Check out the fair pay flash mob on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) who were lobbying to improve educational opportunities. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”
Sounds quaint, doesn’t it? Not so much, though.
Fast forward please to April 11, 2011—the day designated as Equal Pay Day by the National committee on Pay Equity to call attention to the pay gap between men and women. Women currently make about 20% less than men even when the numbers are controlled for education and experience. In other words, the pay disparity does not stem from childbearing as is often assumed, but rather from deeper systemic biases that are reflected in women’s own lack of skills and confidence in negotiating for their pay and promotions.
While I provide women with many tools to advocate for themselves in No Excuses and discuss examples frequently on the 9 Ways Blog, it’s still essential to address the systemic biases that keep women metaphorically barefoot, or at least not as generously shod as men, and to remain cognizant of how those economic facts are related to women’s rights and access to the necessary health services to plan and space childbearing.
For example, this morning’s Today Show segment sensationalized a so-called “Queen Bee Syndrome.” This cultural trope that won’t go away was framed negatively toward women’s leadership styles despite career expert Marci Alboher’s astute challenge. Alboher pointed out that we don’t call it a “King Snake Syndrome” when men don’t nurture or promote their subordinates. And Dartmouth professor Ella Bell pointed out that it’s everyone’s responsibility to improve office dynamics. “It’s not about fixing women,” Bell said, “It’s about making organizations more flexible and more tolerant.”
The same cultural biases are at the root of Congressional Republicans’ attempts to eliminate Title X, the backbone of America’s family planning program, and indeed their budget priorities overall, seen here in their own chart, and analyzed by TPM for those of us whose eyes glaze over at charts.
In a nutshell, most of the cuts are on the backs of women and children. They disproportionally decimate programs and services that help women achieve economic equality, but not those that benefit the male-dominated corporate giants and the men’s historically favorite pastime: wars. The Pentagon gets an extra $5 Billion. Education, health care (including of course family planning and reproductive health care which they single out for special brutality), environmental protection are deeply slashed or eliminated. They backed off attempts to cut all funding from Title X in the 2011 budget deal. But that’s a temporary victory at best, and at the expense of the District of Columbia’s ability to provide its own funding for abortion coverage.
Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner has warned that the knock-down, drag-out battles over the 2011 budget were just warm-ups for what’s to come when Congress takes on spending limits and then the 2012 budget. There will be many complex plays in this game of insider politics. But one thing we can count on is that budget decision rhetoric will continue to turn on funding for family planning, a flash-point being attempts to demonize the best known service provider, Planned Parenthood.
The relevance of the “barefoot and pregnant” cultural narrative remains central to an inclusive and just America because economic parity and reproductive justice are and will always be intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women but in the nation’s economic health as well. If a woman can’t decide when to have a child, she can’t reliably enter the workforce to earn income for her family’s support, and she can’t contribute her skills to economic growth.
It’s simplistic to think that giving a woman access to preventive family planning services means she’ll find a great job and suddenly get pay equality with men. Nevertheless, the fundamentals remain. For a thriving 21st century economy, America can’t afford to lose half its population’s contributions. Not surprisingly, AAUW is once again a leading force for changes in policy, this time equal pay and other workplace measures that would level the playing field for women.
The intersection between reproductive and economic justice is as seamless today as “barefoot and pregnant” was in our history, and that’s exactly why those who want to maintain the inequitable status quo fight so hard against these two essential parts of women’s equality.
Check out AAUW’s new handbook, The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap,
for updated information and a state-by-state earnings comparison by gender.