Church-State Collusion: An Attorney’s Account of the Loss of Women’s Rights in Jalisco, Mexico

Angela García Reyes

In 2008 the Mexican Supreme Court upheld the law permitting voluntary abortion up to twelve weeks in Mexico City.  A backlash began immediately and 17 Mexican states have now reformed their state constitutions to define life as beginning at conception.  The following testimonial was written by a pro-choice attorney who was in the legislative chamber on the day that the constitutional reform was passed in the conservative state of Jalisco.

Translator’s note:  This article was translated by Lynn M. Morgan, Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College.  She writes: “In 2008 the Mexican Supreme Court upheld the law permitting voluntary abortion up to twelve weeks in Mexico City.  A backlash began immediately and 17 Mexican states have now reformed their state constitutions to define life as beginning at conception.  The following testimonial was written by a pro-choice attorney who was in the legislative chamber on the day that the constitutional reform was passed in the conservative state of Jalisco.  This article is adapted from the original published in La Ventana: Revista de Estudios de Género 29(11):298-303.”

“It’s going to be a difficult day because at 11:00 this morning the legislators plan to approve the reform that will completely criminalize abortion and we will try to prevent it.  So it’s better if I send you the homework now.”

So I wrote innocently to my professor on Thursday, March 26, 2009, very early in the morning, to excuse myself in case I couldn’t make it to class because it would be a difficult day for me and a historic day for all the women of Jalisco.  And it was.  A few hours later I was in the session chamber of the state congress, in which, in theory, all native-born or adopted Jalisco citizens have the right to enter.  That day, however, not all of us had the same rights, because not all of us were invited by the Cardinal of Guadalajara, who is one of Jalisco’s political bosses.

On a previous attempt to approve the reform (February 26, 2009), the legislative chamber had been packed with people convened by the Catholic Church and pro-life groups, while those in favor of abortion rights were not permitted to enter.  For that reason, knowing that they were planning another attempt to pass the reform that day, we pro-choice women decided to camouflage ourselves.  We would go dressed in white, just like the pro-life groups, and we would arrive before 9 am because we were advised that it would be easy to enter at that hour.  Afterwards, the doors would be closed and entry denied to anyone not identified with a particular parish or religious group.  In fact most of the pro-choice women were not allowed to enter because someone (we don’t know who) had issued an order to keep them out, because they didn’t want anyone to oppose passage of the reform.  They did not want even one single dissenting voice raised, because if opponents were allowed inside there would be a lot of noise and the discussion would probably have to be postponed.

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That day, therefore, two of us arrived early.  The rest arrived a few minutes later, and almost all of us before 9:30.  At 8:50, two solitary women passed through the doors of Congress at the Independencia Street entrance with no problem.  We went through the courtyard and into the session chamber.  Various other people, mostly men and a smattering of women, boys, and girls, were already inside the Congress; their defining characteristic was that most of them were dressed in white.

Once inside, we sat down to await the session, which was scheduled to begin at 11:00.  There were nuns and women from religious orders, and we recognized Sister Bertha, who had previously been questioned for violating the human rights of orphans and people with AIDS.  There were also priests openly inviting us to join them in prayer, which people did; what’s more, there in the legislative chamber they were passing out rosaries, religious placards, and Bibles.

Once the session started, those dressed in white began chanting slogans like, “If you want my vote, vote for life,” “If Morelos could, Jalisco can too,” and “Brothers we pray that God shines on our legislators so they will vote for life.”  All this was directed toward the legislators in hopes they would vote in favor of the reform.  Some of the legislators seemed sympathetic to those who shouted slogans in favor of the reform, just as it was about to be raised for discussion.

When they approved the day’s schedule, they scheduled as item 7.2 the measure that interested us as well as the majority of those who had come to the chamber dressed in white.  Once it was announced that measure would be opened to legislative debate, we sat in the mezzanine of the legislative chamber, both of us leaning against the wooden railing.

Behind us, other women held signs showing a fetus with the caption, “Yes you will live,” the same pictures that had been distributed by people dressed in white, who we identified as the leaders.    On the other side of the same sign, I wrote, “Yes to life for women” and my companion wrote on hers: “Legislators murder women.” 

All of this we did without insulting anyone or shouting a thing, but simply by exercising our constitutional right to dissent.  Nevertheless, the people dressed in white began to ask that we be removed from the chamber, including a person later identified by the newpaper, La Jornada Jalisco (Guadalajara, March 28, 2009), as a member of [the paramilitary Catholic group] El Yunque, who started trying to push me out of the room.  A white-haired elderly woman had been trying aggressively to grab my signs because I was not with her “group.” Saying my signs were their property so I did not have the right to carry them, she told me to leave the chamber because I was “in favor of death.”   Some young men, who we identified as agitators of the group because they led the chants, prayers, and uproar, became aware of our presence and began to intimidate us, following us and taking pictures of us and anyone who approached us, including journalists and a few aides sympathetic to our position.  The aggression was such that when an aide dared to call for respect, they cursed her mother and she left in tears.

When we went downstairs to be in the front of the room with our signs opposing the reform, the legislators were thrown for a loop, because their careful planning had not anticipated any interruptions.   Chaos broke out in the room.  The legislators didn’t know what to do with two sign-bearing women, with the press taking pictures of us, or with the public expressly brought in to oppose us.  The only thing they could think of was to declare a 15-minute recess, which turned into two hours. 

Meanwhile, a group of young men – tall, robust, white, some with tattoos on their arms and all with military-style haircuts – surrounded me trying to cover up my sign with their bodies so that the press would not be able to take pictures of what was written there.  They pushed me physically up against the wooden railing, hissing insults into my ear:  “baby killing whore,” “fuck your mother,” etc.  We were in there for eight hours.

All of this happened inside the legislative chamber under the complacent gaze of the legislators.  At no point did the Speaker, Samuel Romero Valle, try even to quiet them let alone safeguard the integrity of two women whose friends could never imagine constituted a physical threat.  Maybe we represented the signs we carried, which said that we didn’t want the reform approved because it would violate the rights of women.

When the legislators began to take the floor to defend their votes in favor of the reform, there were speeches such as that of José Luis Íñiguez Gámez, who said in referring to the fetus, “A human being is a person with a material body and spiritual soul, possessed of intelligence and free will, with responsibility for its own actions and with inviolable, inalienable universal rights that incur a corresponding obligation on the part of individual and social human nature.”

Or that of Juan Carlos Márquez, who said that, “some people dressed in black might say, with music and banners opposing life, that they speak in defense of their bodies and can do with their bodies whatever they wish.  Nevertheless, although they may defend their own bodies, they cannot attack the body of another.”

Or that of Felipe de Jesús Pulido, who considers as “worthy” only women who are mothers: 

“We are saying ‘yes’ to the right to life, the inalienable right of human beings.  Recognizing the right to life is inconsistent with the right to death.  [He quoted] ‘Mother Teresa of Calcutta, defender of life, the family, and the moral, as well as the dignity of women to become mothers.’” 

Obviously, all other women are worth nothing.

The debate lasted six hours.  [The reform passed with 28 votes in favor, 2 abstentions, and 10 legislators absent.]  Women’s sexual and reproductive rights, their rights to health, non-violence, non-discrimination and to their own lives, do not exist according to Jalisco’s legislators, only the fetus and nothing more.

And the lives of women?  Again and again, respectfully and calmly but firmly, we said, “We have the right to be heard,” “We have the right to be consulted as well,” “The lives of women should not be put to a vote.”  We requested that our companions, who were outside on the street having been refused passage, be permitted to enter but that was not done.  The president of the executive committee and the legislators allowed the secular state to be made vulnerable inside the public arena throughout the session, including ordering us to be quiet because our protests were breaking congressional rules.  They did not acknowledge that they were violating international accords and treaties that our country had signed to protect women’s rights.

According to the Speaker, Samuel Romero Valle, we were violating state law.  In fact the legislators were violating the treaties and accords that protect our rights while they, together with the people in white, were violating the separation of church and state.  Because we two women presented a threat, he ordered security officers to remove us from the premises.

March 26, 2009 was a day when the rights of Jalisco’s women were set back several years.  While it is true that Article 229 of the Penal Code regulating the clauses for which abortion is permissible without criminal penalty remains intact, by modifying the State Constitution, at any moment they can abolish any or any and all secondary laws that contradict it.

It is also true that there were never any legal mechanisms that enforced the right to interrupt a pregnancy for approved reasons [including rape].  But now that the reform is approved, an embryo will have more rights than women.  This “right” will be constitutionally protected while the permissible reasons for terminating a pregnancy will become secondary. 

The only thing missing at this point would be if a small group that says it represents us in the state congress and that has the obligation to defend our rights would decide that it has boundless, unlimited rights over the bodies of the women of Jalisco.

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.