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Wolf writes: "On average, women make only 77 cents for every dollar men get. But election year grandstanding has put paid to real equity."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

The Paycheck Fairness Act's Realpolitik

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK

09 June 12


nce again, with dispiriting regularity, yet another bill to make it easier to fight for equal pay for women and men has come up for debate by Congress. And once again, we are being bombarded by misleading punditry funded by interested thinktanks.

Is this issue dead, as claimed – and if so, is one of the key justifications for arguing that feminism is unnecessary, correct? Sadly, the answer is a resounding "no".

Opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act have been stealthy and effective at seeding the debate with disinformation. A well-worn iteration on television and in highbrow analysis magazines is that the wage gap is really due to a "choices gap" – meaning that, these days, any wage disparity between men and women has to do only with the different lifestyle choices women are making. They say women opt for a "mommy track", for instance, or for professions that yield them more freedom to stay home with children.

The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) has been taking aim at these canards for many years now, arguing that the wage gap "isn't merely a matter of choice in occupation", for women are "typically paid less than men in the same occupation", regardless of pay level.

The truth is that a full-time working woman is paid an average of 77 cents for each dollar earned by a white male in the United States. The situation is even worse for African-American and Hispanic women, who earn 62 and 54 cents respectively for every white male dollar.

According to a factsheet (pdf) put together by the NWLC, the yearly gap between white women and men comes to a total of $10,784, and the trend is for this volume to grow over the years, especially for college graduates. Stresses the organization:

"Even when women make the same career choices as men and work the same hours, they earn less."

And, as women get older, the wage gap based on gender only increases. This may help explain why so many young women think this is not such a big deal, while older women will not wake up to the full extent of the systematic unfairness until it is too late for much organized action.

Who would be against fairness in pay for the same job, or against a bill to strengthen the hand of women when they seek to document and challenge demonstrable sex discrimination?

The powerful chambers of commerce in America, that's who. This homely-sounding title, "chamber of commerce", which sounds so very "main street", is really an euphemism for aggregated corporate interests – including global corporate interests. A paycheck fairness bill passed the House of Representatives in January 2009, but was rejected by the Senate in November 2010. Why would the Senate not push this right through? Because an unspoken driver of profits for corporate America is … the ability to pay women less, with impunity.

Women are the majority of the population, and are soon to be half of its workers. If that wage gap, which remains steady at about 23%, is forced shut, then corporations are looking at a 12% hike in total costs for labor – and a corresponding slice into their profits.

This equation was made very clear to me early in life, when a workers' union at Yale – Local 34, a union of food workers that was mostly female – went on strike. They made the case that the pay for their gender was way below the norm for men. But Yale's leadership explained to students, in effect, that the university would not negotiate with strikers. The reason was quite simple: if women were paid more equitably, Yale would lose significant profits that currently went to cover other costs. Their argument was that Yale couldn't profitably afford to close the gender gap: the bank balance needed the profits that lay right in that gender gap. These same "savings" for businesses and corporations are easy to identify across the country and, indeed, state by state – as long as women are poorly armed in fighting for equal pay rights.

What is behind this struggle, in addition to corporations' resistance to slashing unjustly aggregated profits derived from systematic unfairness?

Party politics is the answer: even before the Senate vote, the Washington Post asserted that the bill would not pass. This result, reflected the Post, has a strategic benefit for the president's team: Democrats will use this failure to make Republicans look as if they could not care less about gender fairness.

Obama's team, too, is calculating that a short-term hit on the corporate side will be balanced by maximizing the gender gap in November – a gap that has long skewed towards the Democrats, but which has been shrinking in the latest polls. Obama, thus, is creating gender-friendly "optics" – including a surprise appearance on a conference call about pay equity that, handily, included reporters. With this handy media audience, the president made his case:

"I don't have to tell you how much this matters to families across the country: if Congress doesn't act, then women are still going to have difficulty enforcing and pressing for this basic principle."

Rachel Maddow recently asked Mitt Romney's campaign what the Republican candidate's position was on the Pay Equity Act – and got a model of DC obfuscation. The short response assured that Romney "supports pay equity" – which is far from being a firm commitment. This was watered down further when argued that "as president, Mitt Romney will create a pro-jobs business climate that will put all Americans back to work." But working for how much, and under what conditions of unfairness?

On Tuesday, predictably, Senate Republicans blocked the bill. As long as Obama does not have to deliver on an actual law to insist on actual fairness in paycheck equity, he looks good in having "fought for women" without having had to deliver anything of real value to them that would cost him business backers.

So, for some, a loss really is a win – that is, Obama, who does not have to burn up any really important political capital with Wall Street, whose profit margins depend on keeping working women's worth artificially low. Meanwhile, women carry on losing out. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+19 # BeeHears 2012-06-09 10:32
Naomi for President!!! :)
+22 # WFBrenner 2012-06-09 10:59
If not as President, could we at least find a way to get her the President's ear? How about as a new Cabinet Secretary of Women's Affairs?
+20 # wantrealdemocracy 2012-06-09 11:38
We don't need some phoney show of putting a new cabinet position to talk about women's lives. We need to demand that all elected bodies that represent the people as a whole be GENDER BALANCED. That means the sewer board, the school board, the City council, the State Assembly and both house of Congress must be one half women and one half men. What do you think the vote on this issue would be? And how would the vote go for more wars, more cuts on domestic programs? What would be a vote on passing restrictions on the profit making of the banksters, the oil companies and the Military Industrial Complex? We need to hear the voice of the women before the boys kill the planet for their short term profit.
+3 # Peacedragon 2012-06-09 14:21
This sounds good but would be too hard to implement. Suppose for instance that each state had their election for senetor and the result was not a gender balqanced senate. How do you choose which states had to hold another election with only candidates of the losing gender running?
0 # phantomww 2012-06-09 16:21
Hmmm, there are 435 elected members of Congress. How do you get 50/50? Does one have to be transgender? What about race? By just including sex are you being a racist? Does each state have to have 1 male and 1 female Senator or just a total of 50 women senators and 50 males? What happens and who determines which states have to elect a women in order to have a 50/50 split? What if not enough women decide to run for a board? What about city councils that have an odd number by design so that there won't be a bunch of tie votes? How do you handle that?
So in reality, it is just another dumb liberal idea.
+2 # Secular Humanist 2012-06-09 21:14
I have to assume that wantrealdemocra cy meant "needs to be" rather than, "must be," and I have to assume you understood that but preferred to go on an over-the-top rant. So according to you, if it can't be absolutely, mathematically 50/50, there's no point in seeking a reasonable approximation? Your arguments are an irrational absurdity, in the true meaning of the word absurd. And thank you for acknowledging that equality is a liberal ideal, and apparently not yours.
-5 # phantomww 2012-06-09 22:10
SO I am supposed to "devine" what the writer meant and not read what was written? How do YOU know he/she meant "needs to"? Are you a mind reader or just someone who puts words into others mouths? I replied to what was written and did not assume, like you did. Also, the underlying context is that ruling groups can't rule "correctly" without GENDER BALANCE. So do you think that if all the women elected were Palin/Bachman types that wantrealdemocra cy would be happy with that? Somehow I just don't think so, but I could be wrong. And it is not my argument that is irrational it was the original post. And no where did I acknowledge that equality is a liberal idea, I clearly stated that the idea posted of GENDER BALANCE is a dumb liberal idea.
0 # joestecher 2012-06-10 06:47
and the difference between "balance" and "equity" is...?
once again, any reason other than acknowledging that you are a racist-sexist whit male chauvinist...
-1 # phantomww 2012-06-10 17:57
Must have hit a nerve. Resorting to the traditonal name calling I see.
0 # joestecher 2012-06-10 06:45
another off-the-wall troll comment4 from the right wingnuts who will find ANY reason not to be fair to women -- or blacks or Hispanics, or anyone who isn't a white male.
+29 # Barbara K 2012-06-09 11:09
The first Bill that Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Law, giving women equal pay for equal work. It is the law. It is the Republicans who want to take away the law. Why? So Big Corps can make more money. Like they need more money. Women are worth just as much, maybe even more, than the guy in the same work place, doing the same work. Why is this even brought up now? I watched the Senate action on it, and I watched Obama sign it into law.
+19 # Vardoz 2012-06-09 12:46
People do not give Obama enough credit.
+23 # Vardoz 2012-06-09 12:51
Anyone who votes for any GOP rep or Blue dog dem is crazy! They have shown us over and over that they are against the people.
+15 # Barbara K 2012-06-09 13:43
Vardoz: To them it never was about us. It has always been to enrich themselves and their friends, not about us.
+3 # joestecher 2012-06-10 06:49
And by "us" you mean "us people" who are not rich and who do the real labor upon which these male chauvinists reap their huge, outrageous pig-piles of money
+7 # AMLLLLL 2012-06-09 16:09
The delightful R's made it so that a woman has to wait until the time for statute of limitations practically expires to sue her institution, rather than investigate and act on discovery of the inequity.

Makes the law toothless.
-7 # phantomww 2012-06-09 16:24
Does the Obama administration pay the women in it the same as the men? I think the answer is no so why not? How about walking the walk first. Also, lets look at the pay of men versus women in democrat offices in Congress. Are the women paid the same as the men? I think not again. Why not? Just a bunch of hippo crates who want to DICTATE to the rest of the nation.
+5 # Texan 4 Peace 2012-06-09 16:42
The Lilly Ledbetter Law did NOT guarantee women equal pay for equal work. It merely extended the period during which they could sue if they had been discriminated against.
+16 # Regina 2012-06-09 11:34
One source for the increase in employment of women in many professions is the line that hiring a woman will save money for the corporation, because she will accept a lower offer rather than refuse an opportunity to work in the profession she studied for. Been there, had that.
+16 # LaniPuppetmaker 2012-06-09 11:38
I know, let's let men and everyone earn what African American and Hispanic women make,, then big corporations would REALLY save a bundle.
+12 # Replicounts 2012-06-09 12:45
This is starting to happen.
+18 # jwb110 2012-06-09 12:33
If all the women pick a day to stay home from their jobs the 23% might not look so bad to Corporate America.
General Strikes have their place and are effective.
+6 # Adoregon 2012-06-09 12:40
Chambers of Commerce are propaganda organizations the oligarchs running corporate America (and, hence, the government)use to indoctrinate small business owners and management level employees with the "party line." Tacitly or explicitly, the party line clarifies how the game of commerce is rigged and what you must do to climb the income and status ladder in the land of the faux free.

If simple fairness was the issue here, corporations could equalize the pay for men and women performing the same jobs at a point somewhere between what is currently paid to men and women performing the same jobs. THE COST TO THE CORPORATION WOULD BE A WASH.
Ergo, fairness is not what this is about. Paying women less for performing the same job as a [white?] man is about domination and control. In our patriarchal society, as in all patriarchal societies and religions, the people with the penises want to maintain control over the people with the vaginas.

The world is patently unfair.
To right some of this unfairness, the people with vaginas need to start playing hardball (so to speak) and withhold what most men most want... their vaginas!!! If women would stop fu*king the fu*kers, the equal pay issue would become a non-issue very quickly.
Or, the people with vaginas could start charging for access (to their vaginas) at a rate that would balance their lower workplace pay.
One thing is for sure; women have some potent options.
+11 # Doctoretty 2012-06-09 12:54
There is no doubt that women are hurt by the lack of passage of this bill. The Republicans blocked... a real negative for them. Obama and the Dems at least TRIED to get it passed. But because they won't be hurt too badly by it's failure, it's a negative on them too? That's cynicism beyond logic.
+8 # chuckw38 2012-06-09 12:58
Re-Pug Politics include: Women as Property, Men always get more pay than Women because Re-Pugs don't know no better...
Feather my pockets with everyone else's Money but mine... After all, I'm a Stupid Ignorant Re-Pug & I/We deserve it, of course on the tops of the backs of all other hard-working U.S.Citizens... .
0 # 8myveggies 2012-06-09 23:24
Please leave Pugs out of this.
+10 # PGreen 2012-06-09 13:08
Obama is in the situation of the cowardly attack dog in the old New Yorker cartoon, straining at the tether while the intruders remark, "What do you think he'd really do if the rope broke?"
But the remarkable thing about this issue of men's pay versus womans, is the way in which capitalism attacks the structure of basic human needs. I mean, what is the alternative here? Assuming that women get paid less because they are on the "mommy track" (which Naomi Wolf very nicely discredits, but for the sake of argument, I'll allow it), what happens if all women abandon this "mommy track?" Is it good for society for EVERYone to choose not to have children, as justifiers of this inequality suggest? Isn't recognition of family importance why we have laws allowing family leave(albeit unpaid, federally), if necessary? (And incidentally, France has 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, and either parent is eligible to take further leave until the child is 3 years old-- and return to their job afterwards.) Our work structures have to fit basic human requirements, or they need to change.
+7 # dick 2012-06-09 13:13
It has been illegal for decades to pay equally qualified & equally AVAILABLE women less. File lawsuits. Seek maximum damages. USE the law. Create BAD PUBLICITY for jerks. FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT. FIGHT for equality. We're in a WAR. FIGHT.
+12 # ghostperson 2012-06-09 14:55
Try getting a favorable decision out of a conservatively packed federal court system. Since 1980, the district courts, courts of appeals and supreme court have been stacked to the hilt with young, archly-conserva tive jurists. The goal was to pack the courts for decades at least 30 up to 40 years. This supreme court is pro-business and anti-minority a category into which they place women. I am so fed up with what is going on the this country that I am considering moving just to get away from what were called in the Nixon years "the crazies in the basement." When I am doing my "Walter Mitty" thinking, I pipedream about women, all women, simply going on strike or work slow down. The country would come to a screeching half since women do nearly all administrative and executory tasks in the work force. I was in the first wave of women who became professionals. I am retired. I did very well ultimately but I paid the price of others' mysogyny. I want women younger than I am to do as well or even better than I did.
-17 # 2012-06-09 13:51
The statistics are being misused.

Women chose to work at lower paying jobs -- avoiding the higher paying but physically riskier (construction jobs for instance) or more time-consuming jobs (finance sector jobs for instance). This accounts for a portion of the wage differential.

The remainder is explained by women choosing to take time off to have and care for children, and women choosing to take jobs that involve fewer work hours.

When these factors are taken into account, women are paid equitably or, in some areas like engineering, better than men are paid.

Enacting a law to address a non-problem would harm women in the long run, making some nervous employers unwilling to hire them.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+15 # ghostperson 2012-06-09 14:39
What bullshit! When I was teaching, a man with a BA compared to my Masters degree got paid more for classroom teaching according to the school superintendent "because he had a family to support." I was married and putting my husband through law school, I wasn't supporting a family?
+12 # ghostperson 2012-06-09 14:46
Lee Nason's comments are typical rationalization . I have a triple major BA, double major MS and a Juris Doctor from a top 10 law school and recently retired after 35 years on the bench. How's that for putting it on the line for more time-consuming jobs?

When I was teaching (having a MS), a male peer with a BA was paid more than I because "he had a family to support." I was putting my husband through law school. I wasn't supporting a family?

I quit teaching, a job that I loved, because I was impoverished.

Rationalizations do not change facts. They provide excuses for bad facts.
+10 # Majikman 2012-06-09 16:59
Well said, ghost. I was also a ground breaker in the 70's. Because I was equal to and in many cases surpassed my male peers, top mgmt. selected me as their token female for VP. Here's the kicker....I also had to "prove" myself in the VP ranks before being paid the same as the boys. I turned them down. Eventually I went out on my own and was far more successful than any piddly VP rank with its inherent curb rein would allow.
Living well is the sweetest revenge.
+2 # brux 2012-06-09 22:31
The big problem with our so-called political system is that it is just human being management and tranquilization.

Facts do not matter - to wit, the Republicans will argue both sides of every issue based on their expertise in economics.

When Liberals enagage conservatives, they fail to get that conservatives only want to waste their time and energy and make sure they cannot do anything or create a social consensus - period.
+2 # Texan 4 Peace 2012-06-09 16:45
I don't suppose you'd have any actual DATA to back up those claims?
Didn't think so.
+4 # BLBreck 2012-06-09 18:32
Ah, yes. and women should be punished for choosing jobs that are service to humanity jobs like nursing, child care and elder care. Or for trying to balance their work life with raising their own children...
after all few men have any interest in doing those things. Good old patriarchal family values!
-18 # Skep41 2012-06-09 14:00
Yes, lets create a giant federal bureaucracy to add another stack of compliance forms to the governmental nightmare imposed on small businesses. Lets add a legion of litigators and professional victims to the plague of locusts from the EPA, the EEOC, OSHA, the IRS, the Health Care police and a couple of dozen other agencies set up to solve all the injustices of humanity because this problem is so dire that it outranks the fact that this type of 'problem solving' has crushed our economy and caused The Obama Depression. We have now seen that progressive 'solutions' to phony injustices dont work and are hideously expensive.
+2 # Cdesignpdx 2012-06-09 21:32
Fox news has poisoned your thinking. Watch your paycheck instead of that vile station. If the Republicans come roaring back, there will be pay equity. You're $1.00 will slide to 77-cents. The article clearly states why the legislation tanked: the higher corporate profits realized on the backs of women. Corporate profits gonna git you too, pal.
+2 # brux 2012-06-09 22:04
if you are a small business owner please list in detail some of the nightmare you are talking about in specifics.

ah, but i know you cannot since you are merely repeating the pseudo-facts you have been told, like this is Obama's depression.

What input did Obama have in 2001 when Bush passed his tax cuts when we were already 6 trillion in debt, and then doubled that in 8 years?

Are you so blind you cannot see the plan behind that? This has been the Republican agenda for more than 30 years.

The point was to so indebt the country that a President would have trouble in multiple dimensions, political, economic, social and so be handicapped to fix them or even know what all is going on.
+3 # brux 2012-06-09 14:48


-9 # phantomww 2012-06-09 16:34
So lets get rid of college. That should help the nation. Just think about all the people who won't have those student loans. In fact, why should anyone have to work? Teh government should just give us everything we need and want out of life. We should just be free to have a family (if we want one) or not have one and be able to walk on the beach and stroll through the woods (but only a couple of us because too many would hurt the wilderness and humans are bad for the environment). We should just be able to pursue the arts (play music, paint, sing etc) and not have to work for any evil corporations. Only problem is that I am not sure where to get the material to build my instrument or paint since no one is working to make those things for me. hmmm, this utopia thing seems to have a couple of bugs in it but I am sure someone can work them out (or not since why should anyone have to work).
+3 # brux 2012-06-09 19:11
Get rid of college … is not as easy as getting rid of the point of my post like you tried to.

Without hearing ideas you nay sayers always invent some crazy STRAW MAN argument like "let's get rid of college" and then imply it is other's idea.

I'd reply I just do not think there is anything definite or substantive to respond to in what you said.

The point of my post was that if people without a degree are capable and performing as well as a degreed employee their salaries should reflect the job which is being done, not the degree which in the past, and nice.

Doing so would also incent people who can learn something on their own to be rewarded and companies to hire competent people, forcing schools to make sure their degrees mean something.

Today people pay fortunes for degrees, even at good schools that may not ever lead to a job or anything productive being done with that person's life. Degrees should be a product like any other in this regard, a product we want people to have, but not just for the paper or the social distinction.

This would prevent money from being funnelled and concentrated institutionally in a certain class.
+3 # jimattrell 2012-06-09 15:18
Senate Democrats pay make employees an average of $6,500.00 more then women doing the same work. Nancy Pelosi said "it's a different world" when asked about it.....
+6 # Davethinks 2012-06-09 18:40
Maybe we need to turn this around. Let the women continue to get 77 cents for each dollar a man gets for similar work, but she only pays $77 for what would cost a man $100 at the grocery store, and only pays $154 for a $200 clothing outfit. (Yeah, I know - $200 does not buy an outfit - maybe cheap shoes and a cotton blouse.)
-11 # ThePigman 2012-06-09 21:11
"Even when women make the same career choices as men and work the same hours, they earn less."

Yes, about five cents less. No wonder Wolf doesn't give us the figure and instead leaves us to assume it more like 20 cents.

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