There were hundreds of people, maybe thousands, on the grounds of the State Capitol. They were mostly moms, grandmothers and kids, with some dads and grandpas scattered into the lot. Many of the women had dark green buttons pinned to their shirts. Printed in thick white numbers, the buttons read “59¢.”
My mother had driven my younger sister and me downtown in a Ford Fairmont with a four-speed transmission. It was 1981, and I was 13. The N.C. Legislature was set to take another vote on the Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA. Mom explained that 59¢ was how much a woman earned for every dollar a man earned, but she left it up to us to decide what we thought about that. She didn’t shout or wave a homemade sign; our trip included no bra-burning theatrics.
The ERA didn’t pass, but it made sense to me then and it continues to make sense to me now: 59 cents doesn’t equal a dollar. Surely, 30 years later, we must be at parity.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently clicked over to the The New York Times “Economix” blog and read this headline: “Gender Gap on Wages is Slow to Close.” The post says, in part, “Even with the same college and professional degrees, men earn more than women. And among so-called creative class workers like architects, teachers, artists, engineers, bankers and journalists, men earn much more than women, even though more women hold such jobs.”
I have a great job at an excellent company and have spent my career working with legions of capable and whip-smart women. I assumed that a dollar now equaled a dollar, for a man or a woman or any variant thereof. In truth, I lost sight of all the moms and grandmas on the Capitol grounds in 1981, those brave souls who raised their voices and forged a path for me.
“Adjusted for factors that could affect pay, like age, race, education, number of children in the household and part-time status, women earn 86 cents for every $1 earned by men,” the Times went on to say. Sure, it’s 27 cents closer (and up from 81 cents in 2000), but 86 cents still doesn’t equal a dollar. It’s surely not as close as my mother hoped it would be for my sister and me when she took us downtown that day.
It’s been 30 years since North Carolina defeated the ERA. What will my daughter think about 86 cents? What would she think of women marching on the Capitol, wearing green buttons with “86¢” printed in white letters? Actually, what will all of our daughtersthese bright, determined young women who have a million dreams about what they want to be when they grow upthink about such a number? I hope that, in a decade or so, my daughter doesn’t have to go downtown wearing a button. It’s my responsibility to try and make sure she can just go to work.