President Obama received a fair amount of applause on Tuesday night when he spoke up in support of pay equity. "Today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns," he said in the State of the Union. "That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work."
It seemed like the kind of sentiment that would enjoy broad, bipartisan support. The truth is more complicated.
For example, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, was asked yesterday whether she agrees with the president's position on laws mandating equal pay for equal work. "Yes, absolutely," she responded. "Republicans and I support equal pay for equal work."
McMorris Rodgers neglected to mention that she, like nearly every other congressional Republican, voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Or consider this exchange on Fox News yesterday between Martha MacCallum and Alan Colmes about Obama's comments on the issue.
MacCallum: I think most women do not want to be treated as sort of a special class of citizens. They want to go to work every day, they want to get paid for being a professional, for doing their job really well. And they don't want to be treated like some group of people who have to be, you know, given a little special handout just to make sure that they're okay. Colmes: It's not a special handout. It's equality. It's equal pay for equal work. MacCallum: Many women get paid exactly what they're worth, Alan.
After having watched the clip a few times, I'm still not sure what that means, but it was emblematic of a larger pattern of conservative hostility towards remedies for women facing wage discrimination.
Indeed, I remember last summer when Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said women don't want federal laws to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. Rather, Blackburn said, women "want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions themselves."
The position continues to be incomprehensible. Conservatives like MacCallum, Blackburn, and others aren't arguing that wage discrimination against women never happens; they're arguing that there's no need for laws to discourage wage discrimination against women.
As MacCallum put it yesterday, having a law to require employers to pay women equally for equal work is "a little special handout" that treats women as "sort of a special class of citizens."
Women, the argument goes, don't even want protections against discrimination.
As the gender gap continues to grow, here's hoping Republican officials reflect on moments like these.