5 Things You Can Do Today for Equal Pay

This was in my Twitter feed today to remind me it’s Equal Pay Day:

I don’t know about you, but I’m sooo tired of hearing that same statistic over and over in the annual communal outcry about the lack of equal pay.

So being a practical activist, I put together these five things you and I can do today to bring about equal pay.

Continue reading “5 Things You Can Do Today for Equal Pay”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Why Equal Pay Day 2010 Is Equal Power Day

Pick a number between one and fifty-one

If you picked one, you’ve picked the District of Columbia, where the median earnings gap between all men and women over age 16, employed in full-time, year –round jobs is narrowest: women earn 88 cents to a man’s dollar.  If you picked fifty-one, you’re in Wyoming, where women are paid just 64 cents to each smacker earned by a man.

If college education is factored in and you survey workers over 25, Wyoming leaps to first place at 88 cents, click image to take actionand Alaska slips to that 51st place at 64 cents for women to men’s dollar. Check out the AAUW’s information base on fair pay to find out where your state fits into the pecking order.

Today is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day happens in April because that’s how long it takes for the average woman to start earning a dollar for every dollar the man in the next cubicle over, doing the exact same job with the exact same title, makes.  Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early.  Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start.  Those blustery days in March when Spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come.  Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada.  That’s what pay disparity means.  And for women of color – black women and Hispanic women – the differential is even more extreme.

The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” But that’s not very funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of what your financial position might be.

To be sure, there is good news on the gender parity front overall. In 2010, women in the workforce for the first time outnumber men.  For the past three decades, more women have finished college than men, and more women get advanced degrees.

Pay Disparity = Power Disparity But somewhere between the classroom and the boardroom, these women are disappearing.   The higher you climb up the ladder of wealth and power, the fewer women you see.  Only 15 companies listed in the Fortune 500 are led by female CEOs. Of the wealthiest 400 Americans, according to Forbes, only 42 are women – and at least half of these women inherited their wealth from husbands or fathers.

No wonder then that among its list of the 67 most powerful people in the US, Forbes finds room for only four women.  And, although for the past two decades, approximately the same number of women and men have Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal paygraduated law school and entered law firms as first-year associates, a 2009 study by the National Association of Women Lawyers found that women still comprise fewer than 16 percent of the equity partners in the 200 top law firms in the U.S.  Even women who make partner are at a disadvantage, earning on average $66,000 a year less than their male counterparts.

Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal pay

As long as women are still being paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.

How to Take Action Now Despite the distance we have yet to go, there’s no denying that women have drawn closer to even with men in professional and economic matters.  But the continuing disparities make it imperative that we press Congress to pass and president Obama to sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that hard working Americans of both genders are paid fairly for their work.

A fundamental change occurs when women obtain the ability to earn a good, rewarding living at a fair wage. And it’s the first step toward women’s fair and equal representation in the highest levels of business and finance. Economic inequality narrows the possibilities we have to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, and create relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life.  You know that’s what you want for yourself and for your daughters and granddaughters. And it’s what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively.

So on Equal Pay Day, take a moment to send a message by clicking here to your member of Congress urging him or her to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s the number one most important step you can take toward that goal today.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Best of Weeks, Not So Best of Weeks

The best: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. This photo says, better than a thousand words, the joy of this step forward for gender equality in compensation. That’s Lilly, the blonde in the middle (I won’t identify by her red jacket because it seems Senators Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe and Rep.Eleanor Holmes Norton also got the memo).

Am I alone in noting the contrast between this photo, with its diverse group of people and the photo of old white men surrounding George Bush when he signed the abortion ban bill? Quite a sea change. Breathe out now. Guess which one of the signings I was invited to, and which one not.

But on to the not so best, for some happenings this past week were more like Washington as usual:

*The beached whale alarms bellowed by the Republican Right, shocked (!) that the Medicaid expansion provision of Obama’s stimulus package includes bureaucratic relief so states can, if they choose, extend preventive family planning health care to women who are above the poverty line but low income and uninsured. Well, apparently, the Democrats–the men at least–aren’t any more comfortable with the topic.

*The Democratic president’s lightening-swift and utterly gratuitous capitulation to those politically beached bloviators. As if they hadn’t known when they put the family planning extension into the stimulus package that it would be a red flag. Did they perhaps intend it as bait to draw the sting away from other vulnerable provisions? But if so, why pray tell did they have to choose the one aspect of the plan that had “woman” written on it?

*The media pundits making jokes when they had to say the words “stimulus” and “contraception”, because, well, isn’t sex always amusing? As in, not a serious issue for legislators to consider? Suddenly shy of controversy, Chris Matthews posited that family planning is a private matter, not for the government to consider. Where was his dismay these last eight years when the anti-choice right was plunging straight into Americans’ “private” reproductive decisions?

*Disputes within the women’s movement and family planning faithful. “Maybe this really doesn’t belong in the stimulus plan even though it is important.” “Maybe we don’t want to put forth the argument that family planning saves $4 for every $1 spent on health and welfare funding alone; it sounds too elitist.” Or, “Maybe we need to duck, withdraw the provision and quietly fight this battle behind the scenes so it doesn’t make news and stir up the opposition. As if the opposition wouldn’t notice. Meanwhile, Beltway veterans will say, we need Obama for so many other things. He’s removed the Global Gag Rule already. He issued an eloquent tribute to Roe v Wade. And he supports the Prevention First Act. What else do you want, they ask.

Maybe the best of next week will be the Prevention First Act, with (my fantasy) the addition of the Medicaid waiver provision that got cut out of the stumulus package. After all, Obama says family planning funding is a high priority for him, and TPM reports sources indicated to them that a bill could start moving very soon.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice

As Congress works through the economic stimulus package, representatives need to keep in mind the connection between a woman’s need to determine her reproductive life and her ability to benefit from and contribute to economic recovery and growth. (This is an exclusive commentary I wrote for the Women’s Media Center.)

Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women lobbying to improve educational opportunities for African Americans. 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.”

Fast forward to January 2009. The relevance of barefoot and pregnant remains central to an inclusive and just America. Economic parity and reproductive justice are still intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women; they are indivisibly connected to our economic recovery as well.

While the 111th Congress awaits President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration for action on his proposed $775-billion stimulus plan, it’s considering two important pieces of legislation not included in the recovery package. Each is treated in isolation as “women’s issues.” Yet both are integral to the success of Obama’s economic stimulus.

The Prevention First Act, sponsored by Representative Louise Slaughter and others to expand access to family planning and reproductive health care, was introduced January 13 to virtually no fanfare and little media coverage. Two gender pay equity bills—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act—passed the House of Representatives with a bit more hoopla a few days earlier. Here’s how they work together and with the economic recovery.

If a woman is to control anything in her life, she must first be able to control her own fertility—to decide whether, with whom, and when she will have sex, become pregnant, and bear a child. A Catholic priest first made the connection for me between economic and reproductive justice in three short sentences I’ll never forget: “The people in my parish are poor,” he said. “Who am I to tell them they should have a baby every year? I can’t feed or clothe their children for them.”

It was 1969, just a few years after Senator Van Dalsem uttered his famous phrase; I was teaching kindergartners in the Head Start program housed at the priest’s church. Since I wasn’t Catholic, I didn’t know how radical it was for a priest to advocate for birth control. I did know that when I got the birth control pill, I had been able to start college, decide that the three children I had were wonderful but enough already, and consider career possibilities. My job with Head Start didn’t pay much but it moved my family a step beyond paycheck-to-paycheck.

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. That simple equation remains today, exacerbated by our economy’s slide into deep recession.

Conversely, economic power inherently gives women greater power within the family and in society. Virginia Woolf wrote that when her Aunt Mary bequeathed her 500 pounds a year, she found financial independence of more value than even the right to vote. She felt freed from slavery, because she “need not flatter any man” in order to have food, clothing, and shelter.

A woman needs economic equality to freely and successfully make her own choices about sex, pregnancy, and childbearing. As recent news stories of women selling their eggs and use of their wombs have poignantly illustrated, a tough economy can prevent people from having children they desperately want, or push them to use their reproductive capacities for economic necessity. In a New York Times Magazine story, for example, a woman who served as a surrogate was doing so to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition. The daughter in turn was contributing to her college costs by selling her eggs.

Fairness and gender equity benefit everyone. As Linda Hirshman argues in a recent op-ed, while Obama compares his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower era construction of the interstate highway system,

It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery. … Fortunately, jobs for women can be created by concentrating on professions that build the most important infrastructure—human capital. In 2007, women were 83 percent of social workers, 94 percent of child care workers, 74 percent of education, training and library workers (including 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 92 percent of teachers’ assistants).

It’s simplistic to think that giving a woman access to preventive family planning services means she’ll find a great job in or out of the stimulus package. And families that plan and space their children don’t automatically become wealthy or happy.

Nevertheless, the fundamentals remain. For a thriving 21st century economy, America can’t afford to lose half its population’s contributions. The intersection between reproductive and economic justice must become as seamless today as “barefoot and pregnant” was in our history.

As a woman who used Title X funded birth control services—those to be expanded by the Prevention First Act—summed it up, “Times are hard and children are expensive.”

The Women’s Media Center (WMC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization making women visible and powerful in the media. Through our website, media training programs, and advocacy work, the WMC ensures that women are represented as they are: powerful newsmakers, informed experts, and sought-after media professionals. For more information, please visit www.womensmediacenter.com. I serve on the WMC board.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Lilly Ledbetter’s Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook

Hey, Women: Want to earn a cool half million?

That’s about what the average woman loses over a career lifetime due to gender inequities in pay for the same jobs as men.

So click here to Speak Up and demand the Senate pass two crucial pieces of legislation so that Barack Obama can sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, as he has said he would do. In a historic vote, the House of Representatives on Friday passed both bills by substantial margins, largely along party lines. A Senate vote could come as early as this week.

No, these bills aren’t another financial bailout for ailing industries that don’t deserve them. They’re not a get-rich-quick scheme from late night television infomercial-land. Nor are they part of the badly needed but very expensive stimulus package—but they should be. Here’s why:

* Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.

* Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income due to the career wage gap, but women with a college degree or higher lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women who did not finish high school.

* Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap.

* The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.

These shocking findings come from the Center for American Progress study, “Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap”, which analyzed the 40-year impact of the gender wage gap in all 50 states, using 10-year age groups of women and men aged 25-64.

If you’re an unmarried woman, the disparity is even greater. While women overall earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, unmarried women earn just 56 cents, according to Women’s Voices, Women Vote. No surprise then that unmarried women are more likely to file for bankruptcy, live in poverty along with their children, and be hurt more by our current economic crisis.

Why are two pieces of legislation needed?

Lisa M. Maatz, American Association of University Women’s director of public policy and government relations, explains: “The tandem of both bills is critical, because the Ledbetter bill restores lost ground, while the Paycheck Fairness Act actually gives more teeth to the law and will provide better technical assistance and incentives to employers to follow the law in the first place.”

AAUW has mounted a “Keep the Change” campaign, said Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, because the paltry 1 cent (from 77 to 78 cents on the dollar earned by men) increase from 2006 to 2007 is “chump change, not real change.”

Some Republicans argued that the legislation would be an earmark for trial lawyers. But here’s what the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay bill’s namesake says about why it’s needed, in a letter she wrote to Congress:

Thirty years ago, Goodyear hired me to work as supervisor in their tire plant in Gadsden, AL. I sometimes wondered how my pay compared to my colleagues, but there was no way to know for sure because pay levels were kept strictly confidential.

Thanks to an anonymous tip I received shortly before my retirement, I finally got some hard evidence of real pay discrimination. I filed a complaint without delay, and at the trial, the jury found that Goodyear had discriminated against me in violation of Title VII. The jury awarded me more than $3 million in back pay and punitive damages.

Unfortunately, that good moment didn’t last long. First, because of damages caps in Title VII, the trial judge was forced to reduce that award to $300,000 — a mere ten percent of what the jury had awarded me and hardly more than a slap on the wrist to a company the size of Goodyear.

Then, in 2007, my case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a disappointing 5-4 ruling , the justices took away the entire award, including the back pay. The Court said I should have complained every time I got a smaller raise than the men, even if I didn’t know what the men were getting paid and even if I had no way to prove the decision was discriminatory.

Ledbetter still didn’t give up. She says that now she’s fighting for all the other women and girls who deserve equal pay for equal work.

It’s powerfully symbolic that the first two bills passed by the 111th Congress concerned fair pay for women. Women held the key to the 2008 elections, a fact not unnoticed in Washington’s “art of the possible” culture, to quote the late great Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. The current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times, “This Congress has heard the message of change in the election.”

These bills clearly represent a stiletto boot on George W. Bush’s behind as he exits: he had promised to veto  the legislation had it reached his desk. Lilly Ledbetter and the large coalition of women’s organizations that worked diligently, building the support for paycheck fairness through the difficult Bush years, hope Obama’s first act will be to sign these bills.

In the department of courageous acts, it’s always up to voters to make easy for politicians to do the right thing, and difficult for them not to.

By her courage to act, Ledbetter ignited the movement for paycheck fairness that propelled both bills to victory.

So what are you waiting for, Ladies? Act now. You have a half-million at stake. Send your message to your Senators now.

And be sure to cc President-Elect Obama.

Lilly Ledbetter and Me

Update on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 01:09PM

Thanks to People for the American Way for this video summary of Lilly Ledbetter’s story.

Update on Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 02:18PM
1/15 Senate successfully votes to vote on the  Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. (Senate rules reqire 60 votes to bring legislation to the floor. That’s why it is called a test vote in the press release below. This is good news, as the margin was very comfortable, even without the addition of the probably two additional Democratic senators, Burris and Franken.)

AAUW press release excerpt:

WASHINGTON – AAUW applauds the Senate for today’s positive, bipartisan test vote (72-23) on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (S. 181), the bill named for the Alabama grandmother who has become the national face of pay equity. AAUW urges the Senate to move quickly to final passage of the measure and to act swiftly to pass additional pay equity legislation.

Last week, with the passage of both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 11) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12), U.S. House of Representatives sent a clear message that pay discrimination will not be tolerated and demonstrated a firm, bipartisan resolve to attack such discrimination on all fronts.

“While we strongly support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, our members are clearly disappointed that the Senate hasn’t taken action on the Paycheck Fairness Act, too,” said AAUW Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “Passing the Ledbetter bill is only a down payment on an election year promise to address pay equity vigorously.”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Lilly Ledbetter, a Real War Hero, Could Help Obama Win

Little did I know a few weeks ago, when Carole Joffe and I wrote “It’s About Time Working Women Get Straight Answers from John McCain”, showing the connective tissue uniting economic and reproductive justice–you know, like the phrase “barefoot and pregnant”– and challenging McCain to clarify his positions on basic questions such as:

Do you believe in equal pay for equal work?

…that I would soon have the opportunity to meet the woman whose name has become synonymous with equal pay, Lilly Ledbetter. She’s a true hero of the ongoing battle for paycheck equality regardless of gender.  I was invited to a press briefing sponsored by AAUW (the American Association of University Women, in case there is anyone in America who doesn’t know the acronym of this large and powerful organization which has championed women’s educational and professional advancement since 1881). 

Lilly Ledbetter and yours truly at AAUW briefing on the status of equal pay legislation in Congress

This article on AAUW’s website explains the two equal pay bills and why they are critically needed to ensure American women are treated fairly and equitably when it comes to compensation:

[O]n May 29, 2007, the now infamous decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a contentious split decision, the Court turned 40 years of legal precedent and EEOC practice on its head, and in the process made it virtually impossible for victims of pay discrimination to protect their rights under Title VII. Under this new rule, employers cannot be held accountable for their discrimination after 180 days.

The sheer wrongheadedness of this decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to read her dissent, aloud, from the bench, a very unusual event. It also caused a public outcry, and newspapers across the country editorialized against the Court’s action. The decision also galvanized Congress to right the Court’s wrong. AAUW’s report, together with the Ledbetter decision and the courage of Lilly Ledbetter, who continues to campaign tirelessly in the hopes that other women won’t face the same inequities she did, created a perfect storm that cemented the issue of equal pay for equal work on the congressional agenda.

Ledbetter, you know the minute you look at her and hear her speak in that soft Alabama twang, is the real deal. At 60, she was in the first wave of women who sought what used to be known as “nontraditional jobs”, and she was the only woman in her plant holding the supervisory job she had when someone anonymously dropped her a note with the information that would change her life.

In her company, it was against policy for employees to discuss salary with anyone else. This note informed her that she was being paid far less than men holding the same position, with equal or less seniority. She found out that it was true and decided it was an injustice that should be challenged. Though she asked other women in the plant to join her, and they all confirmed the rampant discrimination, none would buck the company for fear of losing their badly needed jobs. The men in management tried to push her out despite glowing performance revews. But Lilly pressed on. She eventually won her case and was awarded over $3,000,000 by lower courts before having the judgment reversed by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

Ledbetter and Linda Hallman, Executive Director of AAUW, made sure the audience knew that the $0.77 women earn on average to men’s $1.00 adds up to a whopping $300,000 lifetime loss. And at the rate the wage gap is closing, it’ll be 2057 before we reach parity. Salary level in turn affects pension and other retirement benefits. That plus women’s greater longevity are largely why women are twice as likely to die in poverty as men.

We already know, though much of the public does not, that John McCain opposes legislation that would restore protection for the civil right to equal pay for equal work. And we know, though much of the public does not, that Barack Obama supports it, because Lilly Ledbetter herself has been campaigning with him. But I think this war hero for women’s equal pay could help Obama even more by persuading him to push Congress to pass a bill this fall.

There are battles a leader takes because he or she is confronted by them. But there are also battles a leader should make because they are for a just cause. The battle for equal pay is clearly one of those just causes that should be front and center this election year. Lilly Ledbetter says she continues for the sake of the younger women just entering the workforce, and she speaks all over the country, urging them to be assertive about negotiating for their fair pay from the beginning of their careers.

It’s about time for working women to get Lilly’s message, but way past time for American women to get Congressional action on equal pay.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

On Labor Day, Working Women Need Straight Answers from John McCain

UC Davis professor Carole Joff and I just published this commentary on Huffington Post.  We felt that the connection between economic and reproductive justice has not been fully made as yet, especially in the media, and we decided to do our part. Please  spread it around far and wide, and post comments there (and here too of course!). UPDATE: Here’s the version published on Alternet. It’s not pegged to a specific day, and it is updated with Palin positions–the better for your forwarding and sharing. We received a note from a gentleman in St. Louis telling us that he had forwarded our questions to ABC’s Charles Gibson, asking him to query Sarah Palin on these questions when he interviews her this week. Will he?

Most years, Labor Day means a long lazy weekend of barbecues, fishing trips, and picnics before school and fall weather overtake us. But this year, deep into a presidential election, with a slumping national economy putting the pinch on workers, Labor Day’s traditional meaning spotlights questions about working women that we want to ask John McCain.

Why are we questioning McCain and not Obama?  We’ve listened carefully to the two candidates and we’ve examined their voting histories.  Obama’s record and rhetoric reassure us that, when it comes to the challenges facing working women, he gets it. But we’re downright alarmed by what we’ve learned about John McCain..

Barefoot and Pregnant?
We’re an advocate and academic, respectively, with longstanding passions for economic and reproductive justice for women.  We’ve come to understand the direct and profound interconnections between the two. There’s good reason why the words  “barefoot and pregnant” have been so frequently joined together historically.

We haven’t heard anyone question McCain from that intersection of women’s lives, so we are asking him these questions:
First, John McCain, do you think women belong in the paid labor force? This might seem facetious or rhetorical, but it’s a very serious, core question.  We know your wife, Cindy, chairs the board of her family’s company.  And we’ve noticed your most visible surrogate to women voters is Carly Fiorina, who was until recently one of the top corporate CEOs in the country.

But surely you realize the overwhelming majority of women don’t have the resources of these two women.  So if you accept most women will spend some of their lives in the labor force, do you believe women should earn the same as men, for the same jobs? You’ve opposed the equal pay measure stalled in Congress–the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act —because you say it would “open us up to lawsuits”.  Open who up? And if you support equal pay for equal work, what would you do to guarantee it?

McCain Record on Votes That Could Help Children
Families where both partners are working for low wages, and especially families headed by single moms, deserve various kinds of support from a compassionate government. These families need access to affordable and high quality childcare.  Most of all, they need affordable healthcare–for themselves, but especially for their children. But, Senator McCain, your voting history on children’s issues is abysmal.  Can you explain to us why you voted–twice–against a reauthorization of S-Chip, the immensely popular state children’s health insurance program–a program supported by many in your own party?   Can you explain why your record on children’s issues generally is so bad that the nonpartisan Children’s Defense Fund in its 2007 Congressional scorecard on children’s issues rated you the senator with the worst voting record?

To participate in the workplace, women must be able to plan and space their childbearing.   A government study found that 98% of heterosexually active American women had used contraception at some point, and a Rand study found that five out of six support insurance coverage    for family planning services. Access to contraception, clearly, is a deeply shared American family value.

Your voting record reveals you’ve cast dozens of votes opposing contraceptive coverage for insured women and family planning funding for low income uninsured women. Yet when a reporter asked your position on contraception, you stammered you didn’t remember and asked your aide to “find out how you had voted.” On another occasion, you famously squirmed and mumbled “I’ll get back to you” when asked to explain Carly Fiorina’s perfectly logical statement that it’s unfair for insurance companies to cover Viagra™ but not contraception.  Did Ms. Fiorina fail to get your memo to that in order to curry favor with the Religious Right your campaign had to adopt a strict anti-birth control policy?

If the stakes weren’t so serious, your consistent stumbles–whenever asked about family planning issues–would be amusing.  But it’s no laughing matter that you would deny birth control access and simultaneously outlaw abortion.

Who’s Wearing the Flip-flops?
We’ve noticed your flip flops on abortion , by the way. You identify as “pro-life,” as is your right.  Still, why have you abandoned your once nuanced positions? In 1999, you were on record as not wanting Roe v Wade overturned, recognizing–correctly–that allowing criminalization of abortion would lead to many injuries, even deaths.  Now you’ve even picked a running mate—Sarah Palin—who like you wants to see Roe overturned. Period.

In 2000, you challenged George W. Bush to justify how he could possibly support the Republican party platform that calls for outlawing abortion with no exceptions–not for rape, incest, health, even life of the mother!

You were incredulous then that Bush refused to repudiate such extremism.  And we are incredulous now, that in 2008, you don’t push back against the extremists in your party who show such callous disregard for the lives of women.

Interconnections Are Clear; Answers Are Not
Senator McCain, where do you stand on these intersecting challenges facing working women?   Is it really your vision that women should be paid less than men, accept unsatisfactory childcare and healthcare for their children, yet have limited access to contraception that could reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion, and risk possible injury or death, when—if you are in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices—abortion becomes once more illegal?

We’re waiting for answers. Because if that’s McCain’s plan for working women, he’d be taking “barefoot and pregnant” to a whole new level, and the women of America deserve to know that before they cast their votes.

Forget the barbecue. It’s time for real straight talk on this Labor Day.

Carole Joffe Is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.