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Blame the Little Miss


If you’re a U.S. woman and aren’t getting paid for doing the same work as men, it’s your fault.

If you’re a woman and are overweight or smoke, you’re personally responsible for contributing to the sinking U.S. life expectancy rate.

If you’re a woman and you ask for the same pay for doing the same job as your male co-worker, you only have a small window of time to do so. Otherwise, you’re to blame if you don’t figure out real fast the game is rigged against you.

In recent days, America’s women have been the target of a series of such falsehoods and distortions. This week, we commemorated Equal Pay Day on April 22. That’s the day women’s wages catch up to what men were paid in the previous year.

So, it’s a good time to examine this blame game targeting women.

An ABC News segment recently blamed the gender pay gap—U.S. women are paid 77 cents for every $1 men are paid—on women. According to ABC, women are paid less than men for doing the same job because they just don’t ask for the same salary. Ellen Bravo, founder of 9to5, National Association of Working Women and author of Taking on the Big Boys, shows what’s wrong with this argument.

An ABC News segment called the negotiation process “something that each of us has the ability to control….No employer has an obligation to whisper in the woman’s ear, ‘Hey, you know, you just lost out on more money because you didn’t speak up.’”

Stories like these leave out a few important realities: The majority of women work in jobs where they have no right whatsoever to negotiate for pay. Many are like Donna, a software developer whose employment agreement lists “discussing salary with colleagues” among “fire-able offenses.” Hard to know you’re making less than others if you’re not allowed to know what the others earn.

Lilly Ledbetter didn’t know she was earning far less than her male colleagues for many years. (Christy had a great live chat here with Washington, D.C., Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on the topic this week.) The 19-year Goodyear tire plant employee in Gadsden, Ala., says she was paid less than her male counterparts. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said she did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. within 180 days after the discrimination occurred, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court let the company off the hook by calculating the deadline from the day Goodyear made its original decision to pay her less than her male colleagues. The law had previously made it clear that the clock did not start until she received her last discriminatory paycheck. The bill would remove the 180-day limit.

Yesterday, the Senate refused to join the House in telling the Supremes how wrong they were, and passed the Fair Pay Restoration Act (S. 1843), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill would have restored the ability of U.S. workers to sue for pay discrimination. (Check out DownWithTyranny on recalcitrant senators, male and female, who were opposing the vote.)

Even if the anti-Fair Pay bill Republicans in the Senate did have a clue about what it’s like to work for a living and joined Democrats to pass the measure, Bush said he’d veto it.

So, let’s see if we have this right: Women are paid less for doing the same job as men because they didn’t ask for the same salary. But if they ask for the same salary as their male co-worker, they won’t get it—unless they do so in the first six months on the job. Gotcha!

Along with blaming women for bringing home less bacon, a new study fingers women for eating more of it—and smoking to boot—and so contributing to a decreased life expectancy in 1,000 U.S. counties. As a result, the study finds life expectancy for U.S. women is lower than it was in the 1980s, the lowest, falling for the first time since the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Writes The Washington Post on the study:

The trend appears to be driven by increases in death from diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema and kidney failure. It reflects the long-term consequences of smoking, a habit that women took up in large numbers decades after men did, and the slowing of the historic decline in heart disease deaths.

Looking deeper into this article, we also find this:

The phenomenon appears to be not only new but distinctly American.

 "If you look in Western Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, we don’t see this," Murray said. [Christopher J.L. Murray, is a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington who led the study.]

So life expectancy for women is not going down in other comparable countries. Maybe that means increased female obesity and smoking habits aren’t caused by what the study all but screams is due to an individual’s moral and physical laxity. Instead, maybe we ask, as did the recent PBS show on the topic, "Is Inequality Making Us Sick?"

Larry Adelman, executive producer of the show, puts it this way:

The single best predictor of one’s health is not diet, exercise or even smoking but class status. But it’s not only the poverty-stricken who are afflicted—after all, what would be so surprising about that?—but the middle classes as well. At each descending step down the class pyramid, from the rich to the middle to the poor, people tend to be sicker and die sooner. Top executives have, on average, better health than managers, managers fare better than supervisors and technical personnel, supervisors do better than line, service and clerical workers, and the unemployed have the worst health of all. High school dropouts die, on average, six years sooner than college graduates. In other words, it’s not CEOs who are dying of coronary heart disease but those who work for them.

What does this mean when it comes to the choices we make about what food to eat? Adelman continues:

Much of American health prevention focuses on individual behaviors. Behaviors certainly matter for health. But the choices we make are constrained by the choices we have. It’s hard to eat your five to seven fruits and vegetables a day when your neighborhood is dominated by fast-food joints and mom-and-pops and you have to take two buses to get to a supermarket. 

Then there’s the issue of funding for programs aimed at improving the greater good of society. Adelman writes:

Where the United States has a child poverty rate of 21 percent, Sweden, for example, has a child poverty rate of 4.2 percent—even though they have an even higher percentage of single parent families than we do. But the two countries’ social spending is reversed: Sweden spends 18 percent of its GDP on social programs—the United States less than 4 percent. Swedes live on average more than three years longer than Americans. And did I mention that 78 percent of the Swedish workforce belong to unions?

Ah, yes. The union difference. Women in unions are paid $790 a week on average, compared with $592 for wage-working women not in unions. And union members as a whole have better health care and pension coverage than do nonunion workers.

But along with killing legislation like the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Bush has tried hard to limit, restrict and destroy unions throughout his nearly eight years in office.

As Bravo writes:

Yes, women need to learn negotiation (and the facts about labor law, which already prohibit salary secrecy, according to the National Labor Relations Board). But blaming the wage gap on women’s lack of assertiveness is like blaming sexual harassment on women’s lack of snappy comebacks….Do learn the art of negotiation. Groups like WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) offer terrific workshops and information on the Web about how to do this. But above all, learn the necessity of organizing. The best way to get what you need for yourself is to work with others on behalf of everyone for changes in workplace and public policy.

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