My Instagram feed is an interesting place—art projects, DIY videos, memes and political posts scatter my explorer page. Scrolling through, I love the mix of creative, innovative, funny, serious and thought-provoking content that I see every day, or perhaps multiple times a day. I also enjoy sharing posts that are most striking to me with my friends, sending memes to people I know will appreciate humor, art posts to those I know are artistic and word-play to those I know most appreciate puns and other literary cleverness. But I send posts about social justice and politics to all of my friends because it’s important to me to foster a dialogue about current events and political values with the people I hold dear.
I know that with every conversation I have with my friends, I will walk away with a stronger, more nuanced point of view, and hopefully, they will too. When engaging in respectful discourse, my ideas become bigger, and my ignorance fades. Because of these numerous past experiences, I have come to expect every conversation I initiate with friends to be respectful and nurture growth. If I try to start a dialogue with one of my friends and they don’t show interest or respect, I am taken aback.
A few weeks ago, on a USY retreat, I spent much of my free time hanging out with my roommates; two were old friends, one was an acquaintance and one I had only met the day before. It was an interesting mix of new and old—getting to know new people and spending time with longstanding friends. As I was sitting on my bed scrolling through my Instagram, I came across a post that showed how many cents women of different races earn to a white man’s dollar. I thought that this was both interesting and disturbing and would be appropriate to share with these friends. I hoped that we might have an interesting discussion that would help me get to know my roommates better and develop my own ideas.
“Hey, listen to this…” I recited the statistics and got about halfway through when one of my newer friends cut me off. “Why are you telling us this?” she asked, with a hint of disinterest and disgust in her voice.
To be honest, I was caught off guard by this response—no one before had ever replied with this level of apathy when I tried to share information I considered important. It was a totally new territory; I would have to forge my way to a dialogue instead of picking one up naturally.
Another friend jumped in: “Ava, you can’t believe everything you read online. That information probably isn’t true. The wage gap isn’t only because women are being paid less than men for the same jobs, it’s because they don’t have the same jobs.”
This confused me; I had never said that the gender wage gap was solely applied to the same positions between men and women, and yet she seemed to take a condescending tone. I tried to explain to her that while the gap in professional opportunities for men and women is prevalent, in some cases women in the same positions as men are certainly paid less.
“Take directors or actors for example. Female directors/actresses are paid less than male directors/actors for the same work—” but she persisted steadily with her view that I was being unreasonable. This was nothing like what I had experienced before. I felt that my friends weren’t respecting my perspective, and I wasn’t really respecting their opinions, so I let it drop. I was mad, but I needed to take some time to gather my thoughts and also learn more before I approached these friends again to have a more productive discourse about the wage gap.
I stopped talking for a few minutes, and looked up wage gap statistics, verifying the truth of the ones in the Instagram post. Perhaps out of indignation, I couldn’t help sharing that the post’s statistics had, in fact, been correct.
“Are we still talking about this?” my friend asked, with an annoyed laugh.
“Yes!” I tried to explain why talking about it was important to me, but I became flustered as she still didn’t understand my perspective. My other friend left the room, saying “Whatever, I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me.”
I felt the blood rush to my head. The conversation was clearly over, and at that point, I felt that none of us had grown from it. I couldn’t understand how people, especially my female peers, could so blatantly disregard an important issue that affects everyone.
Looking back on the experience, I see that I did grow. In the past, my friends’ responses had made me feel growth partly because they reinforced my own views, while this conversation brought perspectives that were different from my own to the table. The conversation made me inspect my view on the topic more closely, and educate myself more on the facts.
I learned not only about the wage gap, but the gap that I might feel with others whose views differ from mine. In this particular conversation, I did not overcome this gap, but in the future, I hope to maintain my convictions while bridging gaps with knowledge, respect and connection.
Ava Berkwits is a sophomore at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.