Yes, #MeToo has become one of the most powerful political movements in the modern era. It’s about fighting to give women who have been sexually harassed or abused a voice in their day in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. It’s also about ensuring a sense of recourse for the wrongs that have endured.
The time has come for this movement. But it must not drop the ball in the fight for pay parity. We must be reminded of this crucial task this month as we honor women who have defied the odds and broken down barriers to excel.
Any action that seeks to empower women and affirm their dignity by fighting against sex assaults is incomplete if it fails to comprehend that equal pay is also about the security and humanity of women. The two are mutually inclusive because they are both about ensuring justice for women.
The push to guarantee fair pay for women has been the enduring story of Lilly Ledbetter, who gave a voice to countless women lurking in the shadows of our communities in search of decent living. The 79-year-old Alabama woman came to the nation’s attention at the 2012 Democratic National Convention where she told her story. For 19 years she worked as a manager for a tire plant in her state. After 20 years, she discovered that she was making significantly less than the men who were doing the same job.
Addressing millions on television from the convention stage in a thick southern accent with grammatical profundity, Ledbetter explained to the world how she fought economic injustice.
“We sought justice because equal pay for equal work is an American value. That fight took me ten years. It took me all the way to the Supreme Court. And, in a 5–4 decision, they stood on the side of those who shortchanged my pay, my overtime, and my retirement just because I am a woman,” Ledbetter said. “But this fight became bigger than Lilly Ledbetter. Today, it's about my daughter. It's about my granddaughter. It's about women and men. It's about families. It's about equality and justice.”
In 2009 former President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to address the unfair wage gap between men and women.
But that is not the end of the fight.
The #MeToo movement must now take that fight to pockets of the nation where women are still lagging behind on the economic scale. Many of them remain underpaid and underappreciated. Their stories deserve not only a #MeToo spotlight, but also the same attention that gave potency to the movement to end sexual exploitation in our nation.
The gender pay gap is not political fiction no matter where you stand on the ideological spectrum. As exemplified by the life struggles of Ledbetter, she wasn’t paid less because she is a Democrat or Republican. She earned less because she is a woman, a well-documented fact.
In an age where womanhood is being redefined as evidenced by the successes that #MeToo has registered, it is time to address the structural inequities that lead some employers to place lower value on work done by women by paying them less.
For #MeToo to have a consequential and generational impact that would lead to positive and meaningful change that upholds the humanity and rights of all women, it cannot be a narrow and single-issue movement. It must be a broad force in addressing economic inequality that many women face as part of the journey toward empowerment.
The late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement to combat deforestation and empower women, said, “Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps. I have been on a journey and this journey has never stopped. When the journey is acknowledged and sustained by those I work with, they are a source of inspiration, energy and encouragement. They are the reasons I kept walking, and will keep walking, as long as my knees hold out.”
Like Maathai, Lilly Ledbetter also started a journey that #MeToo must continue as long as the movement’s knees can hold out.
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