Women Of Horror: M.F. Wahl

The Gender Gap Overcorrection

I’ve been a horror writer for nearly fifteen years. First as part of the film industry, in a screenwriting capacity, and about four years ago transitioning to fiction. In that time I’ve made some great decisions, and some not so great decisions, and I’ve busted my butt to continually improve upon my craft and get where I am today.

If you told me that you didn’t want to read my work based my gender, I’d tell you to get the fuck out of town, and I would be right for saying that. I may only have been a writer for one and a half decades, but I’ve been a female my entire life. I’ve had that type of blatant sexism directed toward me more times than I can count, but that’s not what I’ve really come here to discuss.

To be honest, I think sexism as a whole is on the downswing. I know very few people these days that feel a woman isn’t capable of doing as good of a job as a man in any and all positions aside from maybe penis puppetry. A lot of cultural hard work has gone into this shift of consciousness, and while we’re not at total equality yet, we’re approaching it in the fast lane.

Despite this, in 2015 women made eighty cents on the dollar to men, across almost all fields. This is a distressing fact if you’re a woman. It’s also a distressing fact if you live in a society with women. Do I get paid less from my publisher than a man would be paid? I don’t know, but I honestly don’t think so. Do people not read my stuff because I’m a woman? No one has ever said anything to that affect, so I’m not sure. But what I do know is that while sexism may not be blatant, there is still a dangerous undercurrent that sucks many under.

Now, to be fair, the reason for the gender pay gap is a subject of hot debate. There are those that feel that the one and only reason is sexism on the part of the employer, and there are those that don’t. In a culture where child and elder care still remains vastly in the realm of “female duties”, many career women choose lower paying positions with work-from-home benefits, and flexible schedules. In addition to this they often need to take off time to deal with family obligations, or for things like maternity leave. Rightly or wrongly, because of these things women are often perceived as not working as hard as men in the same positions, and it effects their pay grade. I won’t get further into things here, but if you’re interested digging deeper into the issue, the Freaknomics podcast does a wonderful episode on the pay gap.

Given all this information, you may find what I’m about to say next odd, and that is that we’re now witnessing an overcorrection when if comes to policy and attitude surrounding the pay gap and women in the work force. Let that sink in for a moment. What I mean is that I see we’re beginning to swing from “women suck” to “men suck”. I’ll wait while you catch your breath.

What the hell am I talking about? Let me give you two recent and well-known examples. Although I’m American, born and raised, I’ve lived the majority of my adult life in Canada, and I hold duel citizenship. Here in Canada, when the current Prime Minister was first elected, he promised to comprise his cabinet of fifty percent women. On the surface that seems like a great idea.

In reality it looks more like this. Women in Canada hold a paltry twenty-five percent of the seats in the House (the US is worse). Fifty percent of the Canadian population is female, yet they only get a twenty-five percent representation in one of the government’s largest bodies. That pretty much sucks. What it also means is that if women are to comprise fifty-percent of the Prime Minister’s cabinet they are now over-represented in terms of ratio in government (even accounting for the fact that forty-three percent of Senators in Canada are women).

Why is this a bad thing you ask? Assuming everyone in government isn’t qualified to serve in the PM’s cabinet, it stands to reason, by numbers alone, that more men would be qualified than women, simply by virtue of the fact that there are more men. The quota to fill the cabinet with fifty percent women means there’s a much smaller pool of talent to pick from, and conceivably the hiring of an under-qualified female candidate over a more qualified but male candidate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this is what happened. The women chosen to fill those positions seem more than qualified, and I don’t have an issue with them being there, but the overcorrection I’m talking about here is the quota.

A similar issue arose with the Netflix TV show, Jessica Jones. The show’s producers made it a point to hire only female directors for the second season. Given the small amount of female directors compared to male directors we run into the numbers problem again. The issue isn’t with women being hired, the issue is with the quota, with the vast majority of the talent pool, in this case men, being automatically overlooked. The most qualified candidate for a job should be hired, regardless of their gender. Does being a woman make a candidate more qualified in this situation, doubtful.

These were just two well-known examples, but I see the overcorrection everywhere, and in nearly every industry. Everyone from mega tech firms, to small publishing houses, seem to be swinging away from hiring men because they think it’s the right thing to do. They think they are empowering women, they think they are helping the situation.

They aren’t.

This is my big gripe. It’s not that women are being hired over men, it’s the exclusion of men. We can’t better society by side stepping whole groups of people. We have to be inclusive. We need more women, not less men. That may seem like semantics to you, but I assure you it’s not.

Every time a quota is set up, every time the best person for the job, whether male or female, is not hired, we injure ourselves culturally and economically. Every time legislation is introduced to help solve the pay gap or makes women’s voices heard, we’re treating the symptom, and potentially creating an environment for backlash.

Ideally, in a work environment, we would see a ratio of men to women more or less reflective of the general society at large. There will always be some fields that attract much more of one gender than the other, but in most areas, it would be about even. The same goes for pay scales. We would ideally see women earning similar amounts to men in similar positions.

But wait? But those are the real issues, not the symptoms. Here you are wrong. What the real issues are, the hard issues to suss out, are WHY women are being paid less. WHY women are underrepresented in fields like politics and the sciences. WHY? Is it because they lack support, that they lack finances, is it cultural? All of the above or something entirely different? We need grass-roots efforts to help move women into the fields that lack them, and to keep them there.

Do you want more female authors? More female film directors? Give women, and girls especially, the tools they need to pursue these career avenues. Would you like to see more women in politics? Make sure women and girls have access to the resources they need to make this happen.

Stop with the knee-jerk reactions of quotas, and legislative hammers, and pats on the back for a job well done when nothing has really been achieved. We can’t raise up women by pushing down men, they are our allies, not our enemies. Start supporting efforts to address the systemic problems in society that hold women back. The problems that, even now, they still face every single day. Problems like childcare, healthcare, and sexual assault. Yes, these things are closely connected to women in the workforce because they are “women’s issues”. Although in reality they are societies issues.

As a woman I want to see more female voices all around. I want to see more female horror writers, more female politicians, more female doctors, and more female crane operators—and I want them to be paid the same amount a man would make for the same work. I want a world where being born female isn’t like being born with a yoke around your neck. I just want to get there in a way that that doesn’t harm more than it helps. I want permanent solutions to what ails us, not band-aides, props, and crutches.

About M.F. Wahl

M.F. Wahl is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), book reviewer, and VIP author with Stitched Smile Publications. She’s also the Managing Editor for the newly revived SSP magazine.

“Disease”, Wahl’s first novel, is a number one Wattpad Featured book in horror, it will be released in 2017 through Stitched Smile. Several short stories of hers will appear in anthologies due out later this year though various publishers.

Find out more about M.F. Wahl