No War on Women 
Exposing the Left’s gender politics and pandering
An NRO Interview

Carrie Lukas and Sabrina Schaeffer are co-authors of Liberty Is No War on Women, pushing back against some of the more exaggerated and misleading rhetoric this election season. Schaeffer takes some questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You contend that there is no “war on women” in the United States. If that’s the case, why does the Left seem to think it’s an accusation with traction?

SABRINA SCHAEFFER: There is absolutely no war on women. And the claim that one political party is openly hostile to more than 50 percent of the electorate should strike any reasonable person as absurd. You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that women – single or married, rural or urban, young or old, mothers or childless — are not a homogenous voting bloc.

The reality is the “war on women” rhetoric is a despicable use of gender politics and fearmongering by Democrats to try to shore up a critical constituency — single women — whom the president won by a 45-point margin in 2008. These single female voters are a critical part of the Democratic base, and they are the basis for Sandra Fluke’s fame, the “Life of Julia” infographic, and the “war on women” narrative.

LOPEZ: How is it “sexist” to argue that there is a war on women? Obviously it comes out of a belief that women should be treated fairly.

SCHAEFFER: The message behind the “war on women” should make women cringe. It assumes that women are inherently less capable than men of learning, working, standing on their own, and caring for their families. Over and over again, women are viewed as damsels in distress in need of a knight on a white horse (read: government) to come in and save them. But I’m pretty sure this is one of those “sexist” ideas our 1960s feminist forebearers were a little upset about. Only now, the paternalistic figure is government rather than a man.

LOPEZ: Does Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment bug you?

SCHAEFFER: Absolutely not. This is just the latest distraction by the Obama campaign, which is desperately trying to hold on to the “war on women” narrative, despite its ineffectiveness.

LOPEZ: Has our understanding of liberty in America changed over history? 

SCHAEFFER: Absolutely. Americans have always had conflicting views of liberty. But liberty is not a war on women. And neither is the freedom that choice entails.

Choosing to major in psychology rather than computer science is not an injustice. Choosing to leave work — or work part time — to raise children is not discrimination. And choosing to have a really big soda, to be vegan, to drink raw milk, or eat salty popcorn are all choices a free citizen should have. And history has demonstrated over and over again that when government tries to make choices for us, the outcomes are always worse — worse schools, worse health care, worse economic growth.

LOPEZ: Why do you mention Gabby Giffords on your first page?

SCHAEFFER: In the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, there was near-hysteria about the tenor of our political culture. Unfortunately the “war on women” mantra reveals that civil discourse in American politics remains a distant dream, and it also shows that the Left is deeply dishonest when it comes to talking about women in America.

At the heart of this hideous rhetoric is the notion that American society — especially the workplace — is inherently unfair to women. Not only is this simply not true, it’s also a terrible way to look at things. The fact is that there is a lot of good news for women and girls in America today, and we enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to learn, to work, and to succeed in all aspects of life.

LOPEZ: Isn’t a bit simplistic to argue that big government is the problem, and isn’t it true that the anti-big-government message will reach only those folks who are already committed conservatives?

SCHAEFFER: Of course big government can’t explain all of society’s woes, but government largesse definitely plays a big role. Whether it’s costly regulations and taxation that discourage innovation and entrepreneurship, protective legislation that makes women more costly to employ, or a government-run health-care system that limits choice and flexibility, women — and men — pay a high price for this kind of government overreach.

LOPEZ: Is over-regulation really keeping American women up nights?

SCHAEFFER: I’m sure most wouldn’t put it in those terms, so let’s put it this way: Women — as students, mothers, and the majority of America’s teachers — care intensely about education. But without a market in education, our public-school system fails to encourage innovation or reward results. Most families still have few choices — beyond picking up and changing residences (which is often prohibitively expensive) — about where their children will attend school. And that’s something that I know keeps women up at night.

LOPEZ: Why do you hate Lilly Ledbetter?

SCHAEFFER: Let’s be clear . . . I don’t hate Lilly Ledbetter. I’ve never met her. But I do think the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is terrible legislation.

The Obama administration and women’s groups on the left love to tout the Lilly Ledbetter Act as a great accomplishment for women; but this law does not protect women against gender-based discrimination. It simply extends the 180-day statue of limitations for filing an equal-pay discrimination suit established under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It states that the 180-day limit must reset with every new paycheck.

The premise behind the law is that the workplace is antagonistic toward women. While I condemn gender-based discrimination and believe we need to protect the rights of employees with legitimate grievances (which we already do through the 1963 Equal Rights Act), this law goes much further. It encourages frivolous lawsuits that have the potential to cripple business. Laws like this one actually increase the risk and cost of employing women by creating the threat of lawsuits and uncertainty.

LOPEZ: What’s wrong with the Paycheck Fairness Act and “comparable worth”?

SCHAEFFER: The Paycheck Fairness Act was an attempt to reconcile the problem of the so-called wage gap [no quotes with phrase “so-called”] — the notion that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The reality is that this gap is highly exaggerated. When you control for any number of variables — education, college major, time spent out of the workforce — the pay disparity largely disappears. And in some areas of the country, single, urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts because women are earning more college degrees.

So choices — not widespread discrimination — explain the small pay disparity between men and women. But choices are a function of a woman’s freedom, not an injustice imposed on her by society.

The bottom line is that the PFA would limit the reasons employers could give for salary differences, making it easier for employees to file suits, but also making the workplace less flexible and making it nearly impossible for employers to tie compensation to work quality. It would be a boon to trial lawyers and feminist activists, but it would be a jobs killer at a time when government should be backing off and allowing businesses to make management decisions that make the most sense for them.

LOPEZ: Does anyone really care that the wage gap is a myth? The media is on the other side, and why wouldn’t they be? When you argue that the wage gap is a myth, it sounds as if you’re making the case that your wife/mother/sister doesn’t deserve more money. Who’s going to argue that case?

SCHAEFFER: Well, you’re certainly right that the media is on the other side. This statistic is repeated ad nauseam even though it’s wrong. I always like to remind people that women are an extremely valuable part of the workforce, and businesses know that.

Sometimes it’s helpful to consider what would happen if there really was a wage gap and if women really were all consistently paid less than men. Presumably companies that hired an all-female staff would have a huge competitive advantage; they would be able to charge their customers significantly less than male-employing competitors, and they would drive the competition out of business. I’ve never heard of this happening.

If you truly believe in a significant wage gap, you have to believe that American companies are overrun with sexism and that keeping men “ahead” and overpaying men are bigger priorities than running a profitable business. This doesn’t make any sense, and there’s no evidence to suggest this.

LOPEZ: Is criticism of Title IX a hopelessly unpopular position?

SCHAEFFER: I’m not sure this is an argument that is lost on everyone. During Title IX’s 40th anniversary last spring, I did a lot of interviews with reporters who were skeptical of the law.

The bottom line is that Title IX perpetuates the myth that women are victims in constant need of special government protection. And, unfortunately, women’s groups on the left just keep on moving the goalposts. It’s no longer sufficient to have gender equality — now feminists are seeking gender parity in all areas of life.

Rather than create gender equality on the field, Title IX has helped institutionalize quotas and reverse gender discrimination — and if it’s expanded into academics, it threatens to do the same thing in the classroom.

At some point, I hope feminists will begin to accept that we can’t engineer women’s choices and that men and women — no matter how balanced the circumstances — maintain different strengths and preferences.

LOPEZ: What does telecommuting have to do with presidential elections?

SCHAEFFER: Part of our book is meant to highlight how women are really progressing. It’s not bigger government and more regulation that are making women’s lives better. It’s innovation in the private sector. Telecommuting is one of those examples. Women today have more options for combining work and family than ever before, and that’s thanks to the market-based communication revolution, which has taken place in recent decades.

LOPEZ: What’s your beef with Obamacare? Do you want being a woman to be a preexisting condition?

SCHAEFFER: It’s true that women are an integral part of our health-care system — they make the majority of decisions pertaining to their families’ health-care needs, and they purchase about 80 percent of prescription drugs. We might even say that women have the most at stake in preserving high-quality medical treatment centered on individual patient choice.

But women’s groups on the left have been so concerned with negotiating specific advantages for women — supposedly “free” birth control, annual exams, and no more gender-based pricing — that they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. They’ve considered only one side of the equation — the “benefits” — and have ignored the costs, in terms of both freedom and resources, of this law. What would Obamacare mean for our tax burden and our lagging economy? What does this mean for the quality of our health care? And what does Obamacare mean for freedom?? 

LOPEZ: So what would you do about health care?

SCHAEFFER: The first step must be repealing the entire Affordable Care Act. Then we can focus on a series of positive reforms to address the real problems in our health-care system. Some of those reforms might include allowing individuals to purchase health insurance across state lines, expanding high-deductible insurance plans and health-savings accounts, building high-risk pools, and reforming medical-malpractice laws.

LOPEZ: How much does the HHS mandate worry you?

SCHAEFFER: It’s interesting because this has been such a big issue in this campaign, which is, on one hand, preposterous given that we have American diplomats being killed in the Middle East, a $16-trillion debt, and intractable unemployment. Yet this issue really is a perfect snapshot of a core question facing America’s electorate today: Do you really think that it’s government’s job to make reproductive services “free” to all American women? What’s more, do you think it is government’s job to force others, including those with religious objections to these services, to pay for them? This has nothing to do with one’s attitude toward contraception and everything to do with whether or not we are still a country with a government of limited powers.

LOPEZ: What do you have against women “having it all”?

SCHAEFFER: Whenever someone asks me about women “having it all,” I think back to my first job in Washington as an assistant to former United Nations ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Jeane was the first woman to serve in this cabinet post, a professor at Georgetown, a wife, and mother of three sons, so she definitely helped tear down some walls of her own. But what I remember most from my experience with the ambassador, however, has little to do with foreign affairs. One day, in her office, she said to me: “Women can do anything they want — just not everything at the same time.”

LOPEZ: What would you say to any woman who is empathetic to the case that Sandra Fluke and her candidate make in regard to women?

SCHAEFFER: I would ask those women to consider what this pandering says about the candidates who are trying to appeal to them. Do women really want lawmakers to see them as entirely dependent on government, needing Uncle Sam’s assistance at every step of their lives, as depicted by “Julia?” This is a vision of women that anyone, Democrat or Republican, who believes in true equality and independence should find reprehensible.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.