The Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass the Senate last week. Had it passed, it would have limited the defense that employers could use to respond to charges of wage discrimination based on sex. The failure to pass this legislation was a blow to women's rights; specifically, a woman's right to equal pay for equal work. The defeat can also be viewed as a Republican move to assure that the Letdbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law under President Obama, doesn't have the bite it should. Women's rights advocates applauded President Obama when he signed the Ledbetter law in January, 2009. At that time he stated, "It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness." He added that he wanted his daughters "to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams."
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with President Obama that women are entitled to equal rights. Some say they agree, but in their hearts they harbor a secret fear that women's equality poses a serious existential threat. Although women now hold more positions of power than ever before, and are more prominently represented in every field of endeavor than in any previous time in our history, we are still up against a deeply held belief that has been around for generations: women and men are not equal and should not be treated equally.
For those men who hold to this belief, women's equality has had a negative impact on their self-image. When women achieve as much or more as they do, they feel a sense of inadequacy and resentment. Without the automatic superior status afforded them by traditional values, their sense of pride and self-worth are diminished. If a woman can do the same kind of work that a man does and get paid the same for it, where does that leave the man who believes that men ought to be superior to women-that male superiority is in the natural order of things?
While it may be politically incorrect to admit it, there are still men who secretly wish this whole women's rights thing had never gained momentum. Now that women in the workplace, in the boardroom, and in Congress are here to stay, and with the likelihood of a woman in the Oval Office not far off, it is not surprising that we are experiencing a backlash. Snide comments about competent, powerful women like Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan-and efforts to turn back the clock, such as the recent vote to take the teeth out of equal pay legislation, are evidence that women's equality is still a threat to some.
But we have come too far in our quest for women's empowerment to turn back now. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis expresses our belief that women's equality is an ongoing struggle well worth fighting for: "As a nation, we must continue to pursue pay equity with passion and determination. We owe it to women in America-those of years past, who worked so hard to build our country; those who carry that task on today; and, certainly, those who will shape our future in the workplace of tomorrow."
- Dr. Ana Nogales