March 2 2011
Yesterday NBC Nightly News called for an interview. They were producing a segment on the White House's newly released report on Women in America - "a statistical portrait" of "how women are fairing in the United States today."
Despite a lengthy interview with Savannah Guthrie, I later learned that NBC cut me from the segment. It's television, I get it, and things change. My ego is less bruised, however, than my respect for network news. The segment that ensued was terrible.
The show included a rundown of the report, clips from an interview with White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and a series of ill-informed "woman-on-the-street" opinions about the "wage gap."
Good grief. Really?
During the interview with Guthrie I shared that I am underwhelmed by government reports like this. Too often studies about women are produced under the assumption that women are a victim class in need of extra attention from government, including special reports. While the White House study touched on the fact that women are healthier, more educated and have more choices today than ever before, the real "story" - and the reason NBC devoted the lead segment of the nightly news to the report - was to discuss inequalities that still exist between men and women.
Let me start by busting the myth of the wage gap, which states that women earn 76 cents on the dollar for doing the same job as a man. Let's be clear - even the American Association of University of Women and the Department of Labor have acknowledged that if you look beyond the raw data, and control for variables such as education, time taken off from the workplace, and career choices, the wage gap largely disappears. So if it's not sexism determining different wages, what is it? Well, according to feminists on the left and the White House, it's the fact that women are forced to make unfair choices about their work-life balance. This administration doesn't like the fact that women - like men - sometimes have to make hard choices about their careers and their families, and they believe Washington should help legislate fairness.
Jarrett explained to Guthrie that, "women still have a long way to go," adding that the president and government now have an "evidence-based" report so "we can spend smartly."
There's an attitude in this White House - and certainly among feminist groups on the left - that Washington needs to provide women with equal outcomes, not just equal opportunities. For instance, as Jarrett explained, the president wants to make sure more women go into math and science, and is willing to pour resources (read: your tax dollars) into this initiative even if women continue to show different preferences and aptitudes.
The fact is, men and women are different and make different choices. Reports like Women in America disregard those distinctions and place a disproportionate amount of weight on achieving parity in every area of life, rather than accepting the choices women and men make. Women today earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 59 percent of master's degrees, and now earn more Ph.D.s than men. But too often these numbers aren't considered as important as the fact that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in Fortune 100 companies, for instance. (And I haven't seen a study recently asking why we don't have more male nurses or male teachers.)
Feminism is about establishing equality under the law; it's not about engineering women's choices. The president, his White House and NBC need to recognize that women have more flexibility in their lives than ever before, and all women - like men - won't make the same choices.
Let's hope next time network news does more reporting of the story and less parroting of White House talking points.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is managing partner of Evolving Strategies and a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum.