We liberals decide to fight back: Last Friday, Hanna Rosen corrected an inaccurate claim—an inaccurate claim that is frequently made.
Especially in this tribal era, news orgs should be doing this sort of script-checking on a regular basis. For ourselves, we were struck by some of the reactions to Rosin.
What claim was Rosin correcting? It was a bit of a Labor Day special. She defined the inaccurate claim right in her opening paragraph:
ROSIN (8/31/13): How many times have you heard that “women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men”? Barack Obama said it during his last campaign. Women’s groups say it every April 9, which is Equal Pay Day. In preparation for Labor Day, a group protesting outside Macy’s this week repeated it, too, holding up signs and sending out press releases saying “women make $.77 to every dollar men make on the job.” I’ve heard the line enough times that I feel the need to set the record straight: It’s not true.“Women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men.” Rosin was saying that this familiar statement is false.
We fact-checked that claim in May 2012. Here’s why:
Rachel Maddow had made the familiar claim on Meet the Press. The next night, she said she couldn’t understand why Alex Castellanos had told her the claim was wrong.
On her own MSNBC program, Maddow said she had “spent a long time” that day trying to figure why Castellanos challenged her statement. She just couldn’t do it, she said, thereby making a second claim, one which seemed to be blatantly false.
Is it true? Are women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men? In reality, no one who works in this field actually makes that familiar assertion. Maddow interviewed an expert who explained that the real wage gap is something on the order of 5 to 10 cents on the dollar—not the walloping 23 cents Maddow had originally claimed.
(This being the Maddow show, the expert managed to say this in such a way that viewers probably wouldn't realize that Maddow had been contradicted.)
For our money, Rosin did an imperfect job explaining this situation. That said, she seemed to end up saying that experts claim a wage gap of maybe 9 cents on the dollar, not the famous 23 cents.
Rosin had corrected a familiar bogus assertion. At first, she drew complimentary comments. Then the pushback began from the pseudo left.
For our money, this produced the most interesting part of this piece.
For many years, we liberals laughed at the way the other tribe refused to accept straightforward facts which didn’t fit their tribal preconceptions. As we liberals have emerged from our decades-long naps and have begun to create our own liberal orgs, it’s sad to see the way some in our tribe rush to ape that conduct.
No, Virginia! No one claims that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same or equal work! But once the ball got rolling, quite a few liberal commenters pushed back against Rosin for saying this.
Our tribal mates found various ways to denounce the heretical Rosin. This is exactly what we once condemned the other tribe's ditto-heads for.
Had Rosin cited data from studies? Some readers refuted those studies with comments like this, in which a reader described her daughter’s experience on one job:
COMMENTER: My daughter recently had a job where every employee did all of the same jobs. Women lifted cases alongside of men; no one was cut any slack for their gender. She had experience in the field, and tried to negotiate for a higher starting salary, and was told no, this is what we pay. A month later, a young man with no previous experience was hired, and was given $2 more per hour starting salary. At review time, everyone was tied to a percentage increase, so my daughter could never get parity. Now, what was your unresearched assertion, Ms. Rosin?You might think that was the rare dumb bunny within our liberal tribe. Even if true, her daughter’s single experience couldn’t refute what Rosin had said! But in this comment, an angry professor took the same basic approach:
COMMENTER: This makes me angry. I was a professor at a major university, yet got less, far less pay than my male colleagues. A male counterpart with a similar background (degrees, experience, etc.) earned almost twice as much as I did. Closer to 60 cents to the dollar...I'm here to say that, in some cases, the system is just plain not treating everyone fairly.Nothing in Rosin’s piece denied the claim the professor was making—the claim that, “in some cases, the system is just plain not treating everyone fairly.” Indeed, Rosin’s suggestion that there is a 9 percent gap assumes that people in some cases are not being treated fairly.
This was not just my experience by every woman I discussed this with at the university. Oh, and by the way, if you think that we all got large salaries—untrue. A friend of mine was a special education teacher in public schools and earned quite a bit more than I did. And we all know how well paid public school teachers are paid (lol).
The professor got angry all the same! Meanwhile, a future physician went out in the field and slaughtered a whole row of straw men. She ended by refuting a claim Rosin hadn’t made:
COMMENTER: Oh of course! Women just don't want the same jobs as men. It's not as if there's a societal sexism component to this "decision" that so many of our young women make about their "natural suitability" so-called "nurturing professions" like nursing or teaching…And I won't even ask about whatever disgusting pseudo-science is behind the idea that women are "worse at negotiating starting salaries" or that "women just don't want to work the same way men do".Had Rosin said that a 9 percent wage gap was OK? Many commenters seemed to think she had—or perhaps that she had said there was no wage gap at all:
Few things sadden me more than a woman who buys into sexism. I will be a working physician starting next year, and even a 91 percent wage gap for every hour I spend busting my behind in the same fashion as my male co-workers is much too much for me, thank you. And by the way, you can't refer to something as discrimination and then lay responsibility at the feet of the discriminated party and their "choices."
COMMENTER: So...87 [sic] cents on the dollar. No problem then.Other commenters simply assailed Rosin’s motives. And some could see the real problem here—even if Rosin’s claim is accurate, admitting it will only help The Other Tribe!
COMMENTER: So the fact that my COWORKERS, do the SAME WORK in the SAME PLACE for the SAME HOURS as I do what I do, probably make 10 percent more than I do, doesn't present a gender gap? Explain how you figure that, since we have (on average) the same experience, but I have more certifications in what we currently use? And they typically come to me to show them how to do what we all do?
COMMENTER: Why is even a 91 percent gap ok?? If items were priced according to the industry gap, with women paying 91 percent of the price for the same house as a man for example, that gap would disappear in a heartbeat.
Also, inevitably, Rosin is racially suspect:
COMMENTER: The author is an MRA [Men’s Rights Activists] mouthpiece and nothing more.Why should we be “technically accurate?” It will just help The Other Tribe!
COMMENTER: I enjoy reading poorly written articles that rely on a very selective choice of resources and data for very narrow sectors of society. Helps sharpen my understanding of "relevance."
COMMENTER: So I guess this study of a tiny group of privileged MBA's shows that there's no gender gap? And women "decide" to be teachers and nurses but not doctors? That women just don't "want" to earn more? This sort of reactionary nonsense isn't journalism; it's shoddy and selective anti-feminist editorializing.
COMMENTER: This article is a little dumb. It will be abused by those who want to keep women down as a justification for paying women less.
"The point here is not that there is no wage inequality:" Yeah rrright. The point is that by writing articles like this, you've given the opponents of wage equality some ammo, they will go and say: "Look! Even that liberal lady-writer says this 77 percent thing is nonsense!"
COMMENTER: People who throw around that "77 cents to the dollar" statistic are TECHNICALLY incorrect but the author of this article is being deliberately misleading to prove a dumb point. The actual fact is that white women make 91 cents to every dollar made by a white male. Black women, on the other hand, earn 77 cents for every dollar made by a white male. For Hispanic women, I think the number is somewhere around 60 cents for every dollar.
Using those facts to say that the wage gap is closed and there's no more work to be done is either wishful thinking or complete disregard for women of color.
Rosin had made a simple point—a very familiar statement is factually false. Churning a wide range of objections, angry liberals faulted Rosin for daring to point this out.
Back in the day, we liberals laughed at the ditto-heads for doing this sort of thing. We preened and pranced about, telling the world about the other tribe's dumbness.
At long last, we have begun to create our own news orgs, where we're pampered and pandered. And wouldn’t you know it? It turns out that we can be fairly dumb too, just like all groups of humans! But these comments suggest something else beyond that:
We humans have a very shaky allegiance to facts. Indeed, we seem to have a very shaky grasp of the very concept.
Once we have a “fact” we like, we humans hate to let it go. Telling the truth will help the others! Why would we want to do that?
For more comments: On Facebook, the comments were pithier. The last two examples:
FULL COMMENT: What a stupid article: Let's parse this into minutia just to wind up in the same spot. Women get paid less. Derp.Women get paid less—who cares by how much? Who cares about such minutia?
FULL COMMENT: It's so disturbing that such willful ignorance is still being published in 2013—by a woman.
To review these sobering documents, brace yourselves, then click this.