THE BLOG
04/22/2014 05:55 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2014

The Second Sexism? Gender Discrimination Is Not a Zero-sum Game

Last Tuesday, as I entered "Equal Pay Day" into my iPhone calendar next to some celebratory confetti emojis, I thought to myself, "thank goodness I stayed in school an extra year instead of entering the job market at the risk of being undervalued just because I have lady-parts."

But hey, it is worth celebrating when the President Obama bypasses unproductive party politics in congress to offer women another opportunity to step up the proverbial plate. In an America where women no longer have to fear retaliation for discussing salaries and federal contractors can no longer hide gender gaps in compensation, we can finally begin to compete with the 66 nations (including Botswana, Egypt, and Kazakhstan, just to name a few) that beat us in the World Economic Forum's 2013 wage equality rankings. And surely I'm not the only one beaming with joy. Who wouldn't revel in the glory that is Obama walking his feminist walk, right?

But the truth is, as with any ideologically-driven legislation, half of the country probably won't like the president's new rules. In addition to the fiscally conservative, some men will also likely take issue with the policies that regulate gendered wage disparities.

During an administration that has challenged gender disparities on a number of fronts -- from health care to military sexual assault -- a new interest group has emerged: men. A growing body of research suggests men have begun to rally against pro-women legislation because they see something inherently threatening in women's progress. Admittedly, when you are up high at the top of the social hierarchy, it is difficult not to look down (especially when you know your safety net is made of glass). But gender discrimination is not a zero-sum game. Is it?

A 2012 study by researchers at University of South Florida found that while men and women agree women have faced less and less discrimination every decade since 1950, only men see this change as corresponding to increasing bias against men. In other words: men, on average, see women's progress as a threat to men's rights. Furthermore, conservative men said they perceive discrimination against men to be as bad, if not worse, than discrimination against women today.

According to the research, many American men pride themselves as members of a meritocratic society where "everyone" has opportunities to climb the socioeconomic ladder. They believe it would be unfair for the government to provide anyone with a boost in climbing that ladder, like say, offering Lilly Ledbetter the right to know her male co-workers' salaries. And we Americans love to believe our existing systems are fair. As a matter of fact, even those of us at the low end of the totem pole tend to believe our social, economic, and political systems are fair, because if they weren't ... then we wouldn't be number one!

And hey, maybe the GOP has a point when they finger primarily-female occupations as the reason that the gender gap still exists. In a recent memo, they argued "there's a disparity not because female engineers are making less than male engineers at the same company with comparable experience. The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer -- just as a female engineer would out-earn a male social worker."

Fair point, GOP. Fair point indeed. Except it completely undermines the centuries of oppression and discrimination that kept women from studying and working as men's equals. It undermines the fact that sexism is so ingrained in our culture that we have no way of avoiding language and beliefs that sweep women into categories that make them exceptionally qualified for only the lowest paying jobs. Oh, and it is a blatant inaccuracy.

In 2009, Glassdoor.com, a job site where people anonymously share the inside scoop on their employers, analyzed its aggregated data on engineering salaries, to reveal female engineers earn 96.7% of what male engineers earn in their early careers and about 89% after ten years of experience. Even in female-dominated industries, women fare worse than their male counterparts. A 2012 survey reported among ObGyns -- the highest paying female-dominated position -- women make 12% less than male ObGyns.

So men need to take off their zero-sum goggles and take a step back. They need to embrace the overwhelming evidence that shows gender equality offers indubitable social and economic benefits. Don't worry guys, equal pay for women is not "the end of men." Just think about what our little league coaches told us: a little competition is a good thing (and an essential component of healthy capitalism).

So here is to Equal Pay Day, a holiday we can all celebrate. Party at the South Lawn--I'll bring the keg.