A million years ago, when I was a pastor in a small town in upstate New York, my parishioners and I were sitting on my porch discussing feminist analysis of scripture when a woman said, “I don’t like those feminists. I don’t believe in what they stand for”. I was shocked, but after I regrouped, I asked her “Have you ever done the same work as a man for less money?”. She said, “yes”. I asked, “Does that seem fair to you?”. The blood drained from her face and the smoke poured out of her ears. She went on to describe — for twenty minutes! — how she had to work for her brother picking corn because he was sick and how she had to work in 102 degree heat. At the end of the day, she made less than half of what he made, (if she made anything). She was told because she was a woman, she didn’t need it as much as he did. So, as she pointed out, “I was stronger than he was (he was ill from the heat), worked harder at something, and got less money for it?!” “That’s not right!”, she demanded. I explained that “equal pay for equal work” is one of the basic tenets of feminism and that she was right, it wasn’t fair. These events happened when she was in her teens and she was in her sixties when she told the story! That’s a long time to sit on pain and anger, but there it was.
We’re having a weird year in the news this year. Issues I thought we’d long decided: Black folk shouldn’t be shot, women should have available birth control if they want it, poor people should get the help they need, and now “yes, a mother is a worker” comes back up for a vote — at least in the popular press. The Huffington Post says, “Spare Us! A Day Wasted on Another Pointless Story” and then goes on to say that a) Romney’s wife was a stay-at-home mother who believes she did work; b) The government doesn’t call it work for tax purposes because they don’t get paid for it; c) Some women choose to work outside of the home, some don’t; d) Some women don’t feel like they have a choice and have to work outside the home because they’re single parents or poor parents. Which part of this is news? And here’s the Huffington Post, both decrying it as a “pointless story” and, at the same time, running at least three articles on it. It must not be pointless to somebody.
So, just to check in on what I thought had already been settled: In the sight of God, and in our government, “all people are created equal”. I know that the Constitution says “Men” there, but we’ve grown up enough to believe that men and women have equal value so I’ll write it that way. By law, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and every other race is considered to be of equal value. Poor people are equal in value to rich people, even if they are not paid the same. Gay folks are equal to heterosexual folk in many parts of the country (and in my church) by law. All of this is true in a democracy.
Other facts I think are “settled” — raising a child, if you do it right, is hard work. It’s time consuming, it’s physically and emotionally exhausting. It’s time consuming. Lastly, it costs money to do it at all.
Here’s where it gets funky: we say that everyone has equal value in a democracy, and that “capitalism equals democracy”, but somehow that doesn’t translate into equal pay for work in the capitalist system we live in. We value “motherhood and apple pie” but we only pay for the apple pie. I’m not sure why we do that, but I’m sure it’s not right.
Both Mrs. Romney and the Democratic woman who said she never worked (i.e. outside of the home) are correct. If folks are going to say that being a mother is so very important to the fabric of who we are as a nation, maybe we should pay the mothers who do that work. If we say that parenting is an important job, and that some people shouldn’t have children they can’t take care of because it’s a burden on society, maybe we should pay for them not to have children so that they don’t burden our society with children we/they can’t handle. If we say that “wealth equals value”, or that “work equals the right to make a living”, maybe we should pay people who do work enough to earn a living. If a woman raising kids has the same bills as a man raising kids, (regardless of whether she works outside of the home or not) maybe she should get the same money for doing the same work — so she can raise her kids, the same way a man can.
Either our values are true, but capitalism is a lie or our values aren’t right and capitalism tells the truth. It’s as simple as that. I would prefer — whatever system you want to call it — that both equality and capitalism were true. It only seems fair.