Do you think work and wage discrimination are a thing of the past? Think women and men are treated equally at work? Well, if you answered yes, events of late should change your mind. One of the perks of my full-time paying job is that I get to meet some pretty kick-ass people. Yesterday, I attended a seminar in which UC Hastings Professor of Law Joan Williams (my newest feminist icon!) spoke about gender and class culture wars. She discussed the gender wage gap and pointed out that mothers comprise the most discriminated group in the workplace.
“Women earn 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. African-American women earn only 72 cents and Latinas 60 cents for every dollar. According to Evelyn Murphy, president and founder of The WAGE Project, the gender wage gap costs a woman between $700,000 and $2 million over her lifetime. Now if you’re thinking that women certainly must get paid the same wage for the same positions as men, that’s just not so.”
But clueless Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar and an anti-feminist who happens to be adamantly against women’s studies departments and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), criticizes the Paycheck Fairness Act in an op-ed for the NY Times. She actually has the fucking audacity to blame women’s (and men’s) choices on the gender wage gap. She proudly saunters right into the trap that our society perpetuates: that women choose to be mothers and therefore choose to earn less money. But as the fab Professor Williams astutely observes, women don’t choose to be discriminated against; they don’t choose a system that won’t support them. Society perpetually pits married mothers against single women. Hoff Sommers simply fuels this cycle’s continued momentum as she blames women for deciding to give birth. She claims,
“The Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market. It is 1970s-style gender-war feminism for a society that should be celebrating its success in substantially, if not yet completely, overcoming sex-based workplace discrimination.”
In her glistening ivory tower of privilege, Hoff Sommers implies that feminism is not only a dirty word but passé. This of course is the same jerk who doesn’t think we should discuss gender inequity, says feminists hate men (we don’t) and blames feminism for implementing a victim mentality (as opposed to the empowerment it actually proposes). She blatantly ignores other factors that cause a gender wage gap. Time magazine reported on a newly released study by George Washington University claiming that obese women face a greater gender wage gap. According, to the study, women who are obese not only face greater medical costs than men, they also are paid less in wages than their male counterparts. When you bring race into the debate, women of color fare less well than white women. Women of color also face enormous discrimination, including but not limited to not being hired or having names that sound too ethnic so as not to get called for interviews. But even within offices and industries, women of color may be passed over for promotions.
But not only are women still not paid equally, they are not always treated equally in the workplace either. Sports reporter Ines Sainz recently faced alleged harassment in the NY Jets locker room. A few athletes cried that women should not be allowed into locker rooms or that women in locker rooms just wanted to look at men’s “packages.” These sexist athletes acted as if locker rooms were hallowed halls, sanctuaries of sweat, temples of testosterone, the…well, you get the point. But this is precisely where sports reporters, male or female, must tread to interview athletes in order to write their story or report on the air. Some of the men crying foul seem reminiscent of the arguments used to denounce unisex bathrooms. But the difference is the locker room is the place to prepare for and celebrate victories and defeats. It’s a component of the job.
Interestingly, it was the media’s reaction to Sainz that also solidified that sexism still runs rampant. Many acted as if Sainz asked for the inappropriate catcalls and whistles by her provocative clothing. Why must women continually defend themselves against verbal and physical attacks? Why are they deemed the instigators? Who fucking cares if they wore a tight blouse and short skirt or a potato sack?! I’m so sick of this bullshit.
Jenni Carlson, Chair of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), wrote an astute op-ed for CNN discussing her own experiences as a sports reporter. While she talked of courteous male athletes (like Pedro Martinez) and how she has never personally felt threatened doing her job, she maintains that women reporters still face harassment. Carlson explains,
“We have come so far, yet we still have so far to go. Women in sports media today may not face such extreme circumstances, but the harassment continues. There are demeaning comments. There are misogynistic jokes. Sometimes those words or actions may not even be directed to a specific female reporter, but they still create a hostile work environment.”
But the sports industry isn’t the only hostile work environment. In her seminar, Professor Williams discussed how the U.S. is only 1 of 4 industrialized nations that do not offer paid maternity leave. For all the talk of family values, she argues that the U.S. has a combative policy towards families in the workplace. One of my fave blogs Hello Ladies also argues,
“And while it may look like women are opting out of the 9 to 5 grind so they can attend Mommy and Me classes in between trips to the grocery store and the gym, the reality is many working women leave work because American business have made it close to impossible to manage, or even afford, work and family through inadequate family leave policies, cost prohibitive child care and too few sick days.”
So let’s suppose for a moment that asshat Hoff Sommers and her followers are correct, that it’s women’s choices in education, caring for family members and having children that are screwing up their monetary trajectory. Women without children who earn higher degrees should make the same as men in their fields, right? Nope. Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison at Newsweek also denounced Hoff Sommers’ views about making the “right” choices when it comes to attaining gender pay equity. They write,
“Consider this survey from Catalyst, which found that female M.B.A.s who’ve made exactly the “right” life choices—no intention to have children, top-tier schools, high aspirations—still earn $4,600 less per year in their first jobs out of business school. Or U.S. Department of Education data, which separated pay by job sector to determine that whether women who go into teaching or business, social work or science—and before they’ve had the chance to cripple themselves by “life choices” (these are young, childless women we’re talking about)—they will still make roughly 20 percent less than the men they work with.”
So what can we do? We can talk about it. We can call or write our legislators. That’s right my fellow opinion-holders, it’s time to call our senators (1-877-667-6650) as the vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act is coming up soon in the Senate.
Despite Hoff Sommers inane comments, feminism is still very much needed in our lives today. Many would have us believe that we have achieved equality. While I wish it were true, that is simply not the world we live in. Feminism, a movement but certainly not a homogenous monolithic force, aims to end oppression. Until we have attained pay equity and obliterated misogyny and sexism, it is not some outdated retro throwback. Women aren’t paid the same, nor are they treated the same. Society subversively views women as being less than men; less competent, not belonging in a male space. It’s this kind of attitude that holds not only women back, but all of society back. We’re not waging a war pitting women against men, but on women against other women. It’s time to call a cease-fire.