Yesterday was Equal Pay Day, that glorious annual ritual in which women are told they are terribly oppressed at work and earn only 77 cents to every dollar that men earn, even though that’s not even remotely true. This year, just to up the ante, prominent feminists paired questionable math with equally questionable life suggestions. Women would be wise to ignore them.
Let’s start with the enduring myth of a cavernous pay gap between the genders, which has been repeatedly and resoundingly debunked. In 2009, a U.S. Department of Labor study concluded that the supposedly nefarious wage gap “may be almost entirely the result of individual choices being made by both male and female workers,” and that it ranged from just 4.8 to seven cents. In 2012, a study from the American Association of University Women concluded the same thing, citing a 6.6-cent wage gap — and leaving open multiple non-oppression-related explanations for why that gap might exist.
But as Nirvana once sang in highly disillusioned mid-1990s tones, Oh well, whatever, never mind. On Tuesday, Ivanka Trump tweeted that “#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap!” Sheryl Sandberg, the loquacious COO of Facebook, weighed in with an op-ed in USA Today: “Today is Equal Pay Day. This means that on average, women in the United States had to work all of 2016 plus this far into 2017 to catch up to what men earned last year. In 2016, women on average were paid 80 cents for every dollar men earned.”
Here’s where things get weird: Eight paragraphs after declaring war on a supposed 20 percent wage gap, Sandberg writes the following, citing a analysis from 2016: “After controlling for education, experience, and occupational and industry differences, the Cornell study found that a gender pay gap of about 8% remains.” (Feel free to cue your own over-the-top, imaginary record scratch here.)
So, which is it? 20 percent? 8 percent? None of the above? Oh well, whatever, never mind. No one reads the sensational first paragraphs of an op-ed, anyway! They always skip right to paragraph nine. If readers skip to the end of Sandberg’s op-ed, however, they’ll find an announcement of the launch of her “#20PercentCounts campaign,” designed to “highlight the unfairness of the gender pay gap.” I guess “#SomewhereBetween4and8PercentCounts, but Maybe Not, Because This Shifting Percentage Might Not Even Have Anything to Do with Sinister Male Oppression” just didn’t have the same ring to it.
What also lacks a certain ring, at least to my ears, is a newer feminist refrain, also sung in chorus on Equal Pay Day: For true empowerment to exist, women must be literally equal to men, in everything, all the time. In a new profile in New York magazine, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, described as “a bit of a gender essentialist,” insists that Congress should ideally be split 50/50 along gender lines. Sandberg, meanwhile, feels similarly: “We know how important achieving equality is for all of us. A world where women ran half of our companies and countries and men ran half of our homes would be a better world.”
Would it really? I’m not so sure, and not just because my husband’s version of cooking dinner for the kids involves 16 variations of simple carbohydrates and vegetable sightings as rare as the North American Sasquatch. It’s because I don’t want to run a company or a country. It sounds exhausting! Nor do I want to become a highly paid senior director of engineering, no matter how many times prominent feminists tell me I should. Many women — especially those with children, or who want to have children — feel the same way.
And yet, strangely, many of today’s leading feminists seem quite fond of hectoring women into taking high-paying, high-pressure jobs whether they want to or not, promoting a weird vision of a corporate corner suite as heaven on earth. Studies have shown women’s happiness levels plummeting since the 1970s, the last time they were measured to be higher than those of men. Could it be because we’re getting a lot of really dodgy life advice?
Look, if you’re a woman, and you want to run a company or a country, good for you! Go for it. If you want to grow the ranks of females in the aforementioned senior-director-of-engineering field — according to USA Today, women hold only 9 percent of these jobs — bravo! If you want to have a flexible yet lower-paying job that allows you more family time, or if you want to stay at home with your children, that’s marvelous! In the end, I hope you find the life choice that works for you. That’s what modern feminism is all about, right?
Oh, who am I kidding? That, my friends, would make way too much sense.
— Heather Wilhelm is a National Review columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.