Issues ››› Gender
  • NY Times Contributor Highlights How Unionization Helps Fight Economic Inequality, Gender Pay Gap

    Unions Benefit All Workers With Better Pay And Stable Shifts, Collective Bargaining Reduces The Gender Pay Gap

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    A New York Times contributor shared her experience working as a cocktail server in Las Vegas, where she saw how unions helped workers -- especially women and immigrants -- receive better pay, benefits, and job security.

    Brittany Bronson, a Times contributor and an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) highlighted the importance of unions in an August 17 op-ed, discussing how unions provide many benefits that specifically help women in the workplace. Bronson reported from her own experience that “unions are strong in Las Vegas,” providing workers in the casino and hospitality industry “benefits that cocktail servers and hotel workers in other states can only dream of.” These benefits and protections -- including good wages, health care packages, and stable scheduling -- are why Bronson saw “so many lifers in [the] industry.” The op-ed also discussed how union seniority helped women maintain their rights at work -- something that “runs counter to most American workplaces, where women tend to lose power as they age” and the gender pay gap widens for women as they get older.

    The role unions can play in tackling pay disparities and overall economic inequality is frequently dismissed by right-wing media, which deny the existence of a gender pay gap and misleadingly blame unions for contributing to economic deterioration. Working women in the United States earned “just 79 percent of what men were paid” in 2014, according to a Spring 2016 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Pay disparities follow women throughout their careers, depressing their earnings potential and contributing to elevated rates of poverty in retirement. Union seniority rights and collective bargaining opportunities could be an important part of ending the gender pay gap by preventing pay discrimination against women -- as the op-ed pointed out, the Pew Charitable Trust found that the gender pay gap narrows in union shops, where women are paid roughly 88 percent as much as their male counterparts. From the August 17 edition of The New York Times:

    Unions are strong in Las Vegas, and they bring benefits that cocktail servers and hotel workers in other states can only dream of: Beyond better wages and health care packages, union members are ensured set schedules and their first choice of coveted shifts, based on seniority. It’s why there are so many lifers in my industry: At the top of our cocktailing matriarchy was a woman who had joined the union in 1973.


    The Las Vegas casino scene runs counter to most American workplaces, where women tend to lose power as they age. According to research by the recruiting site Glassdoor, the pay gap, even after it’s adjusted for things like occupation, increases with age — from 2.2 percent for women ages 18 to 24 to 10.5 percent for women between 55 and 64. Family obligations and gender discrimination take women out of the American work force, meaning fewer promotions, fewer women in management and ultimately fewer raises.


    The benefits ripple outward, in the form of family wealth building and educational opportunities. According to a March 2015 New York Times report, a girl in a poor family who grows up in Las Vegas will make 7 percent more than she would elsewhere by age 26. Income mobility for women is better in Clark County, where Las Vegas is, than it is in 71 percent of counties nationwide.

  • Wash. Post Editorial Board Lauds U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Fight For Equal Pay

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post editorial board highlighted the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s effort to fight “discouraging” gender pay inequality as the 2016 Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro.

    In March, five members of the women’s soccer team filed a wage-discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The action cited figures showing that, despite generating nearly $20 million more revenue last year than the U.S. men's team and having more success in the World Cup, the women were paid four times less than the men. Right-wing media criticized the action, claiming the pay gap could be attributed to men’s sports being “more interesting” and falsely claiming the women’s team doesn’t “bring in much revenue.” Conservative media repeatedly downplayed soccer’s gender pay disparity even before the complaint, claiming women’s soccer had smaller viewership.

    In an August 4 editorial, The Washington Post editorial board highlighted how the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s “most recent quest for Olympic gold” in Rio de Janeiro coincides with the team’s campaign for equal pay. The board explained that the women’s team “brought in more revenue than the men’s team did last year, earning $23 million to the men’s $21 million,” and urged the men’s team to “put some pressure on the federation by endorsing equal pay for their fellow American footballers.” The board wrote the pay gap was “discouraging not only for fans of women’s soccer but also for anyone who values equality of the sexes.” From the editorial:

    ON WEDNESDAY, the highly decorated U.S. women’s national soccer team began its most recent quest for Olympic gold, but that’s not the only contest its members face. The players recently launched a public campaign for equal pay, using their widely followed social media platforms to advertise gender inequities the U.S. Soccer Federation chooses to ignore.


    By taking their fight public, the women should generate more interest — especially if the team adds another gold medal to its collection in Rio de Janeiro. But that may not be enough to tip the scales. Although the federation says it strongly supports women’s soccer, its president, Sunil Gulati, has yet to appear at a bargaining session. Perhaps the U.S. men’s team members could put some pressure on the federation by endorsing equal pay for their fellow American footballers.

    Unequal pay for female athletes is often attributed to lower revenue production. That’s the case in professional soccer, where National Women’s Soccer League salaries are embarrassingly low because the league lacks the ticket sales Major League Soccer enjoys. However, the narrative changes with America’s international soccer teams. Not only is the U.S. women’s team the most dominant team in the history of its sport, but it also brought in more revenue than the men’s team did last year, earning $23 million to the men’s $21 million. In the next fiscal year, the women are projected to generate $8.5 million more than the men. Though the federation argues that the U.S. men’s national team made more than the women did in past years, thus meriting the men’s higher per-match compensation, the federation did not reverse the practice when the women’s earnings surpassed those of the men.

    Further, unlike with the professional leagues, the national teams share a single employer — U.S. Soccer. According to Jeffrey Kessler, the players’ attorney: “One employer may not discriminate between its male and female employees under the law. Legally, they are required to provide equal pay for equal work.”

    The U.S. Soccer Federation’s failure to close the wage gap — a familiar reality for women of all vocations — is discouraging not only for fans of women’s soccer but also for anyone who values equality of the sexes.

  • Donald And Eric Trumps’ Sexual Harassment Victim-Blaming Is A Staple In Right-Wing Media

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Donald and Eric Trump’s victim-blaming responses to questions about sexual harassment were condemned in the media, but they echoed right-wing media’s long history of putting the onus on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Right-wing media figures have suggested that being a sexual assault survivor is a “coveted status,” that victims should “make better decisions,” and that “women need to take some responsibility.”

  • How An Animated Comedy Showed The Big Problem With News Coverage About Abortion

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    The Netflix series BoJack Horseman recently released an episode in which a major character decides to get an abortion, serving as a rare example of a comedy show that both tackles the topic of abortion and explicitly addresses the social stigma surrounding the medical procedure, including how abortion conversations in media are dominated by anti-choice men.

    The third season of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman, which depicts a cartoon world populated by both human and animal characters, includes an episode centered not just around a character’s abortion but also around the stigma that can be associated with the procedure itself. In the episode titled “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew,” released in July, a human character named Diane chooses to get an abortion after discussing her unwanted pregnancy with her spouse. Diane’s celebrity ghostwriting client accidentally becomes involved, sparking a media discussion about abortion within the animated world.

    The episode touches on some of the real-world aspects of obtaining an abortion, including protesters at the clinic, state-mandated ultrasound requirements, and informed consent laws. The show’s take on abortion stigma has garnered praise from TV critics who have called it “refreshing” and “a bracing counter-programming to the way discussion around abortion occurs in the media.”

    A.V. Club’s Les Chappell also noticed the episode satirized abortion cable news conversations overwhelmingly dominated by men. In the episode, a news program on “MSNBSea” featured a discussion about Sextina Aquafina’s abortion by a panel of “old men in bow ties” (and a whale voiced by Keith Olbermann) who feel pretty confident about their “unbiased” opinions on abortion. Earlier in the episode, the whale news anchor asked, “Is Twitter an appropriate forum to be discussing a sensitive issue like abortion? Wouldn’t a better forum be nowhere?” Chappell wrote, “it nails the worst part of abortion debates, how they’re so often had by those who have no business talking about it.”

    Although played for satire, the scene is pretty true to life in its commentary on the male dominance of abortion conversations in news. A Media Matters study of 14 months of cable news discussions about abortion found they included overwhelmingly male hosts, correspondents, and guests, and featured more anti-choice voices than pro-choice. In fact, from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, 62 percent of cable news figures engaging in abortion-related discussions were men. In that time period, there was only one appearance by a group representing or advocating for reproductive rights for women of color across all three major cable networks.

    These limited types of discussions, just as on BoJack Horseman’s “MSNBSea,” can ultimately fuel conservative misinformation about abortion and about women’s health more generally, as well as perpetuate stigma about the procedure.

    Stigmatizing silence or misinformed statements about abortion are not limited to the types of news coverage portrayed on BoJack Horseman, either. The entire premise of the episode is unusual.

    Abortion plotlines on true comedy shows are rare, according to Gretchen Sisson, a researcher at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), which produces the Abortion Onscreen project analyzing abortion stories in TV and film since 1916. According to ANSIRH’s research, 20 American TV shows featured a discussion of abortion in 2015, but all of these shows were categorized as dramas, or as a mix of drama and comedy like HBO’s Girls. Sisson explained in an email to Media Matters that, while TV comedy shows may make jokes about abortion, they rarely feature a character actually contemplating obtaining one. “Only about four percent of all abortion TV plotlines -- where a character is making a decision about an abortion -- occur on comedy programs,” explained Sisson. “Most TV abortion stories occur on dramas, shows that mix drama and comedy, and science fiction or horror programs.”

    In fact, one of the few other examples of a comedy show -- also a cartoon -- featuring an abortion was a 2009 episode of Family Guy. Fox refused to air the episode because of its subject matter.

    The current state of abortion discussions in media coverage and in popular entertainment ultimately serves to reinforce misinformation by shrouding the topic in confusion and secrecy. BoJack Horseman’s rare approach to highlighting the realities women experience when choosing to undergo the common medical procedure -- and the persistent stigma media perpetuate about the decision -- takes an important step in shifting the discussion.