Acton Commentary

War on Women: Hypocrisy and Paternalism under the Guise of Equality


With more than a dozen smiling women looking over his shoulder in the East Room of the White House, President Obama signed a proclamation in support of National Equal Pay Day on April 8. The president said he was working to prevent workplace discrimination and helping workers take control over negotiations regarding their pay.

“My Administration remains devoted to improving our equal pay laws and closing the pay gap between women and men,” Obama said in the proclamation. “From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to establishing the Equal Pay Task Force, I have strengthened pay discrimination protections and cracked down on violations of equal pay laws. “

Some were quick to point out that the Obama administration doesn’t follow its own standard. According to the American Enterprise Institute, female White House staffers earn 22 cents less than their male counterparts. That is called “hypocrisy.”

The equal pay issue is rife with myths. The White House and the media are fond of quoting the “fact” that women make 23 cents less an hour than men. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the gap is only 19 cents. For hourly wage earners, the gap narrows to 14 cents. By the time you start comparing salaries between college-educated workers, there is virtually no pay disparity at all.

What’s the deal? Do we women really earn less than men for doing the same work? If so, how much less? Or is this simply a government gimmick to pass more laws, specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act?

There are nuances to the equal pay illusion that escape both the White House and the press. Let’s take a fictional couple, Kay and Ken. They meet in college, both studying education, with the plan to become high school teachers. They marry and begin their careers. Three years into their marriage, they have a daughter. They decide that Kay will stay home with little Kayleigh until she is old enough to begin kindergarten. (I realize this is all horribly traditional and quaint and thus will offend many people, but stay with me; I’m making a point.)

Ken continues teaching, and obtains his Master’s. When Kay begins teaching again, should she be paid the exact same wage as her husband, despite the fact that she’s been out of the job market for five years, and doesn’t have an advanced degree? Of course not.

Let’s say Kay goes on to earn her Master’s as well. However, she is also the one to leave school at the end of the day to pick up Kayleigh, while Ken remains behind to coach the chess club and the mathletes. Should his pay reflect his extra duties? Of course.

American presidents have been playing the equal pay game for more than 50 years. In 1963, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act which would, he said, prohibit “arbitrary discrimination against women in the payment of wages.” Fast forward to 2009, when President Obama signed his first piece of legislation -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It is already the law that people – male, female, white, Hispanic, etc. – must receive the same pay for the same work. What’s the point of a presidential proclamation and further legislation?

Katie Packer Gage is a partner at Burning Glass Consulting, a GOP consulting firm. She contends that we don’t need new legislation for every workplace disparity, especially when it comes to pay. We have plenty of laws on the books now. “Equal pay” is a convenient rallying cry that helps to disguise the fact that almost 8 million women remain unemployed (and that unemployment has worsened under the Obama administration.) Those women aren’t worried about equal pay; they are worried about paying rent and putting food on the table. They want a job.

Of course, the White House has an answer for that as well, and it isn’t job creation. It’s more laws, programs, handouts and paternalism. On the one hand, the government wants everyone to know how equal women are. On the other, the government wants to swaddle women in bureaucratic programs from birth until death: subsidized day-care, Head Start, SNAP, free birth control, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. In the most recent Shriver Report, Maria Shriver said this:

Millions of them [women] are providers without partners, finding themselves invisible to a government that doesn’t have policies and practices that can help support and strengthen them in their multiple roles.

Just so we’re clear: Women are incredible. Strong. Smart. Independent. Capable of great things. Master jugglers of many roles. Equal to any man.

And we’re able to do all this because the government is there, “supporting and strengthening” us?

Women stand on equal ground with men, regardless of what job either is doing; equality is not granted by the government. Within the framework of a Judeo-Christian understanding, equality has nothing to do with paychecks, and everything to do with being made in God’s image and likeness, and that goes for either gender. A woman’s strength lies not in her job title, her paycheck, whether she is “leaning in” or staying at home. Blessed John Paul II:

The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity - and this in a particular way determines their vocation.

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her", always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation.

Here’s the real War on Women: a systematic vision of women as victims of oppression, where the only shot of success is a paternalistic government creating programs, laws and oversights to make sure females are never, ever treated unfairly. Equality is thus granted by human law, not by natural law.

That’s not equality. It’s paternalism and hypocrisy. Strong, smart, independent women see right through it.