Sisterhood Blog

Paycheck Fairness Doesn't Mean Doom for Gender Relations

By Sarah Seltzer

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Christina Hoff Sommers, noted (Jewish) anti-feminist gadfly and provocateur, is back, this time arguing on the New York Times’ Op-Ed page against one of the most common-sense pieces of legislation before Congress: the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The bill, a sort of companion to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, would shore up previous equal pay measures and ensure transparency for employees concerned about gender discrimination. The Times editorial board itself supports its passage.. But Sommers does not.

Her contention is that differing life paths explain the persistent pay gap between men and women —which is certainly something feminists agree on, at least partially. She pays lip service to feminist contentions that social pressure and gendered expectations often lead to a disparity in workplace attitudes, ambitions, and choices. But she then uses that acknowledgement to dismiss the possibility of any lingering gender discrimination and claims that the act’s passage will lead to a bonanza of lawsuits. In her words it “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.”

Ever suspicious of Sommers — a resident scholar at the conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute, she has written books with titles like “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men,” and “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women” — I decided to do some research of my own.

I spoke with Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women from the Hill, where she is lobbying at this very moment in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. She said that Sommers is selectively quoting data — in particular, a study commissioned by the Bush administration that attempted to disprove the pay gap, but couldn’t. Matz adds that even with regression analysis controlling for things like families, time off and education, her organization has found that a gap persists.

In fact 2007, AAUW’s own study found that the pay gap begins just one year after college for equally qualified men and women. “One thing Christina Hoff Sommers does on a regular basis, is take snippets of research, contort them to fit her argument, and then cries like chicken little that the sky is falling,” Matz says. “She says we’re going to be swimming in lawsuits. Well they said that about Ledbetter and it didn’t happen. They say that about every other civil rights legislation, and it doesn’t happen.”

Matz adds that the most egregious aspect of the op-ed is that it claims the legislation pits women against men. “If there ever was a family issue it’s pay equity,” she says. “Women are more and more one of chief breadwinners because men are losing their jobs. This act is providing support for families.”


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