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Here We Go Again: The Long (and Frustrating) Journey of Equal Pay for Women

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Let's play a little game.

Let's say you're a hard-working working woman. You're trying to make ends meet and doing okay -- the economy is tough, but you're tougher.

Still, it's a struggle. Suddenly, someone walks up to you and hands you a $10,000 check. You're thrilled, of course, and immediately begin thinking about what you'll do with the new-found dough. Maybe you'll put it right into the bank to save for the kids' college tuition. Maybe you'll go shopping for a car, so you can get back and forth to work easier. Or maybe you'll just say, "What the hell," and finally plan that well-earned family vacation.

Whatever your decision, this money was an unexpected windfall -- and one that you technically didn't earn, right?

Well, the truth is, if you're a working woman in America today, you actually did earn that money. It's just that no one ever gave it to you.

According to the National Women's Law Center, the majority of America's full-time working women are still being paid 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes -- a paltry 18-cent increase over what women were making in 1970, when I first joined the fight for equal pay. This disparity, says the Law Center, translates into $10,622 less per median-income woman every year.

There's that check for ten grand that you never got.

Almost two years ago, I posted a blog that underscored our failure to make headway in this forty-year fight. I noted that not only is pay disparity dispiriting at the bottom of the ladder (where hourly-waged men made 40 or 80 cents an hour more than women), but downright outrageous up the corporate ladder, where the gap between women and men executives is $150,000 a year. That should shake all of us up.

But even as I posted my blog, I thought good luck was around the corner. After all, the president's landmark Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act had been on the books for two years; and the very day I posted my blog, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Rosa L. DeLauro were scheduled to reintroduce on the floor of the U.S Senate the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to legitimately defend gender pay disparities, while charging the Department of Labor to use the full range of its powers to uncover pay discrimination.

Unfortunately, like everything else in this long and senseless battle, the bill went nowhere: Republicans unanimously blocked it, citing reasons as unjust as they were insulting. Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) said he believed the bill would hurt small businesses; and current Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters, "[The bill] reads more to me like some sort of welfare plan for trial lawyers."

I had just about lost all hope when I heard an interview on NPR with Lynn Povich, who struck one of the first -- and certainly loudest -- blows for equal pay 43 years ago next month. As she recounts in her book, "The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace", Povich was a young journalist at Newsweek in 1970, when she and 45 fellow employees filed a groundbreaking class-action lawsuit against the magazine for gender discrimination. The suit was the first of its kind by women journalists, and the planning required months of secret meetings. Where? In the women's bathroom. They filed it on March 16, 1970 -- the same day Newsweek ran a cover story about the feminist movement titled, "Women in Revolt."

Their actions were historic. Yet in her NPR interview, Povich revealed a shocking truth about how times have changed -- or, technically, haven't:

It surprised me when I met these young women at Newsweek today, because... they were all super-competent -- have been told since they were kids that they could do anything -- and yet, when they got into the work world, after a year or two, they were suddenly feeling marginalized, that guys seemed to be getting better assignments, and young guys with equal qualifications or even less were somehow being promoted faster than they were. And they couldn't understand why, because this was post-feminism, the sex wars were over, we were all equal now. So it couldn't be that thing called discrimination; it must be them. They just must not be talented enough to move ahead.

I not only found this heartbreaking, but it really fired me up. It reminded me of that old observation that, in order to breathe, sharks must keep moving forward or they die. Well, equal pay for women remains our shark in the water. If Povich's observation is correct, it confirms to us that if we're ever to push the needle forward on this the cents-on-the-dollar injustice, we need to supercharge our efforts. We need to let this new generation of smart, young women know that, no, the battle is not over, and yes, we have their backs. We need to assure them that, if the guy in the next cubicle is making more than them for doing the same work, it is not only their right to ask for the same, but their obligation to themselves and to women everywhere, who will be inspired to do the same.

Women are famously reluctant at a job interview to negotiate for a higher salary. We need to change that. We need to arm ourselves with research, cull the numbers and make our case like the savvy business women we aim to be.

Fortunately, Sen. Mikulski reintroduced her Fair Pay bill on the Senate floor just last month, so once again, I urge all of us to call our senators and congressional representatives and demand that they pass this vital bill. After 44 years, enough is enough.

In the meantime, take a look at the slideshow below. Screen-grab a single image from it and post it on your Facebook page, or send the link to your family and friends. We put it together because it tells the story better than any article ever could.

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