Get Real! …And Then My Mom Walked In On Us

Heather Corinna

Sex is a big part of our adult lives, but people with maturity can keep it in perspective: having sex shouldn't be more important than the integrity of our closest relationships.

emma asks:

I’m 17, and
recently me and my boyfriend decided to have sex for the first time. My
mum was out, but she came back early and we didn’t hear her! She ended
up walking in on us just before we were going to have sex. She went mad
and started screaming at me, and it was a really bad situation. She
really doesn’t want me to have sex until I’m married. But I feel ready
now, I don’t want to wait! How can I make her see this? And also she’s
never going to trust me and him alone together now, how can I get
around that?

Heather replies:

I’m
so sorry that was your almost-first-time sexual experience. If it’s any
consolation, you’re hardly alone: a whole lot of people have had this
kind of experience with sex and a parent.

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Ultimately, I’d say your biggest issue right now is earning your
mother’s trust back, not finding a way to have sex. Seriously, sex can
always hang on a bit, it’s not going anywhere, and in this situation,
any sex you have will likely wind up being something you have to be
sneaky about and thus rush, so it’s probably not going to be that great
right now, regardless. Suffice it to say, if you do have sex and have a
negative consequence like an unplanned pregnancy, with how your mother
is already feeling, you’d be looking at a living hell. That’s good for
nobody.

Huge rifts in the big relationships in our lives tend to require
immediate care: it’s not sound to put them on hold or consider them
minor matters. If you were dishonest with her or sneaking around, you
did break a trust, and that one is on you. To boot, if sex in your
house is against the rules and you knew that, it’s also on you that you
chose to break that rule. When a rule isn’t fair, the way to deal with
that is to work around negotiating that over time, rather than just
breaking it, especially if you want to avoid this kind of result.

By all means, you’ve a right to your own opinion, values and choices
around sex and when it’s appropriate for you to have sex, and she’s a
right to hers. However, when you’re a minor, and living in her care and
on her dime, she also has a right to set various rules for the
household she manages, jointly with another parent or on her own as a
single parent. So, while you’re living in her house, her rules do…
well, rule.

One thing to understand about people who are older is that while,
for young people, time often seems to drag on and on and pass very
slowly, the older you get, the more that speeds up, sometimes to a
truly dizzying pace. So, for a whole lot of parents, the time it took
for you to get from, say, the age of seven to the age of seventeen,
passed really fast, to the degree that many parents feel really
unprepared to have a teenager. So, teens being sexually active, no
matter the situation, can feel very hasty or sudden, on top of many
parents valid concerns about some of the possible negative consequences
of sex, or clashes in values around sex.

As well, even though we all know — and people’s parents know this,
too — that many of the adults telling teens to save sex for marriage
did not do that themselves, that often comes out of the belief that if
they had done so, their lives or sex lives would have been better. That
may or may not be true, but I think you can understand how it might
seem like it, especially given how pervasive that belief is. I think
it’s also important to recognize that for parents who feel that way, it
often does come from a good place, a place of them wanting to try and
protect you from harm or from having sex mess up your life, even if it
is possible to have sex outside of marriage or before a given age
without those negative consequences, too.

Please know that I don’t think screaming at you is healthy behavior
or marvelous parenting on her part. Obviously, this was handled poorly
by everyone all around: you both made some mistakes here, not just you.
And yes, she’s the adult, so a bit more of this is on her, but at the
same time, since this is about you wanting to engage in adult
activities, you’re going to need to approach this with the
understanding that you both need to come to the table as adults. If you
want to talk to someone about starting your adult sexual life, you have
to bring your maturity to the conversation.

I know that right now you’re probably not feeling particularly
sympathetic towards your mother, which is understandable if that’s so.
But for you two to try and work this out, you’re both going to need to
make an effort to understand where the other is coming from, and if you
can take the first step towards doing that, it helps open up the door
so that she can make the same kinds of steps herself. And if you can
try your best not to be reactive (in other words, she says sex needs to
be saved for marriage, and you immediately snap back that it doesn’t),
it’s going to help her to avoid being reactive, too. Sex and values are
such personal things, so it can be hard not to take them personally,
but I’d do the best you can. Your mother’s values and desires for you
are more a reflection of who she is than of who you are.

I’d start by asking if you two can just sit down and really talk,
very honestly and openly. Suggesting you two set a ground rule that
even if either of you get upset, no one is going to scream or yell at
the other would be great. Screaming and yelling doesn’t foster good
communication.

Opening that conversation by saying you want to understand her, and
listen to how she is feeling and what she is thinking is a good move.
Let her have her say on this, and let her feel heard. Try not to be
reactive when she is talking and just listen: you both might find basic compassionate listening tips
are a big help to keep in mind during these kinds of conversations. You
can then ask her to let you have your turn and express your own
thoughts and feelings. You have different beliefs than she does, which
is fine, but be sure to express them in a way that’s about your
feelings and beliefs, rather than ragging on hers, or saying she’s
wrong in what she thinks and feels. Express how you two are feeling as
different, not as one way being right and the other wrong.

I’d also make a point of apologizing for breaking her trust. For
sure, if she hasn’t created an environment where you can be honest and
disclose what you’re doing without fear, that’s her error as a parent,
but she likely doesn’t need you to point that out: she either knows
that already or will figure it out in time. And when it comes to issues
around sex, she’s also hardly alone in that: that’s a trouble spot for
many, many parents.

Don’t focus on how you just can’t wait another single minute for sex
and need to be having it NOW. What that will do is make clear to your
mother that you may NOT be ready. For sure, sex can be important and is
no small part of our adult lives, but it’s also something people with
maturity can keep in perspective: having sex shouldn’t be more
important than the integrity of our closest relationships. What we also
usually learn is that if we compromise that integrity for sex, it’s
rarely a worthwhile exchange, especially in the long run. Do focus on
repairing your trust, talking about why you felt ready (including how
you ARE ready, like how you are prepared with reliable birth control,
safer sex, negotiation skills, a healthy relationship, etc.) and why
you feel like sex before marriage fits your values, and on how
you and your mother can find some kind of middle ground that you both
feel like you can live with. You might also offer to have another
discussion like this that also includes your boyfriend: after all, he’s
likely breached her trust, too, and to really work this out, they may
also need to resolve some things.

What are your options right now in terms of sex? I’d suggest just
communicating with your boyfriend that for right now — as in today,
this week, maybe this month or more — you need to deal with this with
your mother, and while you want to be sexual with him, this isn’t the
time for it. You’re going to be pretty stressed about this whole deal
for a while, and again, that’s not a headspace that tends to result in
very good sex or sex that’s that worth having, especially if you’re
risking more upset in your living situation. You need to at least get
the situation with your mother cleared up some before you do
anything else, at least to the point where you can be above board with
her about being sexually active. It also seems unlikely that having sex
in your house is something she is going to agree to, especially anytime
soon, so I’d say sex there until you have an agreement about it is
something you should consider absolutely off the table. Breaking trust again would be a bad move, if you ask me.

In our sex readiness checklist here at the site, I include, as a
part of readiness, being in an environment supportive of your sexual
activity. I mention that not because people who are ready for sex can’t
also be in unsupportive environments (obviously, that happens
sometimes), but because our environment does tend to be a factor when
it comes to if sex is going to offer us more good stuff than bad stuff.
On top of the fact that stress and panic can tend to make for crummy
sex, as a minor, not having parental support — and more still, strong
parental disapproval — can mean that you have a tougher time getting
things you need, like reliable birth control and sexual healthcare, to
mitigate some of the risks of sex. If you’re having to keep sex a big
secret, that also can mean you may not have good emotional support for
times when you need it, which we sometimes can when it comes to sex.

That’s not the only factor in deciding if sex is or isn’t right for
you at a given time, but I do think it’s one worth putting real stock
in. You’re at an age where you have the ability to live on your own in
the very near future, so if you and your mother can’t reach any kind of
agreement on this, your wait to when you can live under your own rules
might be a very short one that’s very much worth your while, and could
result in a sex life that’s a lot more positive and beneficial for you.

I want to finish this by letting you know that when you’re on the
cusp of adulthood as you are, it’s so, so common for all kinds of
conflicts between mothers and daughters to amplify and be pretty highly
charged. That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless, at all, for the two of you to
come to some kind of understanding and to work through this. It just
may not be easy, or something that happens with just one talk, and
there might be times things get a bit better, and times when it gets
tougher again. But sometimes, too, in any kind of relationship, if both
people are really invested in working things through, a big conflict
can be a real gift, allowing each an opportunity to understand the
other better and get to a new level of the relationship and even a new
level of understanding about themselves. And even if you two can’t work
this out, or she doesn’t try as hard as you do to work through this
with compassion and patience, I think you stand to benefit by doing
your part, okay?

I’m going to leave you with some links I think will be of help to
you in having these conversations with your mother as well as with your
own sexual decision-making and in communicating about these
issues with your boyfriend so that you can have his support and
understanding as you work all of this out. I wish you the very best
with all of this, and hope all of you can come through this and arrive
at a much better place.


Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.