Spin that dial! Oops…It’s frozen…

My pre-teen years (OK, “tween” now—a phrase not of my preference) encompassed many diversions. But among them, playing the Game of Life™ well into the weekend nights during sleepovers at my buddy Suzanne’s house ranks high on the list. We played game after game after game. Spin the dial, pick an occupation, try to amass as much money as you could to win. What could be more American?

Now comes news that the Game of Life,™ which in the 1960s had been updated from its original 19th century version, has been totally revamped and will be released in August. And this Life lesson is not one we want to teach our children.

Lawrence Downes, writing in The New York Times Editorial Observer, describes his experience after receiving a review copy of the board game from Hasbro. The new game has four “life paths”: money, education, family and fun. Four mutually exclusive categories—you can’t combine education and family, never mind fun?—that Hasbro describes as: “Earn It! Learn It! Love It! Live It!”

He tested out the game, now called Game of Life Twists and Turns, with his 11-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old girl pal. Then he watched as the girls played it with a 7-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister. Here’s what happened.

The girls all lined up on Learn It! and went into debt for college. The boy went the family route, though he was taken aback when he had to STOP! to get married. “I didn’t want to get married,” he said. Then he had a baby girl. “I don’t want a girl baby. I want a boy. Can I take her to the orphanage?”

Here’s how it ended: The girls all had their Ph.D.s and mountains of debt. The little boy never went to college, but was flush with lottery winnings and Life points, from all those kids. He won. His sister wistfully regretted having put her education ahead of motherhood.

Seems Hasbro has been invaded by the same people behind the evolution-denying Creation Museum that opened recently in Kentucky. Stop us quickly before we as a society can evolve.

The new Life game launches at a critical moment for America’s working women. Before the Class of 2007 even had a chance to test out the Frisbee potential for their mortar boards, the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation released findings that show the pay gap between men and women starts within one year of graduation—with women one year out of college earning only 80 percent of men’s wages. So, the pay gap—in which, overall, U.S. women make 77 percent of what men make—begins immediately, not after both genders spend years in the workforce and therefore not because more women then men leave the workforce for family reasons. And this gap persists despite the fact that more women than men now graduate from college, and women outperform men in school—earning slightly higher GPAs than men in every college major, including science and mathematics.

So, given this new data, the logical move for the reactionary male-dominated U.S. Supreme Court to make is to rule last week that women can’t sue for pay discrimination unless they do so within 180 days after the discrimination occurred. The decision ignores the reality that for the vast majority of private-sector employees, it’s nearly impossible to find out what other staff are being paid. (Union membership helps level the playing field, with union contracts generally spelling out wages at specific grade levels and requiring the pay and job description of all new positions be negotiated between union reps and the employer.)

The 5–to–4 decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, dismissed a suit by Lilly Ledbetter, an employee for 19 years at a tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., who says she was paid less than her male counterparts. The ruling, which upheld an appeals court decision, flies in the face of decades of court decisions that allowed workers to sue for pay discrimination years after the initial discrimination because the courts considered each new paycheck a new discriminatory act.

At an event sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) a week or so ago on the challenges today’s working families face, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) from Connecticut cut to the chase. The serious challenges working women and men face while struggling with child care, elder care and more have a common underlying cause she said, over the over: the fundamental threat of income insecurity. DeLauro, who introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would provide more effective remedies to workers who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work, put it this way:

Parents are stretched thin trying to make sure their kids get the care they deserve. Despite that fact that the economy grew 4.4 percent last year, very little of it is reaching working families.

DeLauro was keynote speaker for EPI’s Agenda for Shared Prosperity series, which this month featured Getting Real About Families, a discussion that included Heidi Hartmann, president and founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and Janet Gornick, political science professor at Baruch College. The Agenda, a network of economists and policymakers, seeks to address the growing gap between America’s promise and its problems and will distribute the reports issued through the series to 2008 congressional and presidential contenders.

Although DeLauro introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act 10 years ago, only this past April did it get its first hearing, when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) scheduled hearings on April 24, Equal Pay Day.

Only 10 years? If Democrats hadn’t swept Congress last fall, the bill still wouldn’t have had a hearing, much less a chance to be voted on.

Just as the new Life game sets up false dichotomies between education and family, money and education and so on, so today’s corporations, fueled by Republican dinosaurs in Congress and on the U.S. Supreme Court, set up a false choices for women: If you get a job, don’t expect to be paid as much as a man doing the same work.

Justice Ginsberg, the only woman on the Supreme Court, wrote the dissenting opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and took the unusual move to read it aloud to the Court. She noted how in the original trial, the jury heard testimony that a supervisor who evaluated Ledbetter in 1997—an evaluation that led to denying her a pay raise—was “openly biased against women.” Further, Ginsberg wrote:

And two women who had previously worked as managers at the plant told the jury they had been subject to pervasive discrimination and were paid less than their male counterparts. One was paid less than the men she supervised….Ledbetter herself testified about the discriminatory animus conveyed to her by plant officials. Toward the end of her career, for instance, the plant manager told Ledbetter that the “plant did not need women, that [women] didn’t help it, [and] caused problems.”

After weighing all the evidence, the jury found for Ledbetter, concluding the pay disparity was due to intentional discrimination. Yet:

under the Court’s decision, the discrimination Ledbetter proved is not redressable under Title VII. Each and every pay decision she did not immediately challenge wiped the slate clean.

Ledbetter sued Goodyear under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Passed in the halcyon days of the 1960s, when our nation’s leaders actually recognized pervasive discrimination on all levels, Title VII says in part:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer….to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin…

While much attention has focused on a Bush-appointed Supreme Court taking back women’s right to choose, many other freedoms we’ve taken for granted are at stake under this new regime as well—and many focus on issues fundamental to our economic survival. With little more than a quiet ruling, the Supreme Court in one decision undid the ability of women, people of color and others to redress what so many of us still experience at the workplace: discrimination.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, a group of Democratic Senators and House members announced they will introduce legislation to ensure workers can enforce their legal right to equal pay. Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y), Edward Kennedy (Mass.) Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Barbara Mikulski (Md.) will introduce a measure in the Senate, while Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), George Miller (Calif.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

And journalist Susan Reed posits an out-of-the box idea to redress to Ledbetter: Require all employers to make public employees’ pay. If you can only file suit within a 180 days, surely the Court would want that information to be as transparent as possible….

We have a real problem in this nation with an intractable gender-based pay gap, and it doesn’t just affect women. It impacts their children and partners by diminishing their access to quality health care and education, access to sick leave and secure retirements. Many of the Sunday cartoons highlighted the unattractive comparison between the Supreme Court boys’ club and Justice Ginsburg, including one which showed her reading her dissent alone at the one end of the court bench, while the guys were grouped on the other side, mumbling “Chicks.”

We need to enforce the laws we have on the books and enact new ones to stop this cruel division of the genders. It would be great if no laws were needed. But let’s face it: Little boys who think it’s OK to give away girl-babies to orphanages can grow up into lawmakers who chortle over the idea that women deserve fair pay.

Tula Connell

Tula Connell