Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

AEI op-ed in NYTimes: Looks like Women are Equal, Break Out the Champagne

So the American Enterprise Institute published a truly bizarre op-ed in the New York Times today by Christina Hoff Sommers.  Apparently, women's pay is completely equal, and the Pay Check Fairness Act is unduly onerous on American Business, and will crush the spirit of free enterprise.  Of course, those guys at the AEI ain't dummies, they got a woman to write it.  No woman would ever act against the best interests of her sex, so clearly, she must be unbiased.  Oh wait, it's the AEI.  I provided the link to Sommers wikipedia page, nevermind that it quotes ridiculous sources like Reason magazine, it does quote the Washington Post book review of her book The War Against Boys. Her reviewer ended his critique with "[the] book is a work of neither dispassionate social science nor reflective scholarship; it is a conservative polemic."

As usual, the prominent spector of a litigious society looms large in this article.  The AEI purports to defend American business from increased sexual discrimination litigation.  If the AEI spent half as much time promoting behaviors that would decrease the need for discrimination litigation as it does defending unethical business practices (businesses who pay it's wage in donations btw,) it might actually manage to do some good on both fronts.

The whole point of her letter, that there is no need for the act because the pay discrepancy has nothing to do with women being less competent, is defended by Sommers completely unsupported statement that "It overlooks mountains of research showing that discrimination plays little role in pay disparities between men and women."  Not a single link to these mountains of researchI mean, not even one?  No wait, Sommers does post to another bastion of equal rights, the Wall Street Journal, in the form of a new survey of census data run by Reach Advisors.  That survey caused quite a buzz, but Salon called up the analyst for clarification and there are some important "buts..."  I won't bore you with them, Salon's Tracy Clark Florey, did an excellent job of it. To quote Florey's summation "The fact that ladies these days are getting their learn on like never before, and that this gap is most notable in communities with "knowledge-based" job markets that prize higher education, sends a clear message of how we can help young men to catch up."

Sommers' next point remarks on a quote from a BLS report, “may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”  In the end, Sommers' point is that women seem to work in the social services, and in education and entertainment, and less in the sciences.  She explains that it is flawed reasoning to have this bill signed now when the debate is ongoing, and that "Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism."  Well, duh!

The point of the act is that it's a tune-up of an act that is already on the books, the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  To fix some of the things that the original act, after thirty seven years, hasn't quite gotten right.  They're not wrong, the trope that math is for boys, reading and art is for girls is still widely upheld, in sciences, but also the financial services industry.  How many girl quants are there out there?  And why?  Is it sexual dimorphism that women aren't equipped with the brains to do math?  To conduct scientific research?  Women and men make their career choices fairly early on, as in, what sort of groups and activities they belong to from the earliest of ages.  And those choices inform their career trajectories for their entire lives.  If misconceptions about what "women are good at" still abound, then the point of the act is completely defendable.

Sommer's last paragraph was what really galled:  "The Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market. It is 1970s-style gender-war feminism for a society that should be celebrating its success in substantially, if not yet completely, overcoming sex-based workplace discrimination." 

Umm, set women against men?  Really?  Are they going to commence armed hostilities?  Will women start packing heat when they come into the office?  I'm sorry Sommers, I don't get it.  Empower trial lawyers and activists?  Wow, well that's your mission statement right there, I guess the other three hundred words of your letter were just icing on the cake.  Trial lawyers are already empowered, and the deck is stacked on defense, settlements have gone down, and been winnowed away for decades from that 1970s gonzo-style feminism that so galled Sommers.  And what, on earth is wrong with empowering activisim?  Oh wait, you mean liberal activism, so say so lady.  Perpetuate falsehoods?  Now wait a darn minute.  All of the works you cited effectively stated that there was still a wage disparity, just that they had reversed in some instances, and that they were harder to ascertain.  Not that the wage disparity was a falsehood.  That's just blatant spin.  Havoc in a precarious work environment?  Funny that on the one hand, some of her friends at the AEI  want to get rid of unfair labor practices like affirmative action, when male blacks are the single largest unemployed bracket, but on the other hand, it makes affirmative action seem like a swell idea to counter all this rampant feminism going on here. 

It comes down to this:  I find it hard to have an honest discussion with a paid conservative thinktank, who historically aren't interested in equal rights so much as a misperceived notion of the bottom line.  When the only argument against is higher operating costs due to increased litigation, well, I'm sorry, I just don't bite.

No comments: