23 Cents Is Big Money

I’ve been watching some of the convention speeches. Sometimes I’ve been bored. Sometimes moved to tears. Sometimes fuming. Some pretty darn memorable speeches.

But I totally loved Lilly Ledbetter. Her speech is must-see viewing for any and all who want justice and fairness in the workplace here in the USA. This gal is a pistol. Her DNC speech is on Youtube.

Author: KAY WOOD

15 Comments

  1. Certainly Lilly Ledbetter got a raw deal from her employer and from the laws at the time which prevented her from getting what was due to her. She is right to praise Obama for signing the Fair Pay Act. But the second half of her speech I have some problems with.

    The Paycheck Fairness Act that she refers to would make companies liable not only if they discriminate but even if they can’t prove that they didn’t discriminate, even unintentionally. This requirement could be quite onerous. Here’s one take on it: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09......html?_r=1

    Nevertheless, if might be necessary if there really is a widespread problem of discrimination. That’s where the 77 cents comes in. The argument assumes that the fair amount for women to make is 100 cents, which assumes that there must not be any innate difference between men and women, which is a radical idea that I don’t think most people who quote that statistic really believe. Unless you believe that we should work toward a society where there is literally no difference between men and women, not only in how the law or society treats them but also in the choices they make, then the statistic is meaningless. Studies have shown that most of the pay difference can be explained by factors other than discrimination, most importantly the choices that women make: http://www.consad.com/content/.....Report.pdf

    Finally, when Republicans charge that Democrats are playing class warfare, Democrats counter by saying that it’s not Romney’s riches that they have a problem with: it’s how he made them or how much taxes he is or isn’t paying on them or the policy that he advocates for or things that he says. But here we have a clear example where she argues that Romney is incapable of understanding the pay gap issue because he has too much money. Not because he made it the way he did. Not because he says things that make him appear out-of-touch or advocates for certain policies. Just because he’s so rich that he can’t possibly understand how 23 cents is important. If that’s not class warfare I don’t know what is.

  2. I know from personal experience in my own work and educational choices and my friends’ that women’s supposed “choices” were often made from societal coercion, harassment of one sort or another. It seems that what a lot of what women of my generation experienced isn’t as bad now, but it’s still there. Don’t anyone be fooled that gender discrimination is gone. And from what I’ve been hearing from politicians, women better watch out. It’ll come roaring back in a jiffy.

    A good many of the adults that I and my friends encountered were not only not very encouraging but often pretty darn unhelpful. Peers echoed these beliefs. What else did they know? Not all adults of course, but the combined negative experiences were enough to discourage several women that I know from fully pursuing their dreams.

    I grew up in a fairly affluent area, not the richest by far, but not too bad. Still my high school “counselor” told me – despite my high grade average – that college was a waste of money for women.

    My college roommate had to drop out because her parents wanted to re-carpet the house. Others never even got there at all. My later roommate, a MIT graduate who worked at a prestigious hospital and research institution, had to leave her job because her boss kept “cuddling” her. And on.

    Then there are the moms. Moms got – and I sure hope that’s really changed – the full burden of bearing and caring for their children no matter if they had to work or not. The dads were not expected to devote nearly as much time and energy to raising their children.

    I’m not saying dads didn’t love their children. Often I’m sure they wanted to do more but their employers would not give them the time to do it. But whatever the reason, someone’s got to do it.

    I guess one could say the woman made the choice to have a child – though actually I’m not sure how much “choice” some women had or have about that – but again someone’s got to do it. Or where would we all be?

  3. Thanks for your response. I have several thoughts on it:

    First, while I can’t argue with your personal experience, I’d be interested how you reconcile that experience of discouragement of women to enter college with the fact that there are more female than male college graduates, and the difference is even wider for graduate degrees.

    Second, with regards to sexual harassment in the workplace, there are already laws against that. And if the aren’t strong enough to address the issue then it’s not clear why we should not make better laws regarding sexual harassment instead of addressing only one secondary symptom of the problem (the lower income that might result from quitting a preferred job.)

    Third, regarding social pressure for women to have children, your argument is that to some extent that shouldn’t really be considered a “choice.” I agree to a small degree: although it has diminished, there still exists social pressure on women to be the primary caregivers (and on men to be the primary breadwinners), and of course there’s the biological fact that women carry a much heavier burden when it comes to child bearing.

    But, the idea that we should address this by equaling pay doesn’t make sense to me. Imagine a husband and wife, both devoted to their careers and their families, decide to have children. The couple decides, let’s say only because of social pressures and biological realities and not due to any personal preference, decide that the woman will work part time and be the primary caregiver, while the man will work full-time. Should their employer(s) be required to pay them both the same salary? Of course not. Even if you think that social pressure and biological realities that face woman are a big problem that need to be overcome, doing it through pay regulation doesn’t make sense.

    Lastly, the argument still assumes that, beyond the reproductive system, there are no innate differences between men and women. I think most biologists, psychologists, and reasonable people would disagree with that. That means that we don’t know what the “fair” woman/man pay ratio is. It might be 100 cents to the dollar, or it might be 150 cents, or it might be 50 cents. Without knowing, citing the current value of 77 cents to the dollar is meaningless with regards to measuring the problem of gender discrimination.

  4. the argument still assumes that, beyond the reproductive system, there are no innate differences between men and women. I think most biologists, psychologists, and reasonable people would disagree with that.

    Certainly there could be an argument in this case for strength-related physical labor. But if this is a “girls are bad at math” or “women aren’t good in leadership roles” argument, this woman engineer doesn’t buy it.

  5. ^^and, in fact, finds it quite offensive.

  6. Roro,

    No, those aren’t the arguments I had in mind, and I’d hope by now you’d have a higher opinion of me than to think that’s what I was referring to. Although I won’t exclude the possibility that men and women as a group might differ in how they comprehend certain academic subjects, some of which differences may be favorable to women (in terms of pay) and some not, but certainly all of those ways are much more nuanced than “girls are bad at math.”

    Do you think, roro, that there may be some innate difference between how men and women think about the subjects of relationships and child-rearing? Or other subjects that may cause men and women to prefer different behaviors, some of which may correspond to higher income and some not? Or do you believe that, aside from physical attributes, men and women as a group are essentially the same absent social pressures?

  7. Certainly there is danger in attempting to find those innate differences. It must be done very carefully (being sure to exclude social factors, to name one pitfall) or else it leads to the types of gross misinterpretations like “girls are bad at math.” But the good news is that my argument doesn’t require us to enumerate and fully describe all of the differences, only to acknowledge that they probably exist. If they exist, then the expectation that women should earn the same as men is flawed.

  8. certainly all of those ways are much more nuanced than “girls are bad at math.”

    Putting it in fancy language or adding lots of evo-psych-ish details doesn’t really make it more nuanced. Generally these things come down to how women just aren’t as good as men at the jobs that are valued in our society, and that’s why they get paid less.

    Do you think, roro, that there may be some innate difference between how men and women think about the subjects of relationships and child-rearing? Or other subjects that may cause men and women to prefer different behaviors, some of which may correspond to higher income and some not? Or do you believe that, aside from physical attributes, men and women as a group are essentially the same absent social pressures?

    I do not think they are necessarily innate, no. I think society teaches men to act a certain way, and women to act a different way, and then tells us all that the way that men act is inherently more valuable than the way women act. It generally works to women’s disadvantage on both sides. We are taught to be caring and act a certain way in relationships, and then decry these ways of acting as girly or feminine or generally unappealing to men. We beat out of men the ability to show any emotions but anger, while telling women that anger is unacceptable; we then promote the firey chest-beaters as “strong leaders” when they are men. Women who act the same way are derided as b*tchy and therefore incapable of leadership, while women who act differently are left behind as poor leaders incapable of motivating a team. We teach girls from a very young age to value patience and care of others over self-care and creativity, while teaching boys to be independent and aggressive — why wouldn’t women be better with children, who require above all things persistent patience and care?

    I have no idea what the difference between men and women would be absent social pressures. There is no way to know because we do not exist in a vacuum — you cannot have society without societal pressures. I do know that when women are given opportunity and strength and confidence as children, they do every bit as well as men in jobs that are not based on physical strength alone. As you say, there are more women coming out of college than men are these days, and girls tend to get better grades than boys (and have for a long time). Academic excellence and basic intelligence are not the problem here. Why, then, do women have a pay gap of 5-10% 1 year out of college, and why does that gap widen to almost 20% after 10 years of work? It’s not just baby-making.

  9. But the good news is that my argument doesn’t require us to enumerate and fully describe all of the differences, only to acknowledge that they probably exist.

    Yeah, in order for me to buy it, you’re going to have to enumerate both what and why. Otherwise, personal experience and a million stories from other women will uphold my current belief that the differences in success between men and women are due to societal pressures and institutional sexism. I know these things exist because I live them, and more than faith in the idea that innate differences exist is going to be needed to disprove my and millions of other women’s lived experiences.

  10. ^^In other words, not such good news for me.

  11. Generally these things come down to how women just aren’t as good as men at the jobs that are valued in our society, and that’s why they get paid less.

    The fact that some draw unjustified conclusions from these sorts of investigations doesn’t mean that the investigations don’t have merit.

    Here is my reasoning, though I respect the fact that your view differs.

    Of course the fact that men and women differ physically is indisputable, and not just in ways directly related to reproduction. Women and men tend to be different heights, facial features, proportions, voices, etc. Although there’s certainly variation within both men and women, it’s actually quite remarkable that these differences are so consistent that whenever we see someone we can almost always instantly know whether they are a woman or a man just by the way they look. And no, it’s not just because they dress differently. If we removed the clothing, certainly a product of society, not nature, then it only becomes more obvious in the natural state.

    These differences become more difficult to identify and measure when they are not visible, but the assumption that the biological mechanisms that produce these physical differences in pretty much all aspects of our appearance for some reason don’t apply at all to our brains strikes me as much more faith-based then the view I’m suggesting. It seems to me that whatever mechanism, whether it be divinely ordained or naturally evolved or some combination of the two, that produces such physical differences must also produce corresponding psychological differences. For example, an evolutionary process that produces women who are able to able to bear and nourish their infants, both of which require them to be present with their infants, surely must also produce a heightened innate skill and desire among women as a group to nurture children. Children born to women without these traits in primitive times surely were less likely to survive, therefore by the process of natural selection the disposition among women to nurture was passed down.

    If it is not so, I’d ask where the social structure came from that reinforce gender roles? Was it just a few of our male ancestors who met one day and decided to put into motion a scheme to oppress women? While their was certainly some scheming along the way, it seems reasonable to suppose that at least the origin of that societal structure came to be to reinforce natural predispositions that had developed for the survival of humankind, whether or not they are still relevant today.

    In the end, the thought that comes to mind is that if I walk by a construction site and notice that 95% of the workers are male, I would certainly recognize that a big part of that is social, but I also can’t ignore that the physical differences between men and women must also play a part and are probably most of the reason why those social pressures exist in the first place. On the other hand, if I walk by a preschool and notice that 95% of the staff there are female, I am supposed to view that as only the result of societal pressures and institutional sexism, and not possibly the result of innate abilities.

  12. As for whether or not society values the work that men are predisposed to compared to the work that women are, I think to determine that we’d have to look not just to what women make compared to men, but where money made by women and men eventually goes. My wife stays home with the kids while I work outside the home, but the money we spend benefits us both. In that respect it’s almost like we are both earning that income, a concept reinforced by laws that would give her the right to half of our stuff if we were to divorce. So, paycheck ratios only tell half the story.

    Again, I don’t expect you to see it that way, just explaining the way I see it.

  13. But to bring this full circle, I’ll point out again that whether or not behavioral differences between men and women are the result of nature or nurture isn’t relevant to paycheck discrimination laws, in my view. Like I said before, if a woman works half the time as a man, whether or not that is because of social pressure or their own preference, an employer should not be expected to pay them the same. Even if the woman, after years of part-time work, begins working full-time again, the employer should not be expected to pay the woman the same wages as the man who now has more work experience.

    If you see that as unfair, the solution is to change society, not force employers to pretend as if the behavior of their employees isn’t really happening.

  14. “Romney is incapable of understanding the pay gap issue because he has too much money. Not because he made it the way he did. Not because he says things that make him appear out-of-touch or advocates for certain policies. Just because he’s so rich that he can’t possibly understand how 23 cents is important. If that’s not class warfare I don’t know what is.”

    I have to disagree with that statement. What Lilly said is not class warfare. What the very rich have been doing to the poor and middle class since Reaganomics was introduced is class warfare.

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