The day after the State of the Union, my Facebook news feed was flooded with posts declaring President Barack Obama a friend of women for his statement on equal pay for women during the State of the Union. Equal pay is the go-to feminist argument. It’s the “welcome to feminism” introduction that most women get, it’s the first thing you cover in Women’s Studies 101, and it’s the easiest, least controversial feminist platform. It’s what feminists use when we’re trying to look reasonable to non-feminists or even anti-feminists. It’s the statement Obama can make and get the whole room to stand up and applaud for, on both sides of the aisle.
So if that were the case, then why don’t women have equal pay?
The answer is simple: it’s because economic injustice for women goes much further than a number on a paycheck. Women are not paid less because we don’t have laws to prevent it. Women are not paid less because companies who do so lack punishments. Women are paid less for the same reason women are more likely than men to be living in poverty across all racial and ethnic groups; women are paid less for the same reason that 40 percent of single women with children are living in poverty.
Women are paid less because women’s perceived inherent value in the world is less than that of men.
The majority of employers in the United States don’t have separate salaries for men and women. Employers don’t purposely decide they are going to pay women less for the same work their male employees do. It’s simply that employers see women’s work as less valuable because they see women as less valuable. Women’s inherent worth is less than men’s, so the work they produce is also worth less than men’s.
This is not something we are going to change with laws and regulations. It’s certainly not something we are going to change with pithy quotes about Mad Men. It’s going to take a concentrated effort to change the culture. If we want to see equal pay for women, we’re going to have to value women more. We’re going to have to start valuing women’s contributions to the world more. Pay inequality is not the result of draconian patriarchs who decide workers’ pay based on gender. Pay inequality is the result of a society that does not value the contributions women make to the world.
Pay inequality, sexual assault, and attacks on reproductive rights all share the same root. That root is patriarchy; it is the culture, it is the value of women in the world.
If the President really wants to end pay inequality, I challenge him to talk about a shift in culture. I challenge him to discuss the feminization of poverty. I challenge him to talk about the roots of economic injustice for women. I challenge him to say something about women that might not get the whole room to stand up and applaud.
If the President wants to be a friend to women, he’s got to talk about more than pay inequality, he’s got to talk about how we end it.
Marie – I suggest you send this article to USA today paper, NY times, Wall St Journal, misc. other large and even the small Saginaw News. I am sure you will get a lot of press on this. Excellent and professionally written article. Grnpa
I whole-heartedly agree about the need to change our entire culture’s view of women. Our country is still very much a man’s world. We need a feminists/humanist social revolution! Drastic times call for desperate measures and I’m sick and tired – as many women are – of campaigning and begging for equal pay, respect, fairness from the very pro-mail legal system, ETC. I think we need to go back to the 60’s and 70’s women’s lib movement, whose main goal of getting the ERA passed failed! I don’t think most people, even most women, realize it was never ratified and passed into law. We had 10 years to have at least 36 states ratify it within 10 years. We only had 4 more states to go when the Eagle Forum, especially Phyllis Schafley, came here and the other most conservative states & convinced them not to vote for it. It quietly expired in 1988.
It is thirty eight years later and we still don’t have equal rights under our Constitution! We are more than 50% of our population and still considered and treated like second-class citizens. We need to join as many women and women’s groups across our country and demand our equality with men be acknowledged and equal rights guaranteed by our government. A few ideas: if millions of women only paid 77% of our taxes since that’s what we earn compared to men – talk about taxation without representation! We have to hit them where it hurts, protest candidates, agencies, judges, companies that have anti-female practices, policies and laws. Also boycott advertisers who sexually objectify women in t.v. commercials (Victoria’s Secret, Carl’s Jr., etc.), in magazines, on billboards, everywhere. And in movies it’s so common and so blatant and pervasive we don’t seem to notice. It’s hard to see any kind of movies, except kid’s movies, that doesn’t show several scenes of scantily clad or naked women, especially in strip bars doing pole-dancing.
Our strength is in our numbers, we just need to organize. I’m very serious about this and have many other ideas. Our fore-mothers were imprisoned, beaten, spit on, raped and abandoned for fighting for our right to vote. Yet we still have very little power in Congress. Even though we do have some wonderful, enlightened, progressive men in some government offices and Congress, we have nowhere near the 50% that would represent us, nor do we have enough minorities. I’m sick of seeing the destruction to children, women and others with no power, crushed by the traditions, laws and social mores set down by centuries of rule by alpha males. Which has resulted in our culture, which has evolved shockingly little since the age of the Romans and Greeks, the roots of Western society.