Mad Men and Shortchanged Women

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Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy Olson on ‘Mad Men'; Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC

Peggy Olson on Mad Men; Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC

One of my favorite scenes in Sunday’s Mad Men premiere was watching Peggy kick ass at work while confidently and constructively berating her male underlings for their weak copywriting. It was a rare modern moment that could have played out in an office on Madison Avenue today.

But there’s another parallel that’s a lot less fun, and also relevant today. It’s a sad fact that Peggy and many women today have more in common than an appreciation for skillful wordplay or for men with creative facial hair, because in 2013 women are still making less money than men — a lot less. In 1967, women were making about 56 cents for every dollar men made. Nearly 50 years later, we’ve made some progress, yes, but not much: exactly 21 cents worth.

Today is Equal Pay Day, the 92nd day of the year, symbolizing how far into 2013 women have to work in order to make as much as their male counterparts made in 2012. Women in the United States make about 23 percent less than men. The wage gap is even greater for women of color.

Last year, the gap actually widened. According to The Huffington Post, men made slightly more than they did in 2011 and women made slightly less. All told, women made about $163 dollars less per week in 2012 than men.

The widening pay gap can largely be explained by the types of jobs women are gaining and losing, Ariane Hegewisch, one of the study’s researchers told The Huffington Post. In 2012, government budget tightening led to cuts in public sector jobs, which disproportionately affected women. At the same time, job growth for women came in low-paying sectors like retail and service.

“Public sector jobs for women — especially at the state and local level — were cut during 2012, they might go further during the sequester,” she said. “Public sector jobs are good jobs for women because they’re median- and higher-qualified jobs. They’re good middle-income jobs and when budgets are cut those jobs go.”

Speaking of public-sector jobs, President Obama, who declared today Equal Pay Day in a statement yesterday, might want to make some changes in his own house. Politico reports that although the president has “has repeatedly lamented statistics showing that men generally earn more than women,” his White House has “failed in recent years to pay female employees the same amount as male ones.”

A January Daily Caller analysis of the gender-pay disparities in the Obama White House revealed that while the women comprised approximately 50 percent of the White House staff in 2012, the median salary for female staffers was 13 percent less than the median salary of male staffers.

That’s better than the national average, but it’s still not equal.

Another step that Congress could take would be to finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it illegal for companies to pay male and female employees different wages for the same work, close loopholes and prevent companies from punishing or firing workers who disclose their salaries in order to uncover disparities in pay. There’s an online petition for those who want to show their support.

Back in Mad Men-land, it seems as though Peggy Olson got handed the Virginia Slims account by her new boss, Ted Chough. The iconic “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” campaign was launched in 1968, and although it was actually written by 15 men — no surprise there considering its ridiculous message — I’m still looking forward to watching Peggy come up with it.

Too bad we still have such a long way to go.

Watch the original Virginia Slims ad:

Theresa Riley is the director of digital content & strategy at BillMoyers.com. She creates content and oversees the planning and execution of Bill Moyers’ social media strategy. She is an award-winning web producer and editor whose work has been featured on PBS Online and TIME.com.
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