Opinion: Op-Eds

Christina Hoff Sommers' 'Freedom Feminism' is right path for women's movement

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Diana Furchtgott Roth,Op-Eds,Books

It's the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, and despite the immense progress women have made over the past half-century, feminists are spreading a bogus statistic that women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Their remedy — passage of multiple bills that would allow the federal government to intrude even further into private firms' compensation decisions — would slow hiring for men and women.

It's time for a new approach — "Freedom Feminism." That's the title of a new book by American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sommers wants feminists to appreciate women's different choices of low-key or high-powered careers, be pro-woman but not anti-male, and help women around the globe who suffer from poverty and physical abuse.

Sommers knows that American women's progress has been remarkable. The share of women who participate in the paid labor force has grown from 38 percent in 1963 to 58 percent in 2012.

Back in 1970 (data for 1963 are not available) fewer than 10 percent of law and medical degrees were awarded to women. Now it's about half. Women earn 58 percent of B.A. and M.A. degrees, and over half of Ph.Ds.

The success of American feminists needs to be extended to other countries. "For most of the world's women," Sommers writes, "the quest for equality has hardly begun."

The story of women's oppression in developing countries has been extensively documented, and American feminists should give their foreign sisters a hand.

Sommers suggests that feminists should stick to the facts rather than making them up. Earnings for men and women who work in the same job, with the same experience, are about the same, according to many economic studies.

First-time cashiers, male and female, are paid the same, as are first-year male and female associates at law firms.

On average, when all women are compared with all men, women make less because more of them choose to major in humanities than science and math at college. Then, when they graduate, more enter the nonprofit or government sector.

Finally, many choose to work fewer hours to better combine work and family. In May, 23 percent of women worked part-time compared to 11 percent of men, according to Labor Department data.

Labor Department figures show that for men and women who work 40 hours weekly, the ratio was 88 percent. Comparing unmarried and childless men and women between the ages of 35 and 43, women earn more: 108 cents on a man's dollar.

Even in President Obama's 2012 White House, female staffers made 87 cents on a man's dollar, according to the Daily Caller.

To solve the so-called pay gap, feminists are calling for pernicious policies such as passage of the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act, higher minimum wages, and mandatory paid maternity and sick leave. These would raise labor costs and lower the employment of men and women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which threatens massive litigation about pay differences between men and women, has no chance of becoming law in this Congress, because it failed to pass the Democrat-controlled Congress in the first two years of the president's term.

Legal and cultural changes have ended systemic workplace discrimination in America. But today's feminists do not fight for equality of opportunity but equality of outcome, regardless of choice or qualification.

By continuing to chant "women make 77 cents on the dollar," feminists are making themselves irrelevant.

According to Sommers, 70 percent of women say they are not feminists and 17 percent believe the label is insulting. Feminists are driving away young women who see that equal choices exist.

It's time for a new agenda: Freedom Feminism.

DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH, Washington Examiner columnist (dfr@manhattan-institute.org) and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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