One Reason Women Make Less Money? They're Afraid of Being Raped and Killed.

One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed.

God bless our Patreon supporters. Seriously. In our April topic poll, I gave them several non-depressing softball article topics. But the one they wanted to read most was about the relationship between sexual assault and the gender wage gap. GOD. DAMN. You guys are the fucking best. We are so happy to be supported by people who are willing to embrace the difficult stuff.

The gender wage gap is a many-tentacled hentai monster. What is its primary driver? Is it choice of career? Education? Lack of mentors and sponsors? Familial commitments? The high cost of childcare? Lopsided domestic dutiesIngrained sexist attitudes in the culture? Unconscious bias during the hiring process? Biological differences in the brain?

Research demonstrates that it’s almost certainly a gnarly combination of all of the above. But there’s another element that doesn’t get much attention, and that’s fear of rape and sexual assault. Harassment and isolation are known contributing factors for so-called “pipeline” problems, but I’m talking about something that goes even beyond that. There are instances where the threat of rape acts as a professional barrier to women.

So today, we’re going to look at three different case studies: two from my own life and one from recent news. The last one is very exciting to me, because it’s basically the perfect case study for examining this issue.

This article talks about the existence of rape and sexual assault, but does not go into details about specific acts. Some linked articles do. Use that information as you will.

Case #1: Blue Collar Work

A salesman for Power Home Remodeling recently visited my home. It was a door-to-door call, which is normally a nonstarter—but I happened to be interested in the service he was offering, so I let him make his sales pitch.

I was struck by this salesperson’s energy. He looked like a college kid and was brimming with excitable-puppy energy. But even more striking was his description of the company work environment. He gabbed about a huge annual company trip to Cancun, all expenses paid. I told him it sounded like a fraternity party. “Oh, very much so, yes,” he told me earnestly, with just a hint of sheepishness. “It gets pretty wild.”

I smiled at him and said, “You must not have many women on the team.”

He shook his head. “You have no idea how true that is. A big part of selling is doing what I’m doing now—walking into stranger’s houses. Women don’t want to do that. You don’t know if you’re going into a creeper’s house alone. We’d love to have more women, but I don’t blame them for staying out of sales.”

Surprised by his candor, I pressed a little further. “Not many people of color either, huh?”

“Not really,” he said, shrugging. “We have one person on my team with darker skin—an Indian guy. He has to work ten times harder than I do to make a sale. People won’t open the door for him. I at least know that people are going to let me introduce myself, and not try to chase me off with a shotgun. So yeah, it tends to be all young white guys, for understandable reasons. Sort of a chicken-and-egg thing.”

“If it’s a known problem at the company, is anyone working on it?” I ask. “Do you have a chief diversity officer, or anyone like that, whose job it is to find ways to fix it?”

He shrugs. “I don’t really know, to be honest.”

He presses on with his sales pitch. During the pitch, he mentions that “both homeowners” really should be present. In fact, he mentions it four times. He persists even after I inform him that the house is in my name alone. When he finally relents, it is as though he’s made some kind of special exception for me.

I’m personally not nervous to have this obsequious, casually sexist stranger in my home. My two large dogs are sitting at my feet. I have my phone in my hand. My neighbor works from home, and his house is close enough that he can hear me if I scream. I know which doors are locked, which windows don’t have screens, which door frame has a baseball bat leaning against it. My home is where I feel safest and most powerful.

I’m sure this is the case with most people—including men. Which is why I instinctively avoid entering men’s homes alone, especially men I do not know. I am afraid to put myself in their power. To be explicit: I’m afraid of being physically overpowered and raped or murdered. And that is the only reason.

This fear repels me from being a door-to-door salesperson. The last time I was making door-to-door sales, I was a Girl Scout selling cookies. Even at eight years old, I had learned to conduct all business from the front porch. And maybe it’s not a big deal. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be a salesperson anyway.

But then I thought about it more. In all my years of house calls from landlords, property managers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, cable installers, home inspectors, delivery people… I couldn’t think of a single time that it had been a woman. (Mr. Kitty says our pellet stove repairperson was a woman, SO THERE’S ONE!) Statistics back up my anecdotal experience. Women make up only 1.5% of plumbers1.6% of carpenters, 2.6% of maintenance and repair professionals, 3.7% of telecommunications installers… Basically, jobs that require house calls repel women.

I looked up the leading cause of death for women while on the job.

Surprise! It’s homicide.

Case #2: White Collar Work

I’ve mentioned that I work for a large technology company with a household name and an international presence. In most situations, it’s quite cool—we can have people from the American South, the Pacific Northwest, the eastern coast of Canada, Ireland, India, and Indonesia all together on one call.

One downside of this international collaboration is time zones. When I’m coming online first thing in the morning, my coworkers in Mumbai are sitting down to eat dinner with their families. It’s a complicated give-and-take; everyone at some point is required to take calls outside of their normal working hours. We tend to schedule so that the fewest number of people are inconvenienced.

Recently we ran into an issue that complicated things. We’d promoted several women in the Mumbai offices to a highly technical role that required daily interaction with engineers in America. The American engineers are by far the largest constituency on the call, so it’s scheduled on North American time.

But there is a problem. Our Indian offices have a company policy that forbids women from leaving the building after hours without a security escort.

The explicit purpose of this security escort is to deter men from raping women.

(If you’re blissfully unaware of India’s horrific national rape problem, you can read some of these sources for a rude awakening.)

This security policy ends at a certain time, because the security guards need to go home at some point. When their shift ends, all women are escorted from the building whether they’ve finished their work or not. The after-hours calls our recently-promoted Indian team members needed to take were scheduled for after the security escort’s closure.

My company still hasn’t figured out this problem. This problem isn’t unique to our offices. Businesses everywhere are struggling to address it. Right now, the women are just not making it to these calls, and they have to rely on written reports, limiting their ability to contribute meaningfully to the process.

Recently, someone floated the possibility of circumventing the problem by selecting only men for this role in the future.

Women in India make 25% less than men.

Case #3: Gig Economy Work

A recent study at Uber revealed that—controlling for all variables— male drivers make more money per hour than female drivers. 7% more, to be exact.

This flies in the face of accepted narratives about why women earn less money, because Uber removes many variables common in traditional hiring practices. There’s no negotiation for pay. Raises aren’t a thing. And the work runs on a flexible schedule by design.

Further, passenger sexism was ruled out as the cause. Riders weren’t tipping men more than women. So how was one gender still out-earning another?

Ultimately the researchers were able to identify several reasons. Half of the earnings gap was explained by differences in driving speed—statistically, men drive faster than women, allowing them to fit more passengers into each hour.

What about the other half of the earnings gap? Well, let’s split that into two reasons again. First: driver experience translates directly into higher earnings, and women quit driving at much higher rates than men. Second: men and women choose to drive in very different places, with more men congregating at locations with higher surge pricing and lower wait times.

The researchers theorize that this is due to the threat of sexual assault and violence.

The dynamic of one driver and one passenger is dangerous for women living in a culture that views their vulnerability as an opportunity. Multiple male Uber drivers have been charged with sexual assault. And multiple female Uber drivers have been sexually assaulted by their male passengers.

Driving to places with high surge pricing (like bars or shows at closing time) could make women leery of being attacked in their own car. The same holds true for driving to airports, a lucrative trip that requires women to drive through depopulated industrial areas alone with unknown passengers.

Only 27% of Uber drivers are women, and 76% of them leave the platform after six months.

“I left it at home!”

Wanda Sykes has a legendary standup bit that goes like this: what if women’s vaginas were detachable? What if you could just leave it at home?

Part of the bit describes her going for a jog after dark. A would-be rapist pops out to menace Wanda, but she shrugs and says “Oop—I left it at home! Sorry. I have absolutely nothing of value on me.” The rapist, disappointed, leaves her alone, and she continues on her imagined night jog.

I think about this bit a lot. For one, it’s breath-snatchingly funny. But more significantly, when I think about what it would actually be like, I feel an enormous sense of relief wash over me. Walking around with a female body feels like walking around with $10,000 in your pocket. You live you life in a state of CONSTANT VIGILANCE!! (Minimum one Harry Potter reference per article, part of our terms and conditions, read the fine print.)

The fear of sexual assault is so pervasive that it shapes women’s actions both consciously and unconsciously. It encompasses everything, from the jobs we seek to the places we go. As long as that fear exists, the gender wage gap will persist.

People of all genders deserve to move through the world without fear of sexual assault or the humiliation of being perceived as a potential rapist. Masculinity is not inherently violent, and femininity is not a state of perpetual victimization. These bizarre perversions exist only because our culture has a long legacy of embracing them. To change rape culture, we must change our thinking and our behavior, make concerted challenges to the status quo.

To paraphrase Eliezer Yudkowsky: “You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.”

There are many, many things that both women and men can do to fight rape culture. And most of it isn’t pussy hats and marching with signs! Whether you’re interested in loud activism or quiet advocacy (introverts, we feel ya), somebody’s made a list of things you can do.

You can also check these classic articles from our archive:

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42 thoughts to “One Reason Women Make Less Money? They’re Afraid of Being Raped and Killed.”

  1. #1 cause of work death is homicide? JESUS CHRIST.

    Re: race, this is how I as a white woman have my clearest understanding of the daily drag of race, too. Like, I devote 3-5% of my mental energy, all the time, to avoidance strategies. (More when I lived in NYC and walked everywhere.) What if I didn’t have to do that? What would life be like? It’s not like I’m being raped and killed constantly — in fact, I’ve never been either — but it’s just a little drag, every day, with every interaction with strange men who I haven’t already determined are safe. It doesn’t seem that hard to me to extrapolate out from that to having dark skin, or multiplying it for intersectional situations.

  2. “I looked up the leading cause of death for women while on the job.
    Surprise! It’s homicide.”
    Holly shit that gave me chills. Not job-related deaths? Nope, homicide. What the actual fuck is going on?

    1. Isn’t it fucking shocking? There’s a good graphic here that breaks causes of workplace deaths down by gender:

      Interestingly, 90% of workplace deaths are men. And some MRAs like to leverage the argument that this is evidence of systemic persecution, IE men are forced into more dangerous jobs. But it’s really just a selective interpretation of the same data. Words cannot express how much I would prefer to be struck by a vehicle on a construction site, or electrocuted in a factory, than shot by my abusive ex-husband charging into the salon where I cut hair. PLEASE GIVE US THE ELECTROCUTION.

      1. Holly fuck!
        “In 44 states, it’s completely legal to fire someone for being the victim of domestic violence. A federal bill was introduced to protect all workers from being fired because of their abuse, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.”

        From one of the articles.. this sucks!

  3. This is so on point. Especially loved the anecdote about the sales guy. And so glad you asked him some tough questions about his company culture. Also eye opening stuff about female uber drivers and Indian culture. Thank you!

  4. I was aware of some of the statistics but when you applied them to this narrative, it made the numbers that much more powerful. Thank you so much for this insightful article! It def opened my eyes more!

  5. It’s scary isn’t it!! It only clicked with me when I did an online course on economic development, that the main factor determining development is owning the power to guarantee safety, that without that you cannot develop.

  6. It’s great to see more thorough, investigative research on the gender wage gap.Thank you for both the hard numbers and for bringing more attention to how rape culture holds Indian women back. I am part-Indian, lived there for some time, and can attest to how scary it is to do anything in the public eye as a woman, let alone walk home after dark.

    Of course, this also gives our society and men in particular an excuse to infantilise us (“don’t take the bus to college without a man,” “don’t go out alone wearing jeans,” “you shouldn’t eat that in public, it gives men the wrong idea” all for our ~safety~… so thoughtful -_-). As a pale-skinned and educated woman, though, I speak from a place of privilege, as very likely do the women in your company. Women who are poor or from disadvantaged castes have it so much worse, and it’s even less likely that the authorities will take their complaints seriously. Like Western rape culture on steroids, but far fewer women’s voices are heard in public debates.

    I truly hope that if the problem gets enough attention, it will shame the Indian government into addressing gender violence properly.

  7. Wow. I never thought about it this way. That is SCARY!

    Just to mention, though, there is an exception to #1 — house cleaners are very woman-dominated field, doing housecalls.

    1. Not to mention that jobs that present higher risk, like house cleaning, or sex work, cleaning hotel rooms, working in agriculture, etc. are often the lowest paid, least valued jobs in society.

  8. There is such an overwhelming feeling of fear when you’re the sole woman surrounded by men. And dudes rarely get it, until they’re in the opposite situation. But even then, the threat of physical/sexual violence isn’t as great, so men in that situation still don’t get the full experience.

    I will never forget my first job out of college. It was awful for so many reasons, but one was the nasty passes by my male coworkers. There were only three women in the whole company, and I was the youngest, unmarried one. These fellas were persistent and gross. I had to start locking my office door so coworkers wouldn’t come talk to me. I only lasted six months there. Not one day did I feel safe.

  9. I don’t know why but I always got along better with men than with women at all of the jobs, internships, etc… that I had through out my life. Also, (again don’t know why because I look very traditionally feminine) guys would always look at me as a friend to drink beer in the bar with than wanting anything sexual from me or to harm me. It would always get really awkward, though, when they would start cat calling other women in front of me or talking to me about how they pick up other women in the bar (and asking me for my perspective/advice on that said topic). It’s like they think that I’m a guy or something.

  10. This is so sadly true. And it will be hard to get at, because how do you make every environment that seems threatening to women safe, when it’s the presence of only one potential unidentified violent man that makes so many workplaces unappealing to women. I do think I’m seeing more women making home repair house calls (and the house cleaning example could certainly be another of them) because of cell phones.

  11. That stat is actually crazy bananas. Like, what?! Reading through all your case studies reminded me of all the things I was taught as a young girl. Don’t let people in the house unless you know them (especially if it’s a man). Don’t go certain places at certain times. Don’t be too loud or passionate/aggressive (for fear of inciting some form of retaliation).

    The numbers you included on trades professions are interesting because, we are seeing historically high numbers of women training in these professions (and that’s true of where I work), and there’s a lot of funding going towards getting more women into these professions. But, I don’t know how many women are making it from training to actually practising their trade. And I certainly don’t think there’s been any thought to this aspect of their safety in their workplace.

    Thank you so much for writing this. Seriously.

  12. Another spot on article. Thank you for presenting the blunt and terrifying truth.

    A few years ago I was in a situation at work that involved a highly disgruntled male employee and I was afraid to walk out to my vehicle in the evenings by myself – it was a large, empty parking lot after 6pm with few employees leaving at the same time. What if he was lurking in the parking lot waiting for me?? For weeks I carried my key in my hand, poised to protect myself if needed. Not fun.

    1. Ironically I was in the same situation ten years ago with a physically intimidating woman at the company who was threatening physical harm in me (because she believed I was the reason she was terminated) and not job performance or her propensity to take up two client parking spots directly in front of the building. She ultimately damaged my car as revenge and threatened me one more time as I was walking into the office.

  13. One of my good friends used to deliver pizzas and movies from a video rental place/pizzeria when she was in high school.

    Every week, she had to deliver pizza and porn to an old guy in a wife beater who leered at her.

    I have NO FUCKING IDEA how she did it.

  14. This is an outstanding piece of work. I want to highlight #1 further, I believe that one critical way employees provide value to a company is the ability to sell and generate revenue. Unfortunately many women have to avoid this opportunity in their 20s because they are exposed to sexual harrasment from potential clients. I started in professional sales 15 years ago with a large training class that had a 50/50 gender mix. After five years, most of the women changed roles or companies to get out of the entry leve business to business sales.

    It had perpetuated a problem because sales leaders come out of these sales positions, making almost all the leadership men. We’ve tried to promote non-sales background women into sales leadership positions, but they’ve lacked the skill set necessary to do the job and it results in an unfortunate ending for both parties.

    It’s a real problem with no easy solution. My industry is taking the right steps (commercial banking), but it’s a problem that’ll take generations to fix with a lot of pain along the way. It’s also a wonderful and high paying profession that needs more diversity.

    Happy to talk more if there’s ever an opportunity.

    1. As a woman in tech who briefly did some pre-sales work in tech… I was discussing a potential project that my company could do for a client, and the client asked ” what else I had to offer?”.. I answered with all the benefits of what my company would offer only for him to ask again (with a look that still gives me shivers to this day) “I am asking what do YOU have to offer me?”. I don´t even recall what I said but I got away from that guy as soon as I could. Mind you this was in a social event for customers and vendors, I was luckily not alone but still felt so disgusted, dirty and unsafe.. Now imagine this happens every “x” times a woman is trying to sale something… no wonder many try to change roles at some point (I did!).

      1. Gosh.. I typed to fast… fixing my last sentence:
        Now imagine this happens every “x” times a woman is trying to *sell* something… no wonder many try to change roles at some point (I did!).

  15. Great post. Glad you’re here to tackle the difficult stuff.

    Speaking of parties. I am currently attending an intensive course where I have to live in a student dorm where an entire floor shares a kitchen. At 4 am, I was woken up by drunk hollaring, banging on my door and attempts at opening my door by a complete and unknown number of strangers. Suffice to say it shocked me thoroughly and left me very happy my door and lock were sturdy. What if I had forgotten to lock it?

    When I relayed my nighttime frights to an older male colleague the next day, he said with a twinkle in his eye about how some boys just thought they could knock on a girl’s room to “have some fun” – seemingly completely oblivious to how that was a realistic fear to me, and not something to laugh about!

  16. Shit, I never knew about companies in India having that kind of policy – let alone thought about how that might hold women back career wise.

    Outstanding, important post

  17. This is excellent. And scary.

    While my workplace experiences were largely alright, there was one instance when I was 22 and on a small bus for an investment roadshow one night as the only woman (and 10 years the next youngest persons junior) when the men started asking me to dance for their entertainment. I put my head down and bit back tears until we got to our destination. It took way too long for man to tell the others to leave me alone.

    Oh, and that time I was 21 and a driver who was sent to pick me up from my apartment from the company car service decided to stalk me for a few weeks until I finally complained to my boss, who called the car service. I would have told him sooner, but was afraid of it seeming like I couldn’t take care of myself.

    Shit, and the time I was taking an Uber home from work one night and the driver was playing creepy music, had porn running on his phone, and kept leering at me. I literally jumped out at a stop light and ran into a coffee shop and made my husband drive into Boston to pick me up. I reported the driver, obviously. (I no longer do ride shares without my husband, for sad and clear reasons.)

    But murder being the leading cause of job death for women? That makes me so mad I could scream. Wtf is wrong with the world?

  18. Y’all have knocked it out of the park yet again (and I will be extremely pissed but utterly unsurprised if this doesn’t get shared widely and/or featured Certain Places).

    Re: selling Girl Scout cookies: yep, I went all over the neighborhood but it was always with my mom accompanying me. And while we sometimes did go into peoples’ homes, it was because we’d all been in the neighborhood for years and knew each other. It was drilled into us to never go in to someone’s house while selling cookies alone, and I sincerely wonder if that’s a reason why I see so many cookie booths now than I used to (my troop never did booths, although I don’t know if that was just our troop leaders’ preference not to go through the hassle of organizing it). Safety in numbers there (plus it’s harder to ignore multiple girls asking if you’re sure you don’t want some sweet, sweet Thin Mints 😉 ).

  19. God, I love this blog. Almost as much as I hate The Patriarchy.

    Also, your “Constant Vigilance” reference reminded me of the Dessa song “Fire Drills”. Though she calls it “Motherfucking Vigilance”.

  20. I used to do work with victims of DV/Relationship Terrorism and yep, you are so right on the number one killer of women in the workplace. That work, and paying attention to the world as I go through it in a female body definitely informs how I work. In my own office, I don’t allow any clients to have the code that opens the door to the hallway. They must call me and I must come down and get them. I don’t want someone showing up outside my door without warning and with bad intentions.

    I take more ubers than I want to because some nights men just act extra damn violent.

    Some young male acquaintances bitch at me because I’m “not adventurous” enough to travel some places without a buddy. Dude, how many times have strangers tried to kill you because you look like the dyke you are?!?

    Even my clothing is defensive. I must be able to run in all of my shoes. That’s harder as a professional lady, but a bitch has to be able to outrun an attacker.

  21. And this made me realize something. If I was a female, every job I ever had in the past would have put me at risk (verbal abuse, ass grabs, rape, death).

    One time in band camp…sorry I mean one time when I was working graveyard shift as an aircraft mechanic there was a 16 year old girl working cleaning planes. Only female in the building surrounded by men.

    At lunch the crew chief (in front of all the men) asked this girl what it felt like to perform fellatio (not in those words).

    It was my second shift at this new base I had justed started at. As soon as I saw the red face on that girl, I told the crew chief I had something important to talk to him about in his office. We went to his office, I grabbed him by the throat and told him to go apologize to the girl and never do something like that again.

    He tried to have me fired. I tried to get him fired. No one got fired.

    The girl, fearing for her job, sided with him.

    Cowards. All of them. And I was pissed off big time that he got away with it.

    BUT, he never spoke like that again to another female.

    Moral of story: God hates fucking cowards and some men are cowardly disgusting pigs

  22. Wow, great (and brave) article! I heard about that Uber study on the Freakonomics podcast and it was fascinating. Makes perfect sense though, there are some situations women just don’t want to put themselves into and much of that is probably in the subconcious. They just sense that a situation could be dangerous and they do their best to steer clear. Becuase of that, men are able to earn a premium because they’ll go where most women wouldn’t.

    As a dad of two almost teenage girls, I’m acutely aware of our culture of sexism and the dangers of sexual assault. It scares the hell out of me but we do our best to teach them to be aware and ready.

    And now that you mention it, I don’t recall a woman ever ringing our bell to try and sell us solar panels or save our souls. I never really thought about it until you pointed it out.

  23. I delivered pizzas for about 8 months in my early 20’s. When I first got the job, the owner told me I was the first woman who they had hired for the job, ever. At that time, my dumb self was feeling all congratulatory about “breaking barriers” or some nonsense. I didn’t really think too deeply about why that might be. While working there, I saw my fair share of weirdness, drugs & alcohol and naked people. Nothing too strange for this delicate lady 🙂 But one day as I was doing a lunchtime delivery, instead of grabbing the pizza & handing me the money, this guy just grabbed ME. Held a tight grip around my forearms & wouldn’t release. I dropped the food, tried to kick, twist, scream bloody murder, go boneless & throw my weight to the ground… apparently all that was too much, & he snapped out of it & released me. I quit that day!

  24. Late to this party but wanted to add my 2 cents. Similar to Liz’s story above… I am a startup founder who, by the nature of my job, have to pitch to investors who are by and large white, male, rich and powerful. On two occasions investors made me feel like the company didn’t matter to them at all, only me and my sex. One of those investors actually manufactured a situation in which he and I were in his car, alone, in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere… at which point he starts telling me a highly inappropriate story about his member. I was terrified of being raped & killed and I think he knew that full well, and enjoyed the power trip.

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