How Dumb Are We?
How long will women shoulder the blame for the pay gap?
• The White House threatened to veto the bill even if Congress passed it. Why? The measure would "impede justice and undermine the important goal of having allegations of discrimination expeditiously resolved." Of course, there is a place for finality in the law, and nobody wants businesses to face prospective lawsuits for conduct from 20 years earlier. But unless an employee is psychic, 180 days is simply not long enough to sniff out an ongoing pattern of often-subtle pay discrimination. The notion that expeditiousness in resolving legal disputes should altogether trump one's ability to prove them is cynical beyond imagining. And the very notion that extending the statute of limitations somehow encourages scads of stupid women to loll around accepting unfair wages for decades in the hopes of hitting the litigation jackpot in their mid-70s is just insulting. "Sorry, kids! SpaghettiOs again tonight, but just you wait till 2037! We'll dine like kings, my babies!"
• Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, did one better in insulting women when he said, "The only ones who will see an increase in pay are some of the trial lawyers who bring the cases." See, now this is the argument that holds that the same women who are too stupid to bring timely discrimination claims are also too stupid to avoid being manipulated by those scheming plaintiffs' attorneys. First off, some of us still believe that those damn civil rights attorneys do good things. But what really galls me here is the endless, elitist recitation that it's only the really dumb people—you know, the injured, the sick, and the women—who aren't smart enough to avoid being conned by them into filing frivolous lawsuits.
• Here's the other reason proffered to oppose the equal-pay bill: According to the invaluable Firedoglake, it seems that some women themselves are actually to blame for their inability to negotiate. No need to fix Title VII! Just build more aggressive women! Women also are apparently to blame for not chatting with their male colleagues about the differences in their wages, even when that's explicitly forbidden, as it was in Ledbetter's case. So remember, ladies, it's better to be fired for discussing your wages than to be paid less for being a woman.
• All of which brings us to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who skipped the vote on equal pay altogether because he was out campaigning. (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both showed up to support it.) McCain's opposition to the bill was expressed thusly: He's familiar with the pay disparity but believes there are better ways to help women find better-paying jobs. "They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else." As my colleague Meghan O'Rourke pointed out yesterday, all that is code for the obtuse claim that the fact that women earn 77 cents on the dollar for the same work as men will somehow be fixed by more training for women as opposed to less discrimination by men. Wow. Hey! We should develop the superpowers of heat vision and flight, as well.
So, 42 members of the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would allow victims of gender discrimination to learn of and prove discrimination in those rare cases in which their employers don't cheerfully discuss it with them at the office Christmas party. And the reasons for blocking it include the fact that women are not smart enough to file timely lawsuits, not smart enough to avoid being manipulated by vile plaintiffs' lawyers, not smart enough to know when they are being stiffed, and—per John McCain—not well-trained enough in the first place to merit equal pay.
So how dumb are we? Well, if we don't vote some people who actually respect women into Congress soon, we just may be as dumb as those senators think.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of John McCain by Yuri Gripas/Getty Images.