Ellen Bravo 

Feminist author discusses women and the workplace

Feminist author Ellen Bravo focuses much of her writing on the interrelationship between women and the workplace. Her most recent book title says it all: Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism Is Good for Families, Business, and the Nation (Feminist Press). Bravo argues that women cannot become complacent with misleading anecdotal evidence of women making strides in the workplace. Instead, she argues, women need to tear the system down and build it back up from scratch. Bravo will read from and discuss her book Thursday, May 17, from 7-9 p.m. at Charis Books and More (1189 Euclid Ave., 404-524-0304). A reception will feature local 9to5 leaders to discuss the minimum wage and family-leave policies for low-wage women.

One of your biggest concerns with the current state of feminism seems to be falling into what you call "abracadabra arithmetic – thinking that one or a few equals equality." Why don't recent gains such as the elevation of Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House signal marked improvement for women?

We applaud these gains. But when we talk about women, we have to look at the status of women overall. Only 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female; half of 1 percent are women of color. Women make up only 6 percent of top earners and 16 percent of Congress. Where are women plentiful? We're 90 percent of those earning less than $15,000 a year. Over their lifetimes, women lose half a million dollars or more to pay inequity. Brazil, Cameroon and India have better leave policies than the U.S. The number of female executives has gone down, the number of women living in poverty has gone up.

Your book has been called a "myth-buster." What's the biggest myth it busts?

The notion that if so few women are in the best-paying and most powerful jobs, it's because they choose not to be there – they'd rather be home with their kids. An inflexible and discriminatory workplace drives women out at all levels of employment. When poor women choose to care for their children, they're called lazy and irresponsible – that's how much the Big Boys really value motherhood. It's time to recognize that the workplace is still designed for men with wives at home full-time, and redesign the building – not as a favor to women, but a better way to do business.

The pay gap between women and men has narrowed in recent years. Isn't this a sign of great progress for women?

The pay gap has been stuck at 77 cents for women overall, 72 cents for African-American women and 58 cents for Latinas. Half the narrowing of the gap came from a drop in pay for men, particularly men of color – this is not what we had in mind by equality. Also, the mommy wage gap has increased, meaning that women with kids make less than everyone else. We won't solve the problem of pay until we recognize that the reason women earn so little money is that their employers pay them so little, because of the legacy of discrimination built into the value of many women's jobs, because of lack of bargaining power and because of the motherhood penalty. These need to be the focus of change.


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