The Reality and Benefits of Doing Something for Nothing

Who does most of the unpaid labor in the world? This includes child care, housekeeping, taking care of and  nursing those in ill health, running errands,  transportation and volunteer work. The chart below is from an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development working paper titled “Cooking, Caring and Volunteering: Unpaid Work Around the World.”

Is this a bad thing or a good thing? Are women just naturally more willing to work for no pay? Do women feel pressured to do all the unpaid work that they do?

It might be more accurate to say that men are less willing to work for no pay, partly because of economic necessity (especially if they’re a family’s sole provider). Obviously if a woman does not work outside of the home, she’s going to be the one “tagged” to do all the things in a family’s life that no one gets paid to do. But even when both spouses work, women spend a disproportionate amount of time on these activities compared to men. For example, take child care:

On average, working fathers spend only 10 minutes more per day on child care when they are not working, whereas working mothers spend nearly twice as much time (144 minutes vs. 74) when not working.

I know that many women do these things willingly and wouldn’t have it any other way. But in many cases the woman isn’t given any choice; it’s just assumed that she will be the one to take off work to care for a sick relative, for instance.

This is certainly one of the factors that account for the wage gap. If women are the ones who are more likely to take off time to do unpaid labor, they are less likely to be promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with giving of one’s time to do things for others. You could even argue that it’s good for one’s soul.

So why not encourage men to do more unpaid labor? They might learn something that women have known for centuries: there’s more to life than a paycheck.

 

The Paycheck Fairness Act is DOA

While I was celebrating Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, the Senate was voting on whether or not to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is called voting on a motion to invoke cloture and is used to end a filibuster. Because cloture requires a two-thirds majority to push it through, it only takes 41 Senators to revoke it. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened.

Since there are only 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate now, it would have taken one Republican breaking the ranks to achieve cloture (assuming that the Independents voted with the Democrats). Not only did that not happen, but Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska sided with the Republicans. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, newly-elected Senator from Alaska did not vote, but since she’s a Republican, it’s assumed that she would have voted along party lines, which would have given the Republicans 42 votes. But even if she would have broken ranks and voted with the Democrats, cloture would still have been rejected 59-41.)

In Great Britain it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture, but that has been rejected in the U.S. because it’s thought that a simple majority doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of the minority. Silly me: I’ve always been under the impression that in a democracy a simple majority rules. Apparently that’s not the case when it comes to ending filibusters, which is one reason why they’re so hard to end.

Sorry for the civics lesson, but if you’re like me, you find this whole process confusing.

So why would anyone vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act? Because it would put too much of a burden on businesses. In other words, businesses should be allowed not only to pay their female employees less but also to hide the fact that they’re doing so! And people say that there is no more gender inequality in this country.

Another objection to the bill is that it was unnecessary since legislation already exists that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender (although it has yet to be determined if this means that transgendered people are also protected). (Read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the issue of wage discrimination.) However, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes many provisions that would make it easier to enforce laws that already exist, provide for research and training, and give women the right to sue over discriminatory practices. (At present, they are only able to collect back pay, or double that amount for willful violation.)

Of course, another objection is that the bill would increase litigation against businesses. Again, if businesses don’t want to be sued, then they should pay women and men the same pay for equal work. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it will take a few lawsuits before businesses finally decide that it’s not in their best interests to shortchange their female employees.

Read more here (Huffington Post)and here (Wall Street Journal). Also, see these statistics about the wage gap. You’ll be astonished.

Walmart’s Low Prices: Do They Come From Cheating Women?

Walmart is facing potentially the largest class action suit ever brought against a company. Estimates run as high as one million employees involved although Walmart has stated that it thinks it is “only” half a million. 

Walmart is now in the process of trying to get its case tossed out of court. In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court it stated that each store is its own entity and therefore Walmart as an overall company can’t be sued. It also argued that there are too many potential plaintiffs and that the size of the suit renders it unmanageable.

This suit is significant not just because of its size. It will mark the first time a major company has been required to defend its pay and promotion policies in terms of sex discrimination. The original suit, which was brought in 2001 by seven women, alleged that female employees are consistently paid less than male employees, are promoted less often than men, and wait longer for chances for promotion.

It was subsequently decided that the suit qualified as a class action suit, and that it covers every woman employed at Walmart from 1998 to the present.

A class action suit makes it impossible for an individual woman to sue on her own behalf, but the sheer numbers in this suit would doubtless make a bigger impact on Walmart’s (and other companies’) pay and promotion policies in the future. If Walmart loses, it would take a financial hit of billions of dollars. Individual women suing Walmart would barely be noticed unless they won multimillion dollar settlements (which is not likely).

By rights, this suit, and Walmart’s attempts to wiggle out of it, should be headline news all through the fall, when the Supreme Court will probably rule on it. And it may well be, but I doubt it will be because it is about women. Its main significance is probably going to be seen as its impact on future class action suits instead of on how women employees are treated at Walmart. It’s only the sheer size of the suit that’s putting it in the headlines at all.

Some people will defend Walmart because they know women who are happy working there. But that doesn’t mean that Walmart isn’t guilty of the charges against it. (After all, slavery wasn’t right, even though some slave owners were humane and some slaves seemed to be happy with their lot.) I’m sure there are individual women who have done well at Walmart, at least in their eyes. But do they really know how much better off they could have done if Walmart didn’t have a discriminatory policy?

Others will defend Walmart because they simply don’t believe that there is any discimination against women in this day and age. These are the same people who declare that there is no longer any use for feminism, because its battles have all been won.

But if this suit has any merits, it would seem that they haven’t all been won. Those who would treat women inequitably are still our enemies.

 [Note: It’s interesting that whenever feminists talk in terms of a war against inequality, they are labeled as man-haters. That’s a misconception. Feminists are aware that some women are traitors to their own sex, even if unwittingly. And some men are our greatest champions. I’m sure that there are men and women at Walmart who discriminate against women. So I’m not just talking about men when I mention enemies. I’m talking about anyone who has adopted the “party line,” who goes along with those who think it’s fair to pay and promote men more than women.]

Headlines You Will Only See On April 1st

  • Stay-at-home moms and homemakers to earn Social Security credit.
  • Stay-at-home moms and homemakers paid for their work.
  • All American children guaranteed health insurance.
  • All Americans guaranteed health insurance.
  • Health insurance premiums dip to new low.
  • Health care costs decrease.
  • California upholds legality of same-sex marriages.
  • All states legalize same-sex marriage.
  • Federal mandate makes it illegal to discriminate against mothers.
  • Women’s political participation surpasses 50%  mark.
  • Women make up majority in House and Senate.
  • Vatican rules that women can be priests.
  • Vatican rules that priests can be married.
  • Equal Rights Amendment added to Constitution.
  • Transgender declared a “third sex.”

Continue reading “Headlines You Will Only See On April 1st”

Jane Addams: Woman For Her Time

It’s so easy to think of history as something stuffy and irrelevant.  This is nowhere more true than when we’re reading about people who lived and died before our lifetimes. But if these same people were somehow transported into today’s reality, we would see more clearly how much influence they had in their own time.

Jane Addams is one of those people. She was born in 1860 and died in 1935. If she had been born a hundred years later she would be considered a Third Wave feminist. But she was much more than that. She started the settlement house movement* here in America.  Besides her charitable work, she became a mover and shaker in politics. She was the first vice president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association,  a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She organized the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. She was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

With her accomplishments, if she were alive today, she would be more influential than all the present-day Third Wave feminists put together. She would be known internationally. And she would only be 50 years old. Her first book, Twenty Years at Hull House, was published exactly one hundred years ago this year and became a bestseller.

We still have the problems she worked so hard to combat: unemployment, lack of medical care and education for the poor, unfair and unsafe labor practices, discrimination against women, African-Americans and immigrants, and last but not least, war. But, unlike most of us, she would be doing something about them. About all of them.

Continue reading “Jane Addams: Woman For Her Time”