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The Paycheck Fairness Act Defeated Again

A Glaring Reminder of the Gender Pay Gap

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Today Senate Republicans blocked a vote to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act for the third time, continuing their dogged resistance to addressing the gender pay gap.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that attempts to correct issues around pay inequity. The Huffington Post reports, “The bill would prohibit retaliation against employees who share their salary information with each other, which supporters say would eliminate the culture of silence that keeps women in the dark about pay discrimination. It would also require the Department of Labor to collect wage data from employers, broken down by race and gender, and require employers to show that wage differentials between men and women in the same jobs are for a reason other than sex.” This bill has the potential to help even the playing field and could make significant inroads in women’s daily lives.

Yesterday, April 8, 2014, marked Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day was instituted in 1998 by President Bill Clinton and is a yearly marker that symbolizes how far into the year a woman must work to earn the same amount made by a man in the previous year. It usually falls on a Tuesday in April. Tuesday is significant because it is the day of the week that a woman’s earnings equal men’s earnings from the previous week.

April 8, 2014 symbolizes how far into 2014 women must work to earn what men earned in 2013. In other words, if the average American woman added her wages from all of 2013 plus her wages from the beginning of 2014 until April 8, 2014, only then would she equal the wages of the average American male.

Despite this pitiful statistic, some on the Right would have us believe that the wage gap is not a women’s issue.  Zoë Carpenter reports in “The Nation” that, “No one says now that the 1963 [Equal Pay Act] law was unnecessary or insignificant, though as its supporters acknowledged at the time of its passage, it was only a first step. Today, women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar—or just 64 cents and 55 cents for Black and Hispanic women, respectively— and Republicans are dusting off arguments from last century to block updated legislation, claiming that while they still support its underlying principles, today’s pay really is equal, or else the work is not.”

Despite dusting off old and tired arguments best suited for patriarchs, Republicans women are often the ones front and center in making these claims against the better interest of women around the country. Take for instance, Lynn Jenkins, a Republican congresswoman from Kansas who has spoken out against the Paycheck Fairness Act, calling it “condescending” towards women. She has recently stated, “We strongly support equal pay for equal work, and I'm proud that I live in a country where it's illegal to discriminate in the workplace thanks to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964...Some folks don't understand that women have become an extremely valuable part of the workforce today on their own merit, not because the government mandated it.”

To suggest that legislation that addresses the gender pay gap is “condescending” to women is both absurd and patently untrue.  Jenkins aims to further a narrative of women’s meritocracy without acknowledging the fact it is women’s hard work and progressive legislation, in addition to decades of advocacy and activism, that have made the inroads that women have experienced possible. Furthermore, although there are laws on the books regarding anything from segregation to equal pay does not mean that those laws have been successfully implemented. And, tellingly, Jenkins does not even suggest that the laws work well but implies that the laws’ existence mean that these issues they address no longer exist, which is clearly little more than convenient political wishful thinking.

The idea that “men are better negotiators” and that women just need to better their negotiation skills, as executive director of the Texas GOP Beth Cubriel insists, is another exercise in missing the point. Certainly, studies have shown that women do often negotiate less successfully than their male counterparts. For example, a study of out the University of Texas found that “When the women negotiated for themselves, they asked for an average of $7,000 less than the men. But when they negotiated on behalf of a friend, they asked for just as much money as the men.” However, reports also show that it is not because of women’s lack of intelligence or chutzpah but rather deeply internalized notions of sexism that often butt against sexist workplace practices.  Rather than blaming women for sexism, it is time to acknowledge the damaging effects of gendered discrimination and how it often times plays out in the work force.

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