As a matter of fact abstract justice has had little to do with determining wages at any time or place. The usual rule has been for the employer, whether private individual or public body, to pay as little as need be for work done, and for the employee to hold out for as much as there is a reasonable chance of getting. Thus it is easy to see why women workers have everywhere received far less remuneration than men.
Fewer kinds of employment have been open to them, therefore the need of accepting any available is more pressing; they have been far less able to combine and hold out for better pay then men; and up to recent years they have been less educated and less ambitious, and hence slower in bringing their claims before the public; while the old opinion of the essential inferiority of women, though far less openly stated than in former years, still influences the general estimate of the value and of the adequate remuneration of women’s labour and time.
The inferiority of women’s pay carries with it no demonstration of the inferiority of their work compared to that of men. In some cases, as of nurses, governesses, and most domestic servants, as well as of those engaged in sewing, millinery, etc., women have had he field to themselves, and could not well be replaced by men. Nor is their work of trifling value. Yet they are paid far less than men engaged in employments demanding similar amounts of labour and intelligence. That they have accepted the lower pay without protest, and have been as a rule, thankful to get it, is no proof that they felt themselves adequately rewarded.
Edith Hodgkinson, “Equal pay for equal work”, paper presented at the National Council of Women of New Zealand 7th Session, 1902, in Charlotte MacDonald (ed), The Vote, the Pill and the Demon Drink: a History of Feminist Writing in New Zealand, 1869 – 1993, Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 1993, pp. 63 – 67.