Commentary Religion

To the Religious Right, I am No Longer a Woman

Robin Marty

After three kids, two miscarriages, a tubal ligation, and the chance to re-establish intimacy with my husband, did I really give up on my "true nature?" That's what the religious right says: I am no longer a woman.

In just the last seven years, I have experienced nearly every biological joy and trial that comes with being a woman. I’ve been on hormonal contraception. I’ve struggled with unexplained infertility. I’ve had a miscarriage. I’ve attempted vaginal birth. I’ve had an emergency c-section. I’ve had planned c-sections. I’ve used natural family planning to try to conceive. I’ve used natural family planning to try to not conceive. And, as a result of that, I became a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.

Currently, I am enjoying a state that I have never been in before–one where I don’t have to think at all about my reproduction, fertility, trying to get pregnant, trying to avoid pregnancy or being in a state of pregnancy. It’s a huge and welcome relief, frankly. Between miscarriage and two fairly closely-spaced births, I’ve spent well over two of the last three years having enough HCG in my bloodstream to be able to produce a positive pee test if I was so inclined. The seven months that have passed since I have had my last (and I do mean last) child is the longest I have been unencumbered by pregnancy hormones since 2009.

So it’s with a bit of irony that I read the incessant assertions from the religious right that I am in fact not a true woman anymore, simply because I have chosen to remove myself from the baby game. I already had one strike against me, obviously, just for advocating that women should be allowed to decide when or if they want to have children, and for believing that sex can be meaningful even if there isn’t some potential for conception to occur during the process. I’ve had sex to try and create children, and honestly, it can be a very stressful, non-magical endevor. As much as I can guarantee that all of my children were conceived equally in love, I can’t say the same about the… um… enthusiasm.

Since the birth of my son (and, nearly as importantly, the snipping and cauterizing of my fallopian tubes) I’ve had the chance to relearn both emotional and physical intimacy, two items that are often lost among couples with a houseful of small children or an empty house two partners are trying desperately to fill. It’s a task that is much more emotionally charged now that sex is for us alone, and without a worry about the “consequences” of sex that the religious right seems so focused on making a part of the bargain. We don’t need potential consequences. Our family is complete. After all, they already outnumber us. I’d hate to get even further behind.

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But to them, I am no longer a woman.

Women around the world have swallowed a detestable lie that a person’s identity can somehow be separated from his or her biological body… Women like [Sandra] Fluke who accept this detestable lie, have thereby rejected the glorious beauty and radiant splendor of what is really at the core of a woman’s being, namely her profound ability to procreate, to form a new life, to carry that life within her for nine months, to birth that new life into the world, and to nourish that life until it reaches independence.

The life-creating potential and nurturing capacities that belong to a woman’s very nature are most marvelous. But in the name of so-called freedom, Fluke and others want to elect a president who will support them in rendering their feminine bodies sterile and who will aid them in killing their offspring when their sterility strategy fails.

Have I lost all “beauty and splendor” now that I am permanently out of the baby-making business?  Do I no longer get to have an “indentity” now that my “profound ability to procreate” has come to an irreversable end?

For those willing to allow me to keep a sliver of womanhood, even if I have lost my ability to create and birth tiny human beings, I am still at the very least “corrupt.

Abortion strikes clear to the core of a woman because a woman’s God-given nature is to create, sustain, nurture, and protect new life.  Whether a woman ever gives birth is irrelevant.  It is still a woman’s essential make-up to bring forth new life into the world.  God designed us that way.

Just to believe that a woman should have the right to control how many (or even no) children she should bring into the world is a “corruption” of our very natures, according to those who are the most extreme.  Whether a woman gives birth or not, she is a “mother,” according to them, just by being female. Much like the state of “pre-conception” that Jessica Valenti discusses in her new book Why Have Kids? all girls and women of reproductive age are in a state of “mommy-to-be” whether she cares to be or not.

To them, there is no society of men or women, but men and “potential mothers.”  Once you remove yourself from the motherhood game, whether it occurs before or after you have children, you have denied your right to lay claim to womanhood.

Yet somehow, I don’t feel corrupt.  I don’t feel a lack of “splendor.” In fact, I feel exactly as much a woman as I did before I had my tubes tied, or before I gave birth or even, shockingly enough, before I was pregnant. I feel the same as I did about my gender, my beliefs, my true nature, and my potential.

Most of all, I feel relief. Relief that regardless of what happens in the future, there will never be a point where I will be forced to add onto my family due to lack of access to birth control or abortion. My family is complete. And I am complete, even if I’m missing a small part of my tubes that the religious right claims is the most important part of me.

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.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”