrival of the first child. Mothers bear a greater domestic burden than fathers, and so extended periods not working and reduced hours create an initial and ongoing gap in professional development.”

The types of jobs women and men hold is another factor. As the Yellow Vests movement highlighted, and then the pandemic health crisis, women are the majority of workers in a number of sectors that are both absolutely essential and absolutely despised — a contempt that is expressed in the form of very low wages. So many women work in the caring professions, including healthcare, childcare, and as nursing assistants, in other allied health jobs, as personal assistants, nannies, cleaners, and so on. Even though they often involve a considerable level of training, responsibility, and psychosocial risk, these positions are precarious and underpaid. 

The situation is a testament to how capitalism and patriarchy are interwoven. The patriarchal system presents the functions of care and upkeep as “natural” for women — thus making the work of these employees invisible. On top of that, the economic system based on the race for greater profit reinforces every mechanism aimed at paying employees as little as possible. The interaction of these two has created long-term, structural wage inequality between women and men.

In addition, racial inequalities as well as the discrimination of LGBTI people are two structural oppression mechanisms that aggravate the phenomenon of wage inequalities for the people concerned.

So how do we get out of this situation? In the long run, only a broad social movement will be able to put an end to it once and for all, by attacking the roots of capitalism and patriarchy in order to overthrow these two systems and replace them with a society without exploitation and oppression. And as of today, we must demand equal pay for men and women, in the public and private sectors; but also the revaluation of all salaries, with a 300€ increase in salary for all, as well as a minimum wage of 1800€ per month. These measures must be financed with the money of the big capitalists, whose profits continue to increase.

First published in French on November 4 in Révolution Permanente.

Translation by Scott Cooper

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