Monday, November 15, 2010

Why We Need the Paycheck Fairness Act

The Paycheck Fairness Act is up for vote in the Senate this Friday - November 19 - and it hasn’t quite mustered the 60 votes needed for safe passage. Urge your senators to pass the act (unless, of course, you have a better tool for getting closer to gender parity in the workplace, or just think women should be valued less).

Think this bill is imperfect? It is, but not so much that we shouldn’t pass it. And what law or bill isn’t imperfect? Many businesses are up in arms, claiming that the floodgates of frivolous lawsuits are going to open. Why would they think this? Do they believe that if women had access to the salary info of their male equals in the workplace, that the disparities - when controlling for education, experience and job performance - would undoubtedly provide valid grounds for lawsuits? Shouldn’t individual employers be held accountable in some way for the pay gap when they themselves perpetuate it?

As Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison of Newsweek point out:
Consider this survey from Catalyst, which found that female M.B.A.s who’ve made exactly the “right” life choices—no intention to have children, top-tier schools, high aspirations—still earn $4,600 less per year in their first jobs out of business school. Or U.S. Department of Education data, which separated pay by job sector to determine that whether women who go into teaching or business, social work or science—and before they’ve had the chance to cripple themselves by “life choices” (these are young, childless women we’re talking about)—they will still make roughly 20 percent less than the men they work with. “The last decade was supposed to be the ‘promised one,’ and it turns out it wasn’t,” says James Turley, the CEO of Ernst & Young, which helped fund the recent M.B.A. study.
(Catalyst’s data can be found here)

Furthermore, do you
Remember Lilly Ledbetter? After nearly two decades of employment at Goodyear, a colleague left her an anonymous note with her salary and the salaries of three of her male colleagues. She was stunned to find out that she was earning less for doing similar work. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. She won, but the justices ruled that she couldn’t get her back pay because the discrimination began 20 years ago. Ledbetter didn’t sue earlier because she didn’t know about the pay disparity; to the court, that didn’t matter. Congress has since fixed this problem—with the support of Sens. Collins and Snowe. Yet to this day, employers can retaliate against an employee who merely wants to know what her colleagues earn (and yes, that includes firing). (Heather Boushey of Slate)
Perhaps you are indifferent, and of the ‘why should I care?’ population that makes up the majority of America. And no, this law isn’t going to dramatically change anything, not overnight. It is merely the next step towards ensuring fairer compensation, which will help everyone. How many men and families are in no way affected by the paychecks of the women in their lives (or the paychecks they could command)? Girlfriends, daughters, mothers, etc.? Wouldn’t it benefit everyone if women weren’t penalized for being women when it comes to monetarily valuing the work they do?

How can you not care?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Tyranny of Marriage

via Lara Pawson |  The Guardian:
I had never considered how marriage would change my place in the world. Before we even tied the proverbial knot, I became swiftly aware of discrimination against wives. A job in journalism I was up for suddenly became unavailable: a female manager called to say that now I was married she presumed that it would be difficult for me to be a foreign correspondent.

This was shocking, but the point I wish to make here concerns the privileges accorded to the wedded heterosexual couple. When you marry, you gain a certain unspoken gravitas, as though society heaves a collective sigh of relief: "Thank God they've grown up." Several husbands and wives actually said to me, albeit with a weary smile, "Join the club". Clink clink. And I soon discovered that marriage really is a club.

Being married pulls you into a new elite. It lends you an air of stability and reliability that singles and divorcees are denied. We assume that those who are unmarried probably have something just a teeny bit wrong with them because they have never managed to persuade another to settle down into that cosy unit of coupledom. This is the smug tyranny of husbands and wives.
What is it about marriage that makes people so smug? It's as if there's a relationship status caste system: Married heteros, engaged heteros (yes, somehow the mere promise to the world that you plan to marry results in a collective sigh of relief, perhaps that you're finally, almost, beginning to take life seriously) coupled heteros, single heteros, and then everyone else.

People talk in terms of 'my husband/wife,' 'my girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other,' and this to people who know the person by name and his or her relationship to the speaker. Such behavior seems a subconscious prioritizing of the speaker's possessiveness of the person in some way over that person's individuality and ownership over their own persons. Or perhaps it's more to depersonalize the individual of whom is spoken.

Such possessive language has always felt remarkably uncomfortable falling from my own tongue. I tend to avoid it to the point of allowing acquaintances unfamiliar with my relationship status to infer on their own my relationship with whomever it is I am speaking about, or force them to ask for clarification. I don't define myself by my relationships in that way, and would rather not be judged a part of some mythical hierarchy based on my luck in the romantic relationship world.

This article briefly captures a few of the reasons I find myself ambivalent about my impending legal knot-tying: it's not that I fear committing my life publicly to the co-conspirator, but that I am uncomfortable with all the assumptions and judgments society will next pass on me based solely on the "married" box having an X inside. A married woman is presumed to have certain priorities that have nothing to do with who she is outside of being married and regardless of being a woman. I will become, first and foremost, a married woman, a Mrs. (actually, I will continue to shun that salutation), and presumed to be interested in supporting my husband's wants and needs before my own. Let's face it, even in 2010 wives' wants and desires are presumed to be greatly superseded by those of their husbands. I will also be assumed to want to get right down to baby-making and family-raising, that those will be my only priorities, all the rest life has to offer be damned. After all, whatever else would be the point of becoming a smug-married?

Despite the ambivalence, why would I exercise a privilege denied to millions of people based on purely discriminatory reasons? I assume it will make things easier for us to navigate having children and owning things, as well as protect our rights and means should something happen to either of us, if we were a unified legal entity, but besides custody of our own children and ability to get onto each others' insurance plans, and, of course, making break-ups much more costly, why is marriage necessary?

I propose a new kind of personal union, one that retains the positive connotations of the term 'marriage,' as well as the legal, public commitment, but that sheds the negative baggage the term drags with it. Though, what to call it...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Born to Run

Having been laid up for a month with tendinitis caused me to shelf the book for a while because all you want to do while reading this is go out and run. I am very thankful for the minimalist shoe/barefoot running movement, since the lighter, thinner soled and more flexible shoes allow me to run much more comfortably than when I tried a decade ago with the bulkier shoes that were your only option then. Ironically, the most barefoot of the runners turned out to have the sorest feet at the end of the Tarahumara ultra, or so it was implied. I don't know if I'll ever be crazy enough to train to run an ultra, but it'd be great to get up to at least half-marathon status.

One thing that struck me about running - and this is focused on several times in the book - is how much calmer and happier I feel when I run regularly. I have been terrible at finding time and space to meditate since returning to the Midwest, and running seems to fill that void in some way. Once I finish the couch to 5K and 10K programs, perhaps I can run while listening to guided meditations. Not how you're technically supposed to meditate, but hey, it's better than not at all, right?
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