Skip to content
Breaking News Alert HHS Secretary Admits The Feds Will Punish Hospitals That Resist Trans Mutilation

What Everyone’s Missing In the “Equal Pay” Debate

The White House’s pay inequality campaign bombed yesterday. But media discussions still miss the point of what many women seek in life.


Yesterday’s attempt by the Obama administration to rev up base voters with gimmickry about supposed pay inequality went over like a lead balloon. It wasn’t just the highlighting of a pay gap in none other than the White House itself but that the reasoning the White House used to excuse itself negates the general claim of pay inequality. Whoopsie!

Though the lie about women making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same exact work has been repeatedly debunked by many academics, this week was the first time that we saw the media really hold partisans accountable for spreading the false statistic for political gain.

Today, then, we have some partisan media types spinning the aftermath of the talking point’s dramatic implosion. Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, does his best with the crap sandwich the White House asked him to eat:

OK, so we can no longer pretend that women are making the same decisions men do about what they seek out of work. So let’s — and here’s where it gets foggy — do something at the federal level to “value” teachers more and petroleum engineers less. Otherwise we’re “blaming” women for their choices in which professions they choose.

OK, so why do petroleum engineers make more than twice as much as teachers? And is this something that needs federal correction? Or even market correction? Teachers, and I’m the daughter of one, are some of the most important individuals in anyone’s life. We all remember our best (and worst!) teachers and what they gave us or how they inspired us to lead lives of meaning. At their best, they provide us with an education that enables us to become good neighbors, functioning citizens and valuable employees.

Petroleum engineers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells. Petroleum engineers generally work in offices or in research laboratories. However, they also must spend time at drilling sites, often for long periods of time.”

Emphasis mine. Turns out that Legum could not have given a better example of why women — and men — make decisions not to become petroleum engineers and why the pay is so much better in some high-risk and long-hour professions than others. Being a petroleum engineer means that sometimes you’re spending three weeks on an offshore oil platform. This isn’t just remote work but dangerous, too. It’s kind of hard to find a spouse, be a spouse, or raise a family when you’re not around. And it’s ridiculous to say that someone making the hard tradeoff of money for time spent away from family should have that tradeoff valued less.

Legum is right that women are getting “blamed” for things in this debate. What we’re getting blamed for, though, is choosing to have lives with meaning derived outside of a corporate environment.

Women are being blamed for thinking that there is more to life — far more to life — than work for pay. We’re being mocked and ridiculed — from the highest political offices and from major media outlets — for valuing work that pays in non-monetary fashion. We’re being made to feel bad for making career decisions that enable us to “be home with children after school,” as 82 percent of Millennial mothers said was a good idea for a parent in a poll released yesterday. And we’re being blamed for questioning the assumption riddled throughout our media and much of our political rhetoric that humanity’s best and most important work has nothing to do with bringing forth life in loving homes and raising and caring for these children. That work continues to be highly valued by women even as it is given second-class status by elites through the semi-literate labor market analysis from men at Think Progress.

It’s worth noting that sacrificing money for happiness and fulfillment isn’t something that only women or mothers do. Both of my parents made career decisions that enabled them to have flexible work hours, time with their children and far less pay than they could have had elsewhere. They are my heroes and I am glad they taught me that there is more to life than paychecks and labor — even as they worked hard to provide for us.

It really is good that many in the media stopped reflexively parroting the falsehood that women make less than men for the exact same work. Now it would be good for them to stop mocking us for valuing more than just our jobs.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.