Reaching backward

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In the days after Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing Wisconsin’s pay equity law for women, Republicans put forth excuses even more contemptible than the measure itself.

Adopted in 2009, Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act allowed women to sue their employers in state court if they were being paid less than men for doing the same work.Women could already sue in federal court, but the state judicial system is more accessible and less expensive.

Walker waited more than a month to quietly sign the repeal into law along with other controversial measures to limit women’s reproductive freedom. The delay and the silence, particularly coming from a man who is nothing if not boastful, signal that Walker knew this legislation was not a winner.

How could it be? Women form half the nation’s workforce, and most families are dependent to some extent – often to the largest extent – on women’s earnings.Yet those earnings continue to lag behind men’s.

In fact, discrimination against women in the workplace persists in a big way. According to a Georgetown University survey released in March, fewer than 5 percent of the nation’s top executives in 2010 were women. During the 10-year period that the survey covered, women in executive positions never exceeded 6 percent.

Such discrimination not only hurts women, but also their husbands, partners, children and families. It helps only big business – the ultimate beneficiary for all things Walker. Corporate chieftains want the freedom to hire women at lower wages without facing the cost, inconvenience and bad publicity of a lawsuit.

In signing the bill, the governor hid his true motives behind anti-lawyer sentiment. He proclaimed that the law he repealed was nothing more than a “gravy train” for trial lawyers. There’s a big gap in his thinking: Lawyers don’t prompt pay equity lawsuits, discriminatory employers do. Those employers are the ones riding the gravy train by cheating women out of their hard- earned dollars.

Of course, the religious right was also delighted by this repeal.The fundies want women in the kitchen – barefoot and pregnant – not in the workforce. The Republicans’ attitude toward women in the workplace was best articulated by Sen. Glen Grothman.“You could argue that money is more important for men,” he said.

Maybe that’s true in right-wing Christian sexual fantasies. In the real world, however, women not only have equal ambition and the right to equal treatment, but they’re often compelled to support their children. Perhaps Grothman has never heard of a deadbeat dad.

It’s no coincidence that at the same time Walker signed the pay equity repeal bill, he also signed measures making it more difficult for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.The last session of the Legislature was characterized by an unprecedented assault on working women and women’s health.

The GOP had to reach back a couple of hundred years to find arguments supporting its views. And a couple of hundred years backward is precisely where Wisconsin Republicans are determined to take the state if they remain in power.