WASHINGTON — Equal pay for equal work is an age-old rallying cry that resonates as strongly today as it did when the suffragists invoked the phrase.
“Join the union, girls, and together say Equal Pay for Equal Work,” exhorted Susan B. Anthony, who led the drive to gain women the vote when Lincoln was president. Lincoln signed the 13th amendment in 1865, authorizing the vote for male former slaves and newly naturalized male immigrants, privately assuring suffrage leaders women would get their turn.
It would take 55 years. Lincoln was assassinated before he could keep his promise if he ever intended to, and Anthony died before her dream was realized with the passage of the 19th amendment expanding voting rights to women.
Women’s rights advocates are still working on equalizing the playing field when it comes to work and wages. With women a key demographic in the upcoming midterm elections, Democrats are pressing ahead with various measures to highlight the inequality that has women earning 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.
The 77-cents figure is based on census data and there are a number of factors that contribute to the gap. Women more often take time out for child care, and when they re-enter the work force, their compensation lags behind their male peers. Women are also dominantly represented in fields like nursing and education, and in lower-paid service jobs, which skew the numbers.
President Obama on Tuesday signed two executive orders that ban federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with other workers, and require data from companies doing business with the federal government reporting the gender and racial breakdown of salaries.
It’s amazing in this day and time that discrepancies like these exist, and that it takes a presidential directive for employers to end gender bias. Discrimination against women has never been given the same importance as other minorities, going back to Lincoln, but that may be ending. Former President Jimmy Carter, a champion of human rights when he was in the White House, writes in his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” that no group has been so persecuted worldwide as women.
Hillary Clinton said recently that the double standard for women still exists, and as secretary of state, she made women’s rights a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. If she runs for president, which appears likely, gender and gender-related issues will be thrust into the forefront of the campaign.
Legislation requiring paycheck fairness is before the Senate this week, but is unlikely to get the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster. Republicans are opposed, saying it will only spark lawsuits and do nothing to create jobs.
There are many ways to enshrine discrimination against women, even among the well-meaning who cloak their bias in chivalry, or paternalism, and pat themselves on the back thinking they’re doing the right thing. In 2008, when Clinton ran in the Democratic primaries, she encountered blatant sexism when a couple guys at a rally yelled “Iron My Shirt.” The outburst was such a throwback to the days of, “Me Tarzan, You Jane,” that the backlash helped her.
Sexism 2016-style will likely be more complicated. A lot of people, more men than women, think the U.S. is close to achieving gender parity. After all men are now entitled in many workplaces to paternity leave and some are equal partners in caring for their children. There has been measurable progress.
There is no groundswell to bring back the Equal Rights Amendment, which was shelved in 1982 after failing to pass in the 38 states needed for ratification. Rep Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has re-introduced the ERA nine times since 1997, most recently last year. She remains hopeful that Americans will wake up to the fact that this most obvious inequality between the sexes should be enshrined in the Constitution.
U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.