Why is it that in the U.S. inquiring about someone’s salary in the workplace is always shushed? Since in Bogota, where I grew up, it was de mal gusto to discuss money, I easily accepted the “shush” and shut my mouth. I never gathered that such imposed silence could be covering a lack of paycheck fairness.
How misinformed I was. In this country, you can actually be fired for sharing wage information with colleagues, which explains why you have failed to know whether your boss is favoring an employee not because of his qualifications, seniority or dedication, but because of his gender.
The truth is, when there is no equal pay, disclosing a wage becomes a serious liability for a company.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which among other things could have changed this state of affairs, was defeated in the Senate on June 5, along party lines. The measure failed to get the 60 votes needed to block a Republican-led filibuster. This act was supposed to expand on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first official bill Obama signed as president in 2009. It would have imposed larger penalties on employers who discriminate, and given women more tools to fight discrimination in the workplace.
Women still making less money
Those who try to convince us that there is no gender discrimination in this nation fail to prove that with numbers. Given equal qualifications, education and experience, women still make less money. And legislation is needed to close the gap.
As the media has been heralding these days, according to the Census Bureau women working full-time-year-round (FTYR) still earn only 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make. The rate is even lower for African-American women – 64 cents – and Latinas – 56 cents.
In support of the bill, President Obama said, “Women are the breadwinners for a lot of families, and if they’re making less than men do for the same work, families are going to have to get by for less money for childcare and tuition and rent … Everybody suffers.”
Equal pay, a legacy from the sixties
The Paycheck Fairness act would have expanded the scope of the Equal Pay Act signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in June 1963, which prohibited pay discrimination because of sex. When feminists first started to fight for equal pay, women were getting only 59 cents for every dollar males made. So, some progress came from that law.
Those were the glorious days for the feminist movement, led by an interesting and controversial woman, Betty Friedan. Loved and hated, followed and accused, Friedan ended quite marginalized by the feminist movement. Bourgeois, and sometimes labeled as communist, Friedan sincerely fought to change patriarchal women’s roles that had constrained females to the domestic kingdom. She probably couldn’t care less for Marxist ideology. On the contrary, she considered ideologies based on class warfare obsolete – and also stayed away from the “men-are-evil” mantras and bra-burning.
Friedan didn’t share Sigmund Freud’s views on women, but agreed with him in that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” And that’s what she wanted: women not only being able to work but to receive equal pay.
More than 40 years later however, some things haven’t changed. There still seems to be men shouting that home is were women belong!
Why did the Republicans oppose the bill?
Republicans alleged that the Paycheck Fairness Bill hampered free enterprise and that employers should opt to pay their employees any wage they want.
There are hundreds of stories on the Internet linking this vote to what has come to be known as the Republican “war on women.”
Here are some of facts that seem to back up that claim.
- The House voted in February of this year to ban all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and to eliminate a program known as Title X, which provides aid for family planning and reproductive health.
- A Georgia GOP legislator wants to change the legal terms for victims of rape, stalking and domestic violence to simply “accuser.”
- Republicans proposed a bill in South Dakota that could invite the assassination of a doctor who performs abortions and then leave the crime unpunished.
- Supporting it as a reduction in spending measure, Republicans have cut funding for pre-schools and programs like Head Start that allow children to attend pre-school. This may force moms to stay at home.
- If Republicans get to dismantle Medicare, it would affect mostly women and Latinos (almost two third of seniors are female).
- After refusing to even consider the Violence Against Women Act, a crucial bill for women, the House passed a weakened Republican version and not the Democratic version that would have supported domestic violence prevention programs.
Betty Friedan is no longer around to witness this latest step backwards. What would she say?