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Gina Messina-Dysert Headshot

Why We Still Need a Feminist Agenda

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Conservative columnist Phyllis Schlafly's recent anti-feminist comments offer yet another example of the ongoing gendered discrimination perpetrated in our society. While Schlafly argues that the pay gap is a "fallacy," and that it is women's poor choices that account for low wages, she bases her thoughts on sexist ideology. The bottom line is that women continue to be penalized for their gender in many ways. Denying equal pay for equal work is a manifestation of a larger problem -- a misogynistic culture -- and it demands a feminist agenda.

The Republicans' blocking of the Paycheck Fairness Act highlights Congress's continued willingness to play political games with women's lives. Women earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make, represent only 18 percent of leadership roles, and continue to bump against the cracked -- but intact -- glass ceiling. A quick look at the sex of Fortune 500 CEOs illustrates that while women have been successful on the road to middle management, few have been welcomed into the male dominated world of leadership. Those who have made the cut have been scrutinized over details that would never enter a conversation regarding a man's abilities; e.g. Hilary Clinton's pantsuits.

For mothers, the wage disparity is even greater. A study completed by the American Sociological Association demonstrates that mothers make up to 15 percent less per child than women without children. In other words, unless you are planning to impose your own "one child" policy, be prepared to see your paycheck shrink with each addition to your family.

Depressingly, motherhood is one of the most significant causes of poverty for American women. The report "Worst Off: Single Parent Families in the US" illustrates that single mothers have the greatest struggle, not because of anything inherent in single motherhood, but because of low wages and poor social policy. While more than 80 percent of single mothers work 30 hours per week or more, they are disproportionately likely to be employed in low income positions. Discrimination against mothers in the workforce has led to decreased hiring rates and wages, lower-level positions, and fewer promotions.

In addition to pay inequity, mothers do not have access to basic support systems. The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave (the others being Papua New Guniea, Swaziland, and Lesotho) forcing mothers to choose between work and caring for their children. In addition, lack of affordable childcare options lead to significant challenges for women in finding and keeping employment. The combination of poverty wages and poor social policy has resulted in high levels of financial insecurity for mothers.

Motherhood also impacts the conversations we have about women as leaders. When Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo, the immediate focus of her success became her pregnancy. Rather than trusting Mayer to make decisions about work/life balance on her own, media outlets questioned both her leadership capabilities and her parenting. Can you imagine such scrutiny of an expectant father in a high level position? Of course not.

Some argue that women have not only attained equality, but are tipping the scales. For instance, Laura Trueman has claimed that we no longer live in a "man's world" since women earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at a higher rate than men. But men continue to earn higher wages than women, and hold more than 80 percent of leadership positions in U.S. Despite women's educational success, they continue to be forced into roles with lower salaries or refused equal pay for equal work.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) claims that women are offended by the Paycheck Fairness Act, stating, "Many ladies I know feel like they are being used as pawns, and find it condescending [that] Democrats are trying to use this issue as a political distraction from the failures of their economic policy." Isn't the filibustering of a bill supporting economic justice for women more condescending? Republicans stand united against pay equality for women because of political disdain rather than ethical critique.

It is disappointing that Congress had an opportunity to make a statement about the status of women in the U.S. with the Paycheck Fairness Act, but instead chose to block the bill. But given the historical treatment of women in our nation, it shouldn't be surprising. The economic injustice that women suffer demands a feminist agenda; without it, there will be no hope for equality.