Commentary Human Rights

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Turning 40, Going Global

Gina Maranto

Born in Boston, Our Bodies, Ourselves has become an international force for women's rights.

Cross-posted with permission from the Center for Genetics and Society.

It’s 1969 and East Coast to West, there are marches and teach-ins and sit-ins and rallies. People are taking to the streets, gathering in church basements, walking out of classrooms to protest the war in Vietnam, demand civil rights, and press feminist agendas.

Everywhere, women’s power symbols are popping up: on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City, where a sheep is crowned Miss America while Bert Parks croons to pageant goers inside the Convention Center; at the University of Washington student Hub, where Bernadine Dohrn, National Secretary of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) joins a roster of Seattle peace and justice activists to discuss the “woman question”; in Chicago, where hundreds of women from leftist organizations and causes gather and found the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.

In Boston on May 4th that year, some 500 women make their way to the Fenway neighborhood for a conference in the red brick halls of Emmanuel College, then, as at its founding by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an all-female institution. In 1999, activist and author Susan Brownmiller would write about a performance she saw that day in which members of the radical separatist feminist group,Cell 16, publicly cut off their hair to protest male domination. Nancy Miriam Hawley, whose work with the SDS had led her to help organize the conference, later characterized the milieu and the women who were drawn to Emmanuel to talk about women’s rights: “Many of us were involved in other movements for liberation – the New Left or civil rights or the antiwar movement. When the women’s movement came along, it hit home, because it was addressing our oppression as women, which we hadn’t identified before.”

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Hawley, who would go on to work for years as a clinical social worker, group therapist, and organizational consultant, served at the conference as the leader of a workshop.  She recalled, “A number of us were particularly concerned about health issues because as young women, were having our first babies, and birth control and childbirth were prominent issues for us.”

Indeed, the conference galvanized the attendees, some of whom soon formed the socialist women’s organization Bread and Roses, which in 1971 opened the Women’s Center in Cambridge, still running today. And many of those who attended Hawley’s workshop kept in touch. They continued to meet to talk about their experiences with doctors and childbirth, pregnancy and sex, finding that all of them had struggled with bad advice or ignorance or ill treatment or indifference at the hands of the medical establishment. In their words, “We discovered there were no ‘good’ doctors and we had to learn for ourselves.”

So they devised a survey and administered it to as many women as they could. They began doing their own research, consulting medical texts and journals. They interviewed willing physicians and nurses. The process was energizing. “We were excited and our excitement was powerful. We wanted to share our excitement and the material we were learning with our sisters. We saw ourselves differently and our lives began to change,” they wrote.

The sharing of the “excitement and the material” took the form of 193 pages of typewritten text, grainy photos, and hand-drawn illustrations reproduced by mimeograph. Roughly lettered on the cover was, “Women and Their Bodies, a course,” and, down at the bottom “75¢”.   The introduction closed with “We want all your ideas, comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc. Power to our sisters!!” and was signed, “Nancy Hawley, Wilma Diskin, Jane Pincus, Abby Schwarz, Esther Rome, Betsy Sable, Paula Doress, Jane de Long, Ginger Goldner, Nancy London, Barbara Perkins, Ruth Bell, Wendy Sanford, Pam Berger, Wendy Martz, Lucy Candib, Joan Ditzion, Carol Driscoll, Nancy Mann, and all the other women who took the course and read the papers.” The table of contents, rendered in a neat italic hand, bore the helpful notation: “For a notebook: punch holes in the wide margins and slit the binding thread and back of each booklet with a razor blade.”

Within a year, a version that didn’t require nimble use of holepunches or razor blades came out from the New England Free Press and quickly was adopted as the centerpiece for women’s group discussions around Boston and beyond. More than 250,000 copies were sold, largely by word of mouth. The book became a dogeared staple of co-eds’ shelves, a trusted reference at alternative women’s clinics, and an assurance for pubescent girls too embarrassed or afraid to consult anyone else for information.

That book was, of course, Our Bodies, Ourselves, whose fortieth anniversary will be celebrated this October, when it will be issued in a ninth edition. Published since 1973 by Simon & Schuster, it has sold 4.5 million copies in 26 languages, including Braille, and is arguably the most influential work on women’s health and sexuality in history. By performing the radical inversion of giving female experience and knowledge primacy over that of physicians and medicine with a capital “M”, the women who collaborated on the text helped spawn the consumer health revolution.

Such a trajectory was never anticipated. No one had an inkling that from the first edition would emerge a publishing phenomenon. The whole enterprise began with the simple, and profoundly traditional, impulse the women at the Emmanuel College workshop had to talk about the home truths of their bodily experiences as women and mothers.  Out of sharing their stories came an agenda, partly motivated by frustration and a sense of injustice, and a determination to pursue knowledge in the face of a dismissive medical establishment, despite deep intellectual insecurities: “We were just, women,” read a line in the introduction of the first edition, “what authority did we have in matters of medicine and health?”

This uncertainty actually proved a boon, leading to a crowd sourcing approach long before the term was coined. As the introduction of that first mimeographed version proclaimed, “[These papers] are not final. They are not static. They are meant to be used by our sisters to increase our consciousness about ourselves as women, to build our movement, to begin to struggle collectively for adequate healthcare….” Women across the country responded, sending in feedback, identifying gaps—not enough material, some said, on high-dose-estrogen contraceptives, ectopic pregnancy, or lesbianism—and providing material for new editions. Hawley recalled, “At some point in these early printings, we realized that the title Women and Their Bodies was itself a sign of our alienation from our bodies. We changed the title to Our Bodies, Ourselves, because that was what we were really talking about.”

Like the Whole Earth Catalog, Our Bodies Ourselves was effectively a social networking device: It served as both a source of reliable information outside normal institutional channels and a means of connection. The book answered the needs of the burgeoning women’s health movement. Wrote Susan Brownmiller in In Our Time, “Women’s centers in big cities and college towns were thirsting for practical information and new ways to organize. The Boston women’s handbook with its simple directive, ‘you can substitute the experience in your city or state here,’ fit the bill.”

Eventually, the small group that incorporated first as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, then as Our Bodies Ourselves also had to deal with changing political tides. They faced both public censure and legal attacks. After Our Bodies, Ourselves was picked in 1976 by the American Library Association as a best book for young adults, right-wing groups waged multiple campaigns to get it banned from school libraries.

Meanwhile, the book moved social scientists and physicians toward a new focus on health issues unique to women. Brandeis University sociologist Irving Kenneth Zola, giving a presentation at the 1990 conference of the American Sociological Association in Washington, D.C., said, “Its message was and is about the importance of women’s  perspectives in health care, man’s domination in general, and medical domination in particular, the necessary breakdown of the split between public and private worlds, and the role of the body in one’s identity.”

In short, the assumptions underlying Our Bodies, Ourselves inspired women of all stripes to question the reigning authority of the medical establishment and demand answers. The institutional response to women’s questions was profound, leading to a shift in national and international medical research agendas and in funding priorities (think breast cancer). Assertiveness regarding women’s healthcare laid the groundwork for other activists, such as those who sought fastlane approval for HIV/AIDS drugs. It is difficult to imagine the whole consumer health movement having emerged without the efforts forty years ago of that handful of bold women in Boston.

The collective, which now mostly goes by the acronym OBOS, went on to publish other volumes, including Changing Bodies, Changing Lives for teens;Ourselves, Growing Older; and Sacrificing Ourselves for Love. At the same time, women’s groups worldwide began to translate and adapt the text. Kathy Davis’s 2007 study from Duke University Press, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves, has a three-page appendix listing foreign-language editions, from Denmark to Senegal to Indonesia to Nepal.

That work continues apace. Through its Global Initiative, which recently received substantial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, OBOS is working with women’s groups in Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Russia to help them reframe and adapt the text to suit their particular educational, cultural, and medical needs, as well as to gain political rights. Judy Norsigian, a founding member who is now executive director of OBOS, told me in a phone interview, “We don’t take any credit for the original development of these cultural adaptation projects. Women in other regions created these projects and then came to us for the technical resources and other help that has enabled many of them to succeed. We’ve been glad to be able to support them.”

For its 40th anniversary conclave in Boston on October 1, OBOS will host a symposium featuring dozens of international visitors.  The symposium committee includes the likes of Michael and Kitty Dukakis, Ellen Goodman, Katha Pollitt, Eleanor Smeal, and Gloria Steinem. To mark the anniversary, memories of the book’s impact being gathered by University of Cincinnatti historian Wendy Kline via an online survey.

On Our Bodies, Our Blog, many readers whose lives were changed, in small ways and large, by their encounters with the frank and forthright text, have posted their recollections. Let Meg Sawicki’s April 30, 2011 entry stand as a summation of many women’s experience:

The first time I saw “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was in 1977 and I was a freshman in college. Some women I knew had the book and I remember thinking how fantastic it was that a group of women had written a collection of stories that shared their own wisdom about health and life and being a woman. For the first time I was affirmed that different was okay, and I was hooked….I have only love and admiration for those first brave women of the Boston Women’s Health Collective who gave us real and important information about our health and happiness, and who set the bar for other women’s self discovery books….

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.