Susan B. Anthony’s primary crusade was to obtain the right for women to vote. She never saw this dream come to fruition, dying before the 19th Amendment passed. Susan B. Anthony also fought for equality of pay, a battle that we have not yet won. Even today, women are paid only 77% of what men earn. Over the course of a lifetime, this inequity can mean the difference between financial security or insecurity.
On the Stephen Colbert report, Lilly Ledbetter made the following observation about pay inequity:
I was making 40% less than the three white males doing the exact same job that I was. That was a devastating hit for me because that meant my overtime pay was incorrect, what I had legally earned under the law. And it also meant that my retirement would not be correct. […]
This goes on for the rest of your life. It’s not just my pay, my overtime pay, that my children and my family had to do without. This also goes into my retirement now. [..] Now, when my retirement checks go into the bank, I get 40% less than what I should.”
Pay inequity is not an issue reserved solely for academics or activists; pay inequity is an issue that cuts into family security. Within this country, there are millions of households that depend on a woman’s paycheck. There are millions of children that are able to eat because of their mother’s salary. If a woman is only making 77% of her male counterparts, then this is an inequity that filters down to the home.
On January 15th, Elaine Dalton, who is responsible for overseeing all Mormon girls between the ages of 12 and 18, made the following statement in a BYU devotional
"Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights."
Elaine Dalton is one of the few visible female leaders in a religion that has been designed to keep all authority out of the hands of women. Every decision that a woman leader makes within the Mormon Church can ultimately be over-turned by the male leaders in charge. This is a skewed and unhealthy dynamic – and yet, the impetus for change is nowhere to be found. There is simply a refusal to admit the problems. Utah is the worst state for pay inequity: the average working woman only makes 55 cents for every dollar the average working man does. This is a statistic that cuts into the well-being of children and families: every household that depends on a woman's salary has to make do with 45% less.
I don’t believe in fighting simply for the sake of fighting. However, I do believe in being realistic. There are still a lot of battles remaining before we can call ourselves an egalitarian society. To deny this reality – and to actively discourage young women from aspiring for a better reality – is oppressive at best, dangerous at worst. What about when these young women grow up and have families? What if they never marry? What if their marriages crumble or their spouses leave or they find themselves in an abusive situation? What if they end up being the sole breadwinners for their family? What will happen then? By empowering women to be the architects of their own lives, we empower all of society, families included.
I wonder what Susan B. Anthony would have to say on the matter.