Women writers in Canada make 55 cents to every dollar that male writers earn. That is the buried lead in the latest survey figures from the Writers’ Union of Canada. And no one is talking about it
We are talking about the troubling figures that don’t really surprise any of us who have been scrabbling to pay bills as writers over the past 15 years: Canadian writers earn 27 per cent less today than they did in 1998, and must work almost twice as hard to get it. The average writer’s income is $12,789 – or, $36,000 below the national average. In 1998, I was in my second and final year of journalism school. For most of my career since, I have hustled as a freelance writer and editor. I’ve done well, by industry standards. I even have several National Magazine Awards to my name. I had long-form feature articles (remember them?) published in many Canadian consumer magazines. And yet my 15-plus year career has been on a steady downward economic trajectory. If I were to publish a book tomorrow, for my trouble, I would make 55% less than a man doing the same damned thing.
This statistic, and evidently, the fact that there is a difference at all between what men and women make as writers, surprised Kate Taylor. In Friday’s Globe and Mail she said: “The Canadian survey also revealed a surprising gender gap: For every dollar reported by male authors, female authors were only reporting 55 cents. It’s a shocking difference in a field in which women are as prominent as men, in a country with a literary tradition in which the first names that spring to mind are female, including those of Margaret Laurence and Marian Engel, the pair who founded TWUC.”
Fifty-five percent. Is this 1955? Am I the only one who is enraged by this? Why are women writers so undervalued, and why is everyone so surprised that we are? In this post Ghomeshi Canada, are people really shocked that hipster dudes can also be misogynists? If these statistics are right, then our industry is far more sexist than others. The latest statistics for the gender wage gap in Ontario is 74 cents to the male dollar.The United States even looks like a feminist haven, comparatively. There, on average, women make 77 cents to the male dollar. In 1987, the year that pay equity legislation was passed, the gender wage gap in Ontario was 36%, meaning that women earned 64 cents to the male dollar. And that’s still nine cents more than the gender wage gap that exists today in Canadian writing.
So perhaps it is not surprising that I was never able to make a living solely on writing and editing. I didn’t realize my gender made it more than doubly difficult to do so. I have always been honest with my students. “If your freelance,” I tell them, “make sure you also get some corporate writing work.” (Also a difficult task, but that’s the subject of another blog). Now I will also say this. “If you are a writer and you are a woman, and you publish a book, you will make 55% less than your male counterparts in this country.”
I remember the advice of a dear friend, a man who taught me more about great journalism than anyone else I know. Years ago, he also told me that writers don’t ask for more money and they should. I took his advice. I always brought up money and was never shy to ask for more. I often didn’t get it, but at least, I thought, I put it out there. I’m a good writer, and an experienced one. I naively believed in the old adage “you get what you pay for.” A few years ago, an editor contacted me. I did not pitch the story, keep in mind—she reached out to me. This editor had read a piece I had done for another magazine and wanted me to do something similar. Great, I said. And then I asked about money. The amount was so low, so insulting, I actually laughed. She had approached me, I pointed out. She wanted me based on my writing, but also based on my expertise in a particular area. If anything, I would expect a little more than my usual rate. There was a brief silence. A curt goodbye. I never heard from her or her publication again. I now wonder if my name had been Ken and not Kate, would she have hung up quite so quickly?
And why, I also wonder, after reading the smattering of coverage in various news outlets that picked up on this appalling story about the sad state of Canadian writing, was the gender wage gap the last point anyone made?
Not that it surprises me.