Commentary Media

Dear Mr. Beck: We Are All Hookers

Jodi Jacobson

Dear Mr. Beck: I understand it is your contention that "only hookers go to Planned Parenthood." There must be a lot of hookers out here.  I am one of them.

Dear Mr. Beck,

I understand it is your contention that “only hookers go to Planned Parenthood.”

There must be a lot of hookers out here. 

I am one of them.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

When I was in college, I went to a Planned Parenthood for a pelvic exam, and for my first contraceptive method.  I didn’t know then I was a hooker since I was in a serious relationship and it didn’t involve an exchange of money for sex, but I guess I must have been.  Young adults ages 18 to 24 years old make up more than 50 percent of the clientele of some Planned Parenthood clinics, such as those run by Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.  You may be surprised to know that even the members and leadership of College Republicans at Pitt’s college use the services provided and felt that cutting funding for Planned Parenthood was and is “counterintuitive.”  But I guess by your definition, all of the hundreds of thousands of college students who receive affordable gynecological and reproductive health care, contraceptive supplies and expert medical advice every year at Planned Parenthood clinics are hookers.  Including those young Republicans.

Those college students, and millions of other men and women get access to affordable contraception every year through Planned Parenthood, without which there would be countless numbers of additional unintended pregnancies and abortions. I guess denying them those services by ridiculing both the providers and the clients would give you more to laugh about when talking on air about people’s very real need to manage their reproductive lives.  But then, they don’t deserve your respect, do they….because they are all “hookers.”

My aunt, who worked for years as a waitress to support three children after becoming a  widow at a young age, sought gynecological and related health services at a Planned Parenthood clinic.  I didn’t realize she was a hooker either.  If she were, she’d probably have made a lot more money than waiting tables for people, kinda like you, who thought they were better than struggling waitresses.  She never had the chance to make (a reported) $25 million per year using broadcast media acting like an undisciplined child, spreading lies and innuendo, and making fun of people who struggle for a living.  Then again, she had too much integrity to do the kinds of things you do.

In 2007, Planned Parenthood clinics provided 30,000 clients with the HPV vaccines proven effective against a virus known to cause cervical cancer.  Those clients probably didn’t know they were hookers, but I am pretty sure they are glad they are, so they could be protected from developing cervical cancer.  More than 12,000 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007 according to the Centers for Disease Control, and more than 4,000 of them died, leaving behind loving husbands, same-sex partners, their own mothers and fathers, children, nieces, nephews, friends and community.

These are women like Deb Zupke of Minnesota, a former Planned Parenthood patient.  She and her older sisters started going to Planned Parenthood in high school and college. As the daughters of a dairy farmer, she states: “We were not the richest people in town,” but the low-cost annual exams and contraception fit their budgets, she says. An exam at Planned Parenthood discovered one of her sisters had cervical cancer and, because it was caught in the early stages, her sister was treated successfully. Zupke stopped going to Planned Parenthood after she got a job with health insurance, but one older sister liked the clinic so much that she continued to use Planned Parenthood as her primary health care provider for years-until she was pregnant with her first (and planned) child.  

Lots of farmers are also hookers, it appears.

The accessibility of the pap smear–made widely available and accessible to low-income women by Planned Parenthood–has completely changed the landscape with regard to cervical cancer, which used to be one of the leading causes of death in women in the United States.  Planned Parenthood has greatly increased access to pap smears for African American women, who still die from cervical cancer at higher rates than women of other races.  But for the constant attacks on the organization such as you make, Planned Parenthood could further expand access to populations in need.  But since you so clearly deride all these hookers–whose welfare you otherwise lament when talking about the choices some might make to terminate a pregnancy and manage their lives–I am quite sure you don’t care about how they might access tests that might save their lives.

Then there are the 102,000-plus hookers who are men seeking reversible contraception who visited Planned Parenthood clinics in 2007.  A lot o’ male hookers gettin’ in the doors over there.

There are the older women who visit Planned Parenthood because on fixed incomes they can not possibly afford the health care they need, and so seek out Planned Parenthood clinics for help with concerns about breast health, menopause, blood pressure checks, diabetes testing and referrals they need to see a specialist.  We have no idea how many of these older “hookers” would be dead for lack of early detection of, say, breast cancer.  I am sure that their children and grandchildren are happy they are hookers, so they can access Planned Parenthood services and stay around to enjoy the next generation.  You might not agree.  To you, they are expendable, I guess, once they are no longer valuable to Koch Industries or other titans of commerce.

And finally, there are the “hooker’s hookers.” The women and men who are in fact sex workers.  They are, you might be surprised to know, human beings with health needs just like everyone else.  And they too seek out Planned Parenthood services for contraceptive supplies, HPV vaccines, breast exams and related needs. 

All of us make up those millions of hookers visiting Planned Parenthood every day.

Speaking for them, I’d venture to say that we are all glad to be hookers, by your definition.

At least we know which one of us is the real whore.

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.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

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.

News Politics

Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

Christine Grimaldi

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.