ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — President Obama’s state of the union
address mentioned something he had done right after taking office.
He tried to make sure that “women would receive equal pay in
the workplace” by supporting the Lilly Ledbetter Law, passed
by Congress on January 29, 2009. Because of this law, female employees
can now bring suits against employers whom they think are not paying
them enough because of gender discrimination. GOP congressmen kept
a low profile when the law was passed, for fear of seeming “sexist.”
But the enactment of this feminist goal could damage our eroded freedoms
even more. Although women as a whole currently receive only 75 percent
of the salary income earned by men, this oft-stated statistic begs
for an explanation. Women on average do not stay as long or as uninterruptedly
as men in the work force; they often drop out of jobs in order to have
children. Moreover, women are sometimes marginal workers, who are hired
precisely because they receive lower pay than men. How would the government
remedy this disparity?
One suggestion is that the government force employers to pay female
employees while they stay home with young children. If this payment
for non-work cannot be extracted from employers, then perhaps it should
be passed on to taxpayers, an arrangement that has already been introduced
in parts of Europe. Another suggestion for dealing with unequal salaries
is having the state determine who should be paid what. This form of
wage control was tried under communist regimes but yielded disastrous
Supposedly Obama is taking a more moderate course, by letting female
employees intimidate their employers without having additional government
surveillance. But one wonders what effect this law will have on potential
employers and female applicants (in the absence of government coercion
to hire these applicants). Why would one choose for a job someone who
can intimidate the employer with legal suits, if she believes that
a male employee is earning more than what she thinks she deserves for
a comparable job?
Scholars like Allan C. Carlson, director of the The
Family in America Studies Center, and Kay
Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute show that
women are now doing much better than men academically and professionally.
They stay in colleges longer and are usually favored in entry-level
positions. There are also anti-discrimination laws and government agencies
protecting female employees against even the faintest hint of sexist
conversation and such social iniquities as offensive male laughter.
Obama and the Congress are not dealing with downtrodden beings, like
Saudi Arabian women who are not allowed to leave their houses unaccompanied
or to drive cars. Feminists are reaching out to the most privileged
women in human history in the name of a war that has already been won.
Allow me to get more personal about this war against sexism. Having
grown up in the 1950s, I never encountered any of the oppressed women
whom my academic colleagues assure me were legion back then. My mother
and aunts, who stayed at home raising children, seemed happy with their
roles in life. But I have now been told that these members of an older
generation were conditioned to be submissive. My late wife also enjoyed
her domestic role, but perhaps she too was deluded. The problem with
depicting the other side as brainwashed is that it can be thrown back
at the one making it. The accuser as well as the accused can be presented
as someone who has been conditioned to think in a certain way.
Back in the 1930s, the women’s movement, when led by such activists
as Eleanor Roosevelt and Francis Perkins, fought for the “single
family-wage.” Interwar feminists wished to make sure that working
men earned enough so that their wives would not be forced to leave
home in search of a second family income. Despite my general sympathy
for a market economy, I applaud these early feminists, who cared about
the traditional family.
If women, however, wish to work outside the home, they should have
the right to do so. Their decision, however, should not carry an unacceptable
political cost. The government should not monitor my behavior and conversation
in front of women or anyone else. Heaven knows, the feds should not
set pay scales to fit some abstract scheme of gender equity.
Integrating women into the work force here and in Europe has been
for decades a social project. It has less to do with the market than
it does with government social engineering. Recently, a female colleague
suggested that I would not want the government to interfere even if
an employer made improper advances toward one of my daughters. My response
was to point out that there are laws against assault and battery that
go back to English common law, and these would apply to the situation
mentioned. There is no need for an army of lawyers and government bureaucrats
to micromanage the workplace. But those who favor such meddling do
not care about restraining government power. They are too busy rearranging
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2010
by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column has been published in the
Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers.
Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Reprinted with permission.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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