It's a fairly well-known fact that American women, on average, earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. There are many professions in which women make significantly less; for example, women in finance make only 55 to 62 cents on the dollar -- the largest disparity of any profession. And according to census data, the service industry is the only industry in which women earn more than men, on average.
On Meet the Press yesterday, GOP strategist and Romney surrogate Alex Castellanos attempted to make the argument that women don't actually make less than men, it's just that women take jobs that pay less, that women work less, and that women demand "benefits" like flexibility from their jobs. According to Castellanos and the GOP, men are just willing to work harder, longer, for more years, see their families less, and do more dangerous and grueling work than women. In modern America, this has been true. Women default to caregiving, and they are financially punished for doing so.
It seems to me the GOP's new talking points boil down to "women are wimps." If women were just more willing to work like men, they could magically make more money.
In an exchange Rachel Maddow cited the 77 cent statistic, when Castellanos interjected that women don't actually make less than men. "Do women make less than men for doing the same work" Maddow challenged him.
"Actually no," he responded. "For example. Men work an average of 44 hours a week. Women work 41 hours a week. Men go into professions like engineering, science and math that earn more. Women want more flexibility."
Alex is an intelligent and kind man. I honestly can't understand why he would take on an issue that is just... crazy. Feel free to deny a pay gap and admit that yes, men work more hours than women, women are more likely to leave the workforce to care for others, thus resulting in less pay, and women are more likely to "flex" in order to care for family and home. Is the GOP saying that's right and proper and how it should be? Women should expect to earn less because they default to parenting over work? Is this the party line? Because I know a lot of pretty ambitious Republican women who would disagree.
Supporting working women is not a political issue. Fellow GOP pundit Ross Douthat has repeatedly called for public policy solutions for working parents, including "generous family leave."
It's easy to say that women "choose" lower-paying jobs, that they "choose" to take more time off from work to have children, that they "choose" to work fewer hours or not at all. It's easy to put on blinders and ignore the parts of our system, from our family structures, to entrenched gender roles, to historical discrimination, that contribute to the wage gap. It's much easier to write off pay disparities as women simply "choosing" not to make more money. If the problem is created by the people who claim to suffer from it, no one ever has to take responsibility for the problem or worry about how to fix it.
It is a sad but true fact that in so many American households, men aren't faced with the same questions of work and family life management as women. Though most families are headed by parents who both work, the burden of childcare still falls to women.
The GOP can attempt to explain away the wage gap all it wants, but it still exists and is a hard reality for most working women. But if we're going to argue about wage gap, let's at least have an honest discussion about why women sometimes make career "choices" that put them at an economic disadvantage.
@kaitlyndowling contributed to this piece