It's official: Hillary Clinton is running for president. She'll need the enthusiastic support of female voters if she is to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling and become America's first female president. Expect to hear more from her on Tuesday, the day feminists have dubbed "Equal Pay Day" to mark when American women finally earn enough to make up for last year's pay gap.
Typically, Equal Pay Day is used to call for more government action to protect women from what is characterized as widespread discrimination. But if Clinton wants to reach beyond her base, she should take a different tact.
Rather than parroting the tired trope that women receive 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work, she should talk honestly about the tradeoffs women face, the value of their sacrifices to support family and communities and the need for a culture that truly respects both women and men.
First, it's time to acknowledge once and for all that Equal Pay Day rests on a false premise. The Bureau of Labor Statistic calculation that underlies the feminist holiday simply compares the earnings of full-time working women and men. It doesn't take into account the many factors — numbers of hours worked, industry, education, years of experience — that impact compensation. Study after study shows that once those factors are controlled for the wage gap shrinks, leaving just a few percentage points unexplained.
Wage gaps exist in every developed country and in the most committed, liberal workplaces, including Barack Obama's White House and in Hillary Clinton's own former Senate office. That's not because Clinton and Obama are secretly virulent sexists, but because women and men tend to make different choices when it comes to work life, which led to women taken on position with lower pay.
Discrimination does occur, of course, and women certainly face unfair obstacles in some workplaces. Old-boy networks, such as those in banking and tech industries, can unfairly discount women's contributions; biases against women, particularly working mothers, may contribute to the stubborn dearth of women at the top of corporate America. Women and men alike should reject discrimination, expose lingering sexist attitudes and strive to create work environments that respect women and fully value their contributions.
Female leaders like Hillary Clinton, however, do women no favors by implying that American women are doomed to be consistently and significantly shortchanged throughout their careers. Far better for women to understand that the choices they make — about what to study, what fields to enter, how much time to take off from their careers — will primarily determine their earning potential. After all, our goal shouldn't be for everyone to all work and earn exactly the same, but for men and women to make informed choices about how to use their time and talents.
And women's contributions to society, not just their earnings, deserve our respect. The feminist obsession with eradicating the wage gap ironically embraces what a women's studies professor might otherwise describe as a male values framework. Women have long understood that there is more to life than the all-mighty dollar.
Women aren't necessarily making a mistake when they decide not to "lean in" in pursuit of the corner office. They may find that their greatest satisfaction comes from personal successes, rather than professional ones. And even as we celebrate women's increased participation in the economy, we ought to also acknowledge the critical, if often overlooked, role that women outside of the workforce play in our communities. Women are our school volunteers, just-in-time family care for friends and first line of defense in neighborhood security. Too often we only see the importance of these women when we note their growing absence.
Men's contributions should also be properly valued. Equal Pay Day events imply that men are all sitting in boardrooms chewing cigars, but men often take on dangerous, dirty and distasteful jobs. They are paving our roads, guarding our prisons, driving trucks overnight and working on oil rigs and in fishing boats. They suffer over 90% of workplace fatalities. Many do so in order to earn more to provide for their families. That deserves our respect.
American women have made tremendous progress. More needs to be done. Mrs. Clinton can help us down that path by moving beyond '60s-style, women-as-victim feminism and becoming a strong voice for true equality.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women's Forum and coauthor of Liberty Is No War on Women.