“Life’s greatest happiness,” Victor Hugo wrote, “is to be convinced we are loved.” As most experienced couples know, love-induced happiness is a year-round triumph, not the outcome of a singular, mass-marketed Valentine’s celebration — the one Jay Leno calls “Extortion Day.”
But men ignore this expectation-filled Hallmark holiday at their peril, which is why it’s become a $16 billion industry. More than heart-shaped bling, women savor attention — a lesson noted by politicians.
Just as women beware of transient Romeos, they must Think Again about politicians who whisper sweet nothings into their ears, over-promising before an election and under-delivering after winning their commitment.
A frequent refrain of President Barack Obama — asserted as earnestly as “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” — is the claim repeated in his State of the Union address that women “make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” Promising to close the “embarrassing” gap he declared, “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
While discrimination can’t be ruled out, should it be the default explanation? Are whites the victims of discrimination because they earn less than Asians? If women do the same work for less, why would anyone hire a man?
Playing honest broker and mindful of research studies, feminist Hanna Rosin wrote in Slate magazine, “I’ve heard the line enough times that I feel the need to set the record straight: It’s not true.”
Though the rhetoric is as empty as the calories in a box of Valentine’s chocolates, it sells, 51 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit gender-based wage discrimination.
Equally delicious are Orwellian-named laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase the risk of costly litigation for employers, discouraging the hiring of women whom the law purports to protect. That’s because “employers could not use fewer hours, less education and lower performance to evaluate salary differences,” explained Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the Labor Department.
Nevertheless, opposing labor-market-imperiling legislation — sops to the trial-lawyer lobby that kept tort reform out of Obamacare — is worse than overlooking Valentine’s Day. It’s a “War on Women.”
Yet asserting that women make less than men for the same labor without considering hours worked, education, industry, job tenure, and marital and parental status is like saying women are cheated out of food because men consume more.
That men and women possess different minds and bodies, have distinct interests and life goals and make unique choices largely explains gender gaps, though many feminists resist these truths. Incredibly, sex differences also are overlooked in medical research and treatment, a dangerous oversight attributed to feminism in a recent “60 Minutes” report.
Women make less than men, Rosin posits, because they “don’t want to work the same way men do” — a theory confirmed by a 2007 Pew survey in which 79 percent of working mothers preferred part-time or no work, compared with only 12 percent of fathers. They’re also happier working part time, according to an American Psychological Association study.
Additionally, women consciously choose the least lucrative college majors and enter less demanding and lower-paying occupations, even in medicine, where men predominate in higher-paid specialties requiring more training and hours.
Economic studies that consider these differences report a full-time wage gap as small as 5 percent. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that women earn 10 percent more than men for part-time employment involving five to 39 hours.
“The point here,” Rosin argues, “is not that there is no wage inequality. But by focusing our outrage into a tidy, misleading statistic we’ve missed the actual challenges.”
Those challenges include the feminization of poverty triggered by an explosion of single-motherhood (42 percent overall and 73 percent among blacks) and a declining standard of living caused by falling wages, less work and skyrocketing health care, food and utility costs.
Nearly five years into an economic recovery the Associated Press labeled the feeblest since the Great Depression, we have 4 million fewer jobs than in 2008 — despite working-age population growth of 14 million — crisis levels of government dependency and severe underemployment. Though women have regained more jobs than men, Census data show a record 17 million women live in poverty compared with 12.6 million men.
There are programs that could help women rise out of the safety net onto the ladder of opportunity — if targeted with Cupid-like precision — though intact families are the best remedy. Ultimately, the ideal bed of roses is a robust economy, higher-paying jobs and the disposable-income boost that comes from lower prices — all of which are undermined by current policies.
Most importantly, women mustn’t allow suitors to romance them with bouquets of sweeping government programs that wilt at the challenge but never die.
Think Again: Aren’t pandering politicians who mislead in pursuit of one-night stands on Election Day the ones waging the War on Women?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.