Thursday, April 10, 2014

No Debate - On Gender Equality, The Right Is Wrong

While there are plenty of unsavory things about the internet these days - including the growing security issues online - it can also be a fantastic place for serious, substantive debate, among intelligent, thoughtful, and diverse groups of people.

For example, Paul Waldman, Ed Kilgore, and Jonathan Bernstein all had an excellent debate yesterday about whether - and how much - power right-wing "christian" voters have over Republican Party nominees. There has also been a very heated debate recently about race and politics in the age of Barack Obama, between Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates, with some great additions from writers like Jamelle Bouie. Our favorite round-up of that latter debate came Wednesday from writer Goldie Taylor on her Twitter feed.

One of the best features of being able to observe and occasionally participate in these kinds of debates among media professionals is that sometimes one individual will catch a simple problem with the main debate on the topic of the day that the rest of the legitimate media seems to have missed.

This week, the topic of gender pay equity has been dominating much of the media, thanks to two major events: The Executive Actions President Obama signed earlier this week, and the Paycheck Fairness Act bill that Republicans filibustered to death in the Senate yesterday morning. Asking the question of why, in 2014, there's still such pay inequality is a valid and legitimate question to ask - even if the only answer sometimes is because misogynist men can still sometimes abuse the women who work for them.

Not surprisingly, the well-worn, fact-checked, government data-derived, yet still debated statement that the "average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns" was dragged into the debate on this topic by President Obama. Equally unsurprising were the responses from the often misogynist right-wingers that the 77 cents figure is inaccurate, that the pay gap isn't real, or that the White House has its own gender pay gap to worry about.

The facts on the gender pay gap could settle much of this debate, if all the participants simple were willing to accept them. The 77 cent gender pay gap figure is based on hard government data, the gender pay gap is sadly all too real, and the White House also has a pay gap (that they're working to shrink). It's also true that when critics in a debate are merely shills paid by multibillionaires like the Koch Brothers to advocate against their own obvious interests, it's hard to take that kind of person seriously.

The key element in the gender pay gap discussion that struck us over the last twenty-four hours, however, was a single comment by journalist Irin Carmon, in her latest great piece at MSNBC.com about who the real losers of the equal pay debate are. Carmon inserted a little snark and a slap of reality when she asked everyone fighting over a particular corner of the debate "…question for everyone arguing over 77 cents figure: What’s the precise amount of discrimination you’re OK with?"

That simple problem that Ms. Carmon pointed out is the key: Americans today shouldn't be ok with ANY amount of discrimination in pay, for gender, race, age, or physical limitations. If a person can perform whatever job they have at an equal or better level than others in the same position, then they should at least be paid the same basic amount - period.

That so many on the political right attempt to divert any debate on gender pay inequality away from that simple fact doesn't negate its truth. It also doesn't justify unequal treament, no matter what your boss says.

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