Women’s Equality: Truth or Illusion?

by Amanda Ward

Beginning in the mid-19th century, women began to organize and fight for their rights to be seen as equal to men.[1] When Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, giving American women the right to vote, it was seen as a milestone win in women’s rights.[2] Women have continued to fight for their rights; they no longer stand by passively accepting wage rates lower than their male coworkers, and they fight for legislation for equal pay.[3] Women today are still currently facing pay disparities. In September of this year, and for the third time since 2012, [4] the U.S. Senate rejected the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aimed to narrow the gap of female and male pay disparities.[5] The Paycheck Fairness Act would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, giving new remedies for the enforcement of sex discrimination.[6] It would also hold violating employers responsible, through compensatory or punitive damages.[7] However, the answer to the issue of equal pay may not be resolved through legislation, but rather through education.

A 1993 New York Times article suggests that the real way to close this disparity is through education.[8] Economically, this would make sense because if companies were simply paying women less based on sex discrimination, then women should make up a greater percentage of the workforce, as companies would take advantage of paying a lower wage to an equal worker. When looking at current labor force statistics, we see that women make up 47% of the labor force.[9] In fact, when Australia raised women’s wages from 65% to 95% of male wages, it slowed the growth of women’s employment by one third and increased unemployment.[10] However, equality does not only rest with just equal pay, but it also demands involvement in the decision making process of a company. Not only do women want equal pay, but they also want to be involved in the decision making process of a company. [11]

Women hold only 5% of the CEO positions listed on the 2014 Fortune 1000.[12] Out of 500 companies, only twenty-five had female CEOs.[13] This indicates that corporate culture does not view women as equals, when compared to their male coworkers. On September 8, 2014, the National Football League suspended player Ray Rice for an incident involving domestic violence where Rice punched his then fiancée in the face, knocking her out.[14] However, Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted, when asked by a reporter, that no women were involved in the decision to suspend Rice.[15] When an important issue concerning women is put in the public forum, there should be a voice speaking on behalf of women in the decision making process. So the question arises, are women still gaining the equality they are fighting for?

[1] Teaching With Documents: Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment, National Archives, National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/woman-suffrage/ (last visited Oct. 3, 2014).

[2] 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote (1920), OurDocuments.com, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=63.

[3] Burgess Everett, Senate Blocks Pay Equity Bill, Politico (Sept. 15, 2014, 6:04 PM) http://www.politico.com/story/2014/09/senate-pay-equity-bill-110980.html.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Paycheck Fairness Act, S. 84, 113th Cong. (2013). available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/84.

[7] Id.

[8] Sylvia Nasar, Womens Progess Stalled? Just Not So. The New York Times (Oct. 18, 1992), http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/18/business/women-s-progress-stalled-just-not-so.html

[9] Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, BLS (2014), available at http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-databook-2013.pdf

[10] Patrick Luciani, Economic Myths 9-13 (Pearson Addison Wesley, 4th ed. 2004).

[11] Ken Belson, N.F.L. Examines Its Record on Hiring of Women in Wake of Ray Rice Case, The New York Times (Sept. 25, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/sports/football/nfl-examines-its-record-on-hiring-of-women-in-wake-of-ray-rice-case.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%222%22%3A%22RI%3A12%22%7D.

[12] Catalyst, http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-fortune-1000 (last visited Oct. 3, 2014).

[13] Id.

[14] Jill Martin & Steve Almasy, Ray Rice Terminated by Team, Suspended by NFL After New Violent Video, CNN (Sept. 16, 2014, 8:45AM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/08/us/ray-rice-new-video/.

[15] Belson, supra note 11.

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