Why the Secret Wage Gap Commercial Sucks for Women

Secret released a new deodorant commercial depicting a young woman in a bathroom practicing a conversation with her boss regarding pay. She is upset because her male colleague makes more than her, without working as hard or as long at the firm.

Here is the ad:


Here is why it sucks:

Instead of fueling the popular “we fight gender inequality” fire, Secret could make a positive impact by showing a woman practicing her speech, learning how to negotiate, and walking confidently into her boss’s office prepared to show why she should make more money. Instead they show a nervous, messy woman yammering in the bathroom mirror. Talk about stereotypes.

This commercial shows everything wrong with the “wage gap” conversation:

1. THERE IS NO WAGE GAP: Women and men are paid  equally for the same jobs. A male teacher and a female teacher, a male nurse and a female nurse, etc. – they are making the same. If you combine all male salaries in the US, and then combine all female salaries in the US, you will find that on average men are making more. On average, men are also going into higher paying fields, working more hours, and spending less time at home than women. Women are taking lower paying jobs due to the flexibility they afford. Men are taking higher paying jobs but spending less time at home.

If you want to make more as a woman (or a man), pick a high paying career. Become a lawyer, a doctor, a policewoman, a corporate accountant… work 60, 70+ hours a week. But on average, women aren’t doing this, so on average men are making more. But, equal pay for equal jobs does exist… let’s stop acting like it doesn’t! Instead, let’s empower woman to pursue higher paying careers.

Listen to this Freakonomics podcast to learn more: The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap 

2. Learn to negotiate: It’s not the company’s job to tell you, “Hey you’re asking for $5,000 less than Joe, so you should ask for more to make things fair.” Companies have a range they are willing to pay for a particular job, and while your background can place you high or low on that range, your negotiating skills are vital as well.

Studies have continuously proven that women do not negotiate well. So Todd may have asked for more, and got it, where as Ms. Blazer here did not negotiate a larger salary. As such, Ms. Blazer just learned a lesson and will ask for more during her next raise/promotion/interview.

3. The bathroom and the hair: Really, Ms. Blazer should have practiced this speech at home. The fact that she is in her employer’s bathroom makes me think she just learned Todd’s salary and is reacting immediately on emotion. Don’t do this. If you need to discuss something with your boss, take your time to prepare.

Secondly, her hair is a mess. Just brush your hair before asking for a raise. Also, schedule a meeting with your boss, don’t just ask him if he has a second. This conversation warrants more time and thought than a second between meetings.

4. Todd doesn’t matter at all: Our salaries are not dependent on what our colleagues make. If you go to your boss and say, “I heard Sally is making $1,000 more than me”, your boss isn’t going to fall over and apologize.

If you want to make more, and you believe you should be making more than someone else, you need to focus on what YOU bring to the table. Phrase it as, “I do this, that, and the other, I have brought X amount of dollars/business/website hits to this company, and based on my performance I believe I should make $1,000 more…” or whatever.

Saying, “Todd has been here less time than me and I don’t think he works as hard, so I deserve more than him” is not a valid reason for a raise. Firstly, you don’t know Todd’s background or why your boss thinks he deserves what he deserves, and secondly you sound like a kid. “She has more crayons than me, I deserve more.” Why, for existing? Make a valid case explaining why you deserve to make a certain amount, and don’t simply piggy back on what your colleagues are making. That ain’t how it works, kids.

5. Stop making women out to be victims: In the end, I am tired of these campaigns acting like women are being victimized each pay day. Learn to negotiate, join high paying careers, and work really hard. The pay is there, but you need to work for it, just like men! You aren’t going to make $70,000 as a teacher in Oklahoma. You will make more than that as a broker. Pick the life you want and go for it – but you’re not a victim because of the choices you make.

6. Real sexism does exist: There are definitely shitty employers who pay women less because they see them as less. By inflating the wage gap numbers – like Obama saying women are paid 77 cents for every dollar – we are diluting the true issue that some do face. If everyone cries wolf, the real victims will be hard to hear.


10 thoughts on “Why the Secret Wage Gap Commercial Sucks for Women

  1. So, you’re saying women are paid less because we purposely choose low-paying jobs, don’t work hard, and are inherently shitty negotiators. The wage gap exists because we are either too stupid, too lazy, or both. That’s a fine message to send out to the world! What about the fact that traditionally female-dominated fields are paid a lower amount than traditionally male-dominated? They are not lower-paying because they are “easier” or lighter jobs. I would wager they are lower-paying simply because they have always been traditionally “women’s work”. Why should I have to choose a so-called “man’s job” just to access higher pay? Why are women’s jobs undervalued? You mentioned putting in long hours – look at the care giving fields! I personally worked 13-hour days, supporting troubled and violent kids. It was plenty dangerous, as well as mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. In an agency of over 100 employees, there were 8 men. Eight. We made just over minimum wage. This was NOT because I sucked at negotiating or was trying to choose an easy and flexible career. A “well-paying” position within the helping field is about $20/hour. I don’t think women should have to seek out “men’s work” just to access fair pay. I think the institutionalized sexism within the work world needs to change and start recognizing “women’s work” as just as difficult (often MORE difficult), and just as valuable, as male-dominated fields. Again: The wage gap doesn’t exist because women aren’t going after what’s available; it exists because of institutionalized sexism within policymaking that consistently undervalues careers that are typically female-dominated.

    That’s one example above. What about the limitations and restrictions placed on women simply because we happen to be the baby-bearers of our race? You say we choose low-paying jobs for flexibility. So should we be choosing not to have babies? We must pick family OR career, simply because of biology? Why are the better-paying jobs less accessible for women of childbearing age? Employers who do not hire women for fear of them “taking off” for mat leave? Why do women need to take this into consideration (the ability to care for their families or the accessability of leave time for family reasons) when choosing a job? Not to mention issues of health benefits, bonuses, gender-biased promotions, the inherent messages given to young girls today about their worth, etc etc etc.

    You can’t tell women to ovary up and get what’s theirs, if what is being offered is inherently designed to devalue them as workers and providers for their families. What, exactly, are we supposed to grab here? Next time I go into work, I will try and remember that my lowly pay cheque is simply the result of my inability to stand up and get a man’s job. I must have chosen the easy way out.

    My last thought – I appreciate your comments on “Lucy’s” messy appearance and lack of preparation for her conversation with her boss. Those are very valid points, and this ad does NOTHING to crush stereotypes of women being nervous, flighty, juvenile beings trying to play grownup in the workforce. I applaud you for pointing that out. That is NOT the way to ask for a raise. (Labelling the older woman “unattractive” was unnecessary, though, and had no bearing on your point. It does make me question how much institutionalized sexism and media brainwashing has affected YOU).

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. There is certainly something to be said about our society re-evaluating lesser paid fields, such as social work, teaching and others, and paying them more. I agree with that. But there’s no such thing as a “man’s job” and a “woman’s job”. That’s a patriarchal way of thinking.

      “Female dominated” jobs as you put them, such as “helping” services, are not paid less because women are dominantly employed. They are paid less because social services are often non-profit or state funded, meaning there is a very real budget they must adhere to. Men and women are paid equally as low in these fields. This is a social issue and not a gender issue. And instead of labeling jobs as gender orientated, we should encourage women to pursue the careers they want, while also making it clear what different jobs pay. Men and women equally are paid less in humanitarian fields than STEM fields. If your plan is to make a livable wage, you need to align your interests with your career path in a way that will allow you to sustain the lifestyle you want. Teachers will never make as much as stock brokers, because they are not directly making money for a large organization with high revenue. Its simply about going after the career you want, and understanding that different fields pay more. Gender is not the issue.

      Also, employers are simply not refusing to hire women because of maternity leave. Historically, women are given more paid leave now than ever before (Though the USA is very behind European countries in this regard), and paternity leave is also increasingly popular. Flexible hours and schedules are also trending these days, to allow women to have a career while also having time for family. This is something men also take advantage of, as employers are increasingly interested in retaining their family-orientated workers after children are born.

      Lastly, it is a family discussion that partners need to have in regard to who will work, and how the children will be raised. Society makes it clear men can stay home, or both parents can work – there’s nothing stopping that. So if you want to be a daycare teacher, or a nurse, or anything – go for it. You signed an employment agreement, you know your salary before taking the job, and it is proven the men in your field are making similar incomes.

      Also, I do not recall labeling the older woman as “unattractive”. You can point that part out to me and I will remove it, as it was probably a mistake.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment in a thoughtful manner. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree, though.

        I would like to clarify that I do not believe there is a difference between “men’s work” and “women’s work” (hence my use of quotes throughout my comment). I am aware that, within the same field, men and women are receiving equal pay. As a social worker myself, I am also very familiar with the funding limitations and problems inherent within the policy structures of north american government. I’m also aware that teaching/care giving/social work is not a high-revenue field, and so of course there will be caps on earning potential of employees, unlike those in say, the financial sector. What I am arguing is the undervaluing of historically female-dominated jobs, and how sexism has played a part in the financial structure of our current society. If, once upon a time, in north america, only men were allowed to teach or nurse – how do you think that would have affected wages? What inherent value would those jobs have held? How would these factors have impacted the evolution of these career fields, and what would we be seeing today?

        Regarding maternity leave – I encourage you to have some honest conversations with small employers. I unfortunately have known employers who will simply not hire certain women for fear of having to deal with them taking maternity leave. For a small business, this can mean a drain on time and finances that they have a hard time justifying within a small-scale operation. Mat leave is paid out by employers, and a company with only two or four employees can be reluctant to make a hire knowing – or fearing – that their employee is going to use their right for leave. Even larger companies, including the high-revenue ones, have been known to hire men over women for just this reason. During job interviews, it is women being asked about their families (read: will you be taking time off for kid’s school plays and doctor’s appointments? Have you had kids already, and how old are they? Are you of an age where kids are in the near future?), not men. In my experience, these sexist hiring practices exist MORE in the for-profit sector, so I do think there are wage gap issues straight across the board.

        We have come a LONG way, don’t get me wrong. But there is still a ways to go. And I appreciate you starting this conversation on your blog, giving your readers something to think about and encouraging dialogue about the ongoing problems of women’s portrayal in the media.

    1. Thanks also for your response to this – this is my first time on your page so I wasn’t sure what kind of site this is. I wasn’t intending to be confrontational with this comment, just wondering if I had actually clicked “post” or simply deleted my comment by accident :/

  2. The wage gap myth is based on an average of all employed N.A. men vs all employed N.A. women. The fact is men tend to take more trades related jobs, or higher risk jobs, and tend to stay with an employer for a longer term; which is why the wage gap appears to exist. A man and a woman who do the same job for the same amount of time make the same money. Before this ad came out, I didn’t believe there was still anyone dumb enough to buy into the wage gap myth.

  3. All valid points I’m glad I read because this commercial annoyed the hell out of me. But that greasy hair look is the most offensive. Don’t the makers of secret make shampoo as well?

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