Last week’s Safe For Work Video looked at unequal pay through the eyes of Capuchin monkeys (watch the video here). There have been tons of blog posts popping up using this experiment to highlight the gender pay gap.
Kasey Edwards wrote an essay at Daily Life entitled “The Video Every Woman Needs To Watch.” She draws parallels between her own career experiences and the actions of the monkeys refusing to accept lower payment (in the form of cucumbers instead of grapes) for the same work. She said “Im not suggesting I should have walked into my boss’s office and hurled my lunch at him. A little more impulse control than a primate is probably best. But I could have done with some of that monkey’s unfailing self-belief and refusal to accept the scraps out of life.”
Lindy West, writing at Jezebel.com, says “[h]owever subconsciously, people think women are kinda dumb. But women don’t have to think that too, do we? Can’t we at least try to demand grapes, even if it’s frightening and ultimately gets is nowhere?” She noted that the monkey “would never collaborate in its own oppression. That monkey knew that if its monkey-friend got a grape for doing the stupid pebble trick, it deserved a grape too. It’s only fair.” Lindy concludes her post with “I am a monkey now. F&#k your cucumber.”
Can women solve the gender pay gap by “throwing the cucumber”?
When we look at pay differentials by gender, one of the contributing factors is that women, generally speaking, don’t engage in compensation negotiations. Research indicates that men are far more likely to negotiate when it comes to compensation; one study found that 57% of men attempted to negotiate, while only 7% of women attempted to negotiate (details about the study can be found here). So, if “throw the cucumber” means arm yourself with information about market rates for your job and negotiate for what you think you deserve, then by all means throw that cucumber.
But before you do, make sure you’re making a cucumber-to-cucumber comparison, not a cucumber-to-grape comparison. Most real-world situations aren’t as clear-cut as the simple monkey example. If one monkey’s pebble is heavier than the other monkey’s pebble, is the grape a “pay premium” for more physically demanding work? Are the consequences of dropping the pebble the same for both monkeys, or does one have more responsibility than the other?
What if all we can see is the monkey taking the pebble from the researcher at noon and handing it back at 1PM, and we don’t know what the monkeys are doing with the pebbles during that hour? One monkey could simply be sitting there, waiting for the clock to tick so he can hand back the pebble, while the other monkey is performing a geological assay during that hour? Who deserves the grape and who deserves the cucumber?
Before you throw the cucumber, make sure you’re making the right comparison. Otherwise, you could end up looking sillier than a cowboy monkey riding a dog.
Images courtesy of AFP/Getty images and Tim Lepard, owner of the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo