MERO MOMENT: Don’t Get Distracted in the Fight for Equal Pay

Paul Mero's "Mero Moment" can be heard every Thursday on KVNU's For the People program on 610 AM/102.1 FM between 4-6 p.m. Mero is a prominent conservative leader and President/CEO of Next Generation Freedom Fund. He can be reached at paul.mero@nextgenfreedomfund.org. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

Salt Lake Tribune editorial writer, Michelle Quist, has spent her last two columns on equal pay for women. I have applauded both columns. I think equal pay for women is an obvious good, a no-brainer like legalizing the “dreamer” kids. Not many public policies are as easy to address as these two policies.

In fact, equal pay for women is such an easy concept to wrap your head around, it makes me wonder what opponents and even reluctant supporters are worried about? We have heard the many circumstantial excuses why policy makers and some business leaders are unwilling to accept the obvious – women’s lives are different than men, they are in and out of the work force, they cannot give full attention to their jobs because of domestic distractions, etc.

Those excuses are the distractions. To say, on the one hand, that the non-work aspects of a woman’s life has no place at work and then, on the other hand, penalize her pay using that stereotype is illogical, not to mention discriminatory. Do men have non-work aspects of their lives? Of course they do. There is simply no getting around the disparity – women doing the same work as men should be paid the same as men (only merit should distinguish differences in pay).

Evidently, after Michelle wrote her two recent columns, some readers felt as if she was criticizing stay-at-home moms. Of course, those feelings are to be expected. Regardless of the merits of early feminism, one of the ignored side effects listed among initial grievances was this sense that a woman choosing to stay at home makes them some kind of Stepford wife. That was unfair and unrepresentative of women generally.

In America anyway, women have choices and should not be disparaged because their values, traditions, cultures, sentiments, etc. whisper to them to stay home. How we were raised and the communities in which we lived are not the chains of indentured servitude or unspoken slavery. It is just how we were raised and the values we still accept today.

Where I break with Michelle’s narrative, just the tiniest bit, is when she firmly, but too casually, sets aside women in the workforce as, in part, a function of family disintegration. She writes, “My daughters are growing up with a working mom. And it doesn’t mean the disintegration of the family. It’s just different.” Later, she passionately repeats, “It is time to reimagine our workplaces, our homes, our families and our communities. Not because the downfall of society has brought a de-emphasis on the family, but because an emphasis on the family requires that women be heard and respected, for their marriages, their children and themselves.”

This point is different than equal pay on which we agree 100 percent. As a longtime conservative activist and culture warrior, I can say without reservation that changes to family structure over the past six decades have led to more women in the workplace. I do not discount the important role of changing opinions and culture during these years. But, the fact is, divorce and out-of-wedlock births have added to the ranks of women in the workforce. It is a matter of economic necessity.

My point is that equal pay for women is fully justified without conflating the issue with perfectly reasonable traditions or unreasonable female guilt. In other words, in arguing for equal pay, there is no need to even mention any other aspects of how women deserve equal pay to begin with.

Put the onus back on me. There is no sense to any longer fret and lament the breakdown of the natural family. It has happened. The goal moving forward is to now help pick up the pieces as culture comes full circle. None of this has anything to do with equal pay for women. That issue stands alone.

Yes, old, white, LDS, Utah legislators may be stuck in a past unable to accept what has already happened in society. That is their problem. Some conservatives still might have the idea that public policy can right what went wrong. It cannot. In this respect, progressives are correct – we cannot turn back the clock. Truth is, Utah’s family culture is there for anyone who desires it. The fallout from abandoning that culture is our reality too. But we, conservatives, waste time on sentimentalities when our neighbors struggle regardless of the reasons.

Our mission now is to help the neglected, the disconnected, the disadvantaged and disenfranchised people among us to even get to a place where choices about working outside or inside the home are even options.

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