I was incredibly happy to hear the young woman in the audience ask the two candidates what they would do “to rectify the inequalities in the workplace” because as shown in the graph above, the gender pay gap is an all too prevalent problem, yet it still usually does not receive much attention in public policy- especially in this presidential election where the focus is on the economy rather than social issues. Obama started it off with a semi-decent answer, citing his previous efforts for fair pay. Romney’s answer did not address the question at all and later got fact-checked. However, both candidates’ responses seemed to brush over the actual question, continuing their tradition of leaving out any sort of detail. In effect this displayed that the closing of the gender gap is still a while down the road, it is not either of the candidates’ priorities, and change is going to be largely left in the hands of American citizens instead.
Below is a video of the question and both candidates responses.
Obama answered the question first, sticking to the anecdote we all know by now about his grandmother who made less money than the men she was training at the bank, effectively showing how he has a personal connection with the issue of equity in the workplace. After this, he mentioned the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which congress pass under the Obama administration in 2009 and states that the 180 day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit begins again with each new pay check, rather than the initial wage decision, as it had been before. This was a great point to bring up as was his statement that women are “increasingly the breadwinners in the family” so now this isn’t just a women’s issue, “it’s a family issue” too. However, he subsequently continued with a vague allusion to the college funds his administration has provided, stating it allowed young women to compete in the work place- however, as his own anecdote stated, it is not the intelligence level of the women that is keeping them with lower pay, it is discrimination on the other end. Finally, he luckily ended with stating that he is a strong proponent against discrimination, but as a voter, I would have very much liked to hear more specific ways in which his administration was planning on continuing to combat this issue, besides the family story and financial aid for college.
Romney went second and successfully avoided the question first by delivering his classic “binders full of women” line where he sought to prove his non-gender discrimination by talking about how many women he had on his cabinet in Massachusetts. Not only did his “binders full of women” comment come off as inappropriate, the remark was then later proven wrong by fact-checkers who showed that these women groups were the ones to actually approach Romney about recruiting more women- not the other way around. In addition to this, while he claimed that his state of Massachusetts had the highest number of women in government positions, a study done by the University of Massachusetts and the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy found that “the percentage of women in senior positions during his tenure actually declined.” After this failed attempt at appearing as an ally towards women, he brought it home to his main point again of creating new jobs and getting the economy back on track. He did this by pointing out that under Obama’s administration, there were more women living in poverty and explaining that the status of the economy is extremely important for women as well. This may all be true, but in the economic boom of Clinton’s presidency when the unemployment rate was down, women still made less in the workplace. Romney decided to only talk about his personal non-discrimination with women and bringing more jobs to women through bringing more jobs to everyone, which is great, but he skipped over making sure that there is equal pay in the workplace once the job is attained.
From looking at both of these influential leaders of America and seeing Obama’s limited sugar-coated answer and Romney’s out-of-touch and almost complete avoidance of the true question, one can be sure that public government policy is probably not going to be the solution to the ever-present gender gap. Fortunately, as statistics show, the gap has very slowly been narrowing over the past 110 years. This is due to a combination of changing societal attitudes towards women’s role and capabilities as well as some implementations of equal pay policies by government leaders. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous gap still exists and this means that for most women in my generation as well as the next, unequal income will be an omnipresent factor, and most progress will need to continue to come from the American people themselves.
– Julia Gould