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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Ramesh: Co-Opting Women's Rights

With the election just a few weeks away, internet political advertisements are out in full swing. It seems impossible to watch television or even enjoy music on YouTube without hearing a message about America's future from either presidential candidate. In particular, an advertisement that revolves around women's rights has been played quite often, claiming that President Barack Obama stands for women's rights. Naturally, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is the shining example of his claim.

Specifically, the advertisement cites a Congressional Budget Office study claiming that, on average, women made 77 cents for every dollar that men made. Many took this fact as definitive proof that employers do not offer equal pay. Let me be absolutely clear: There is no doubt that discrimination exists in the workplace against women, but rich, white males scheming against offering women equal pay is not how that discrimination plays out. The CBO report indicates that women work fewer hours, and many who were working full time often delay advancements in their careers in order to spend time with their newborn children. Certainly, the fact that women are expected to derail their careers for family is a form of discrimination, but not in the way that the president's campaign would like us to believe. It is dramatically different than the notion of wealthy male CEOs purposefully giving women a smaller hourly wage.

Furthermore, men are more likely to work in fields that have higher pay. For example, many hard sciences are overwhelmingly male dominated. Much evidence exists that people view women in science as weaker than their male counterparts. However, men and women carry out this bias equally. Headed by professor Jo Handelsman, a Yale University study posted numerous false undergraduate resumes to research laboratories and other professors with open positions for mentorship programs. The "Jennifer[s]" received an average starting salary of $26,508 while the "John[s]" were offered $30,328. More importantly, the "bias had no relation to the professors' age, sex, teaching field or tenure status. There's not even a hint of a difference there,' said Corinne Moss-Racusin, a postdoctoral social psychology researcher who was the lead author of the paper."

Obviously, women should have equal pay, and the Ledbetter Act is a good idea, but Lilly Ledbetter's experience is an exception rather than the norm. Overwhelmingly, women in corporations are offered the same hourly rate as men in the same industry and company. The underlying problems manifest in much more complicated ways than this scenario, and are usually beyond the government's control. Encouraging more women to take up the hard sciences and encouraging a more equal burden in household work and child rearing will require broad based social changes, something that a simple bill can never hope to accomplish. If the Obama campaign had stopped here, all would be well. However, more recently, the claims have gone beyond this misleading online video.

As National Public Radio notes, "the Obama campaign is tugging firmly on the cord connected to the human guilt response." One advertisement in particular goes too far. In a ludicrous exaggeration, it asks, "What are you going to tell them? You were just too busy? You didn't think it mattered? ... Are you going to tell them they can't make decisions about their own bodies anymore because you didn't think your vote counted?" The implication is that Obama is the last bastion of freedom against a mounting assault on women, and that all who do not vote for the savior of feminism are patriarchal "women haters." As a Democrat, it makes me sick to see such indiscretion. Mitt Romney does not hate women. Obama cannot single-handedly solve most of the issues that plague women. Believing otherwise is accrediting the president with far too much power.

In a recent column, Becca Rothfeld lamented the declining popularity of feminism ("Mischaracterizing Feminism," Oct. 8). She hypothesized that the feminist movement has been fundamentally mischaracterized as "anti-male," when in fact the true goal is equality for all. Let me offer another hypothesis for this phenomenon: Needlessly provocative and offensive advertisements that are interpreted as speaking for the feminist movement as a whole turn away potential allies and prevent the success of the movement. Although Obama does not speak for the entire feminist movement, the incidental associations ushered in due to political campaigns may paint such a picture.