Funding for To the Contrary provided by E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation The Park Foundation and the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation This week On To the Contrary, we celebrate our 32nd season on PBS with some longtime panelists and talk about how the issues of women in combat and equal pay have evolved.
Then reproductive rights and political efforts to bar women from obtaining chemical abortions.
(Music) Hello, I'm Bonnie Erbe' Welcome to To the Contrary, a discussion of news and social trends from diverse perspectives.
Our panelists on the launch of our 32nd season are women who've been with us from the beginning or close, even our first program.
And we start with two issues we've discussed for decades women in combat and equal pay.
Ten years ago, history was made when the military eliminated the ban on women in combat.
After years of debating whether women would make the armed services better or worse, women started being assigned to armor and infantry units.
Now, women comprise 16% of all armed forces.
In 2020 two, studies found, quote Female soldiers can not only perform as well as men in combat, but may exceed men even under physically demanding circumstances.
But there are problems.
In 2018, 13,000 military women reported being sexually assaulted or raped and women drop out at higher rates than men.
And complaints continue about promotions coming slowly for women.
Linda Chavez, let's start with you, because you were on the first program.
You were also on a pilot that we did.
So how how have you changed?
How do you see this issue now versus when the program started all those years ago?
Well, I was an early and vocal critic of women serving in combat positions.
I wrote about it.
In fact, I used to do commentary for National Public Radio.
And one of my commentaries on that subject eventually ended up getting me fired.
So I had very outspoken views on it.
I have to say that with basically now a decade under our belts in terms of how women have been performing, the data does seem to suggest that some of the problems were exaggerated in terms of whether or not women could compete.
But part of that is that the nature of combat has changed and there are now positions where you can be in combat, but not necessarily on the battlefield.
You may be involved in drone strikes or guiding a drone in a combat situation, and you're doing it from the safety off the battlefield.
And my objections were always as much philosophical as they were having to do with whether or not women could measure up, because clearly there are at least a fraction of women who can perform as well and outperform the average male.
But I did and still remain concerned about the nature of what combat is and killing and whether it is a good idea to have a society in which both men and women are expected not just to possibly take a bullet, but also to shoot bullets and bring down the enemy.
And I'm not sure philosophically that I've changed my mind.
I listened to some interviews, I must say, with female Marines, and they were in actual combat.
And they said that they have done as well as the men.
And in fact, there's a tick tock account, or more than one from officers, male officers who say, I've had great experiences with women in combat.
They've been extremely supportive and bring them on because we need more of them.
What are your thoughts, Ruth?
Like Linda, I have mixed feelings because the idea that everybody in society is poised to become a killer makes it seem like a harsh society But I think the whole point of having a civilian rather than a professional military is similar to having the military integrated in terms of sex and just having everybody have a stake in the military because it actually acts as sort of a control on the possibility of just having this kind of mercenary killing force that acts in our name without our feeling that we have real complicity.
So I think, you know, I am a beneficiary of Title nine and women's sports.
And I have witnessed sort of the the sense of equality and camaraderie among men and women in sports and in society.
And I think that kind of sense of women's capacity, physical, mental, intellectual capacity has.
That's progress, without a doubt.
It's also, you know, has happened at the same time.
Remember, we had don't ask, don't tell when this conversation started under Bill Clinton.
And that's gone.
I mean, I think that there has been a real improvement in sort of our sense as a society that the you know, the way that we police differences, the way that we say that gay people can't be soldiers, that women can't be soldiers, that that has really been transformational.
And I think that's progress.
And at the same time, I don't really see the rise of drone warfare as a huge improvement in the world.
I think there's a lot of extralegal killings that go on.
And certainly you can't argue that a woman would be any less effective than a man sitting in a chair operating a drone.
But that style of warfare is is very eerie and and creepy.
Genevieve, your thoughts?
Well, you know, the military has been and continues to be a great opportunity for for young people of both sexes and all sorts of backgrounds who maybe can't afford college but to get great training and go through the military and have access to college.
And I think that's been great for men and women, especially at the lower income level.
And if you look at who serving in today's military, it's not, quote unquote, America's elite.
It is the people.
It's it's a lot of immigrants who've come into the country.
It's a lot of people who come from low income backgrounds who've not had other opportunities.
And it served, like I said, for both sexes in that way.
But I go back to I think Linda's point of I am not a fan of both men and women in combat.
I don't think that all areas of combat are ideal for women.
But the the military has changed, whether it's the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the form of combat, the technology that's now involved.
I do think It's opened up more.
Opportunities for women to serve in those roles.
And, of course, it's all still voluntary.
We're not making people people do this.
I could actually sign up on their own, but and I don't know how much we're going to get into this Bonnie, but what we haven't seen decrease is the tension oftentimes or the sexual harassment kind of opportunities that come up when you have men and women in close quarters living together in close quarters.
And those are those are issues that have not necessarily gotten better in some cases, they've gotten worse.
And I think some of that all plays into this issue.
But, Genevieve, when you say you have mixed feelings and you don't want women in close quarters with men, etc., etc., isn't that like assuming that all men are rapists?
I don't I don't buy that argument.
I think men most men not not men with mental issues, of course, and they're nigh on to impossible to screen out.
But most men are quite capable of controlling themselves.
No, but what I'm saying, there are some aspects of the military where you do have men and women very close by, and it's not all about sex Bonnie.
I don't think all men and women are are sex animals.
And just putting them together is going to cause a problem.
They cause some problems and we've seen that.
But it's also the fact of in some cases, men naturally want to defend women.
Most men do.
And if you're partners on the battlefield and you have women on the battlefield, there's questions to whether or not in those cases male soldiers end up trying to take care of their female counterpart or colleague as much as going after the enemy.
And I suppose if it.
Was another male soldier.
One of the things I mean, when you started the segment, you pointed to the statistics that said that women were more likely to drop out.
That is an issue.
You know, if costs a great deal to train a soldier, there is a huge investment.
And so if you have higher attrition rates for whatever reason, that has to be some concern.
But let me ask you this and then we want to go on to the next topic.
But there women are 15% of the military.
It is all voluntary, don't you think?
If they eliminated women and even eliminated women in combat, there would be shortages of combat personnel?
There are huge shortages right now in recruiting.
I know this in part because I have a newly minted Marine in my family, one of my grandsons and another of my grandsons is trying to get into the army.
And I know that the military is really quite aggressive now.
So, yeah, you want to make it available.
And I guess the question about women serving in combat, the old surveys that I saw, and I am no reason to believe they would not be the same today, said that the people who are most interested in serving in combat positions were not enlisted personnel, but rather officers.
And that has to do with the chances for promotion and much greater likelihood that you become a general if you've served in a combat position.
Institutionally, women are dropping out because they're being harassed or discriminated against.
That's an institutional problem.
That's not a problem with the women, and the military is fully capable of controlling that.
I mean, the military is very good at controlling a lot of things, systematizing, creating discipline.
And if they can systematize, create discipline and prevent soldiers from harassing and assaulting other soldiers, then they're failing as an institution.
And that's where we should be putting our concern not on whether women are somehow bringing it on themselves.
Onto the next topic the gender wage gap has also been an ongoing issue.
In 2022, women earned about $0.82 for every dollar a man earned for black women, it's about $0.65 and Latinas $0.60.
So Equal Pay Day was March 14th.
That's the day a woman has to work until and including the prior year to earn what a man earns in one year, more than three months extra.
The gap has remained stable for 20 years now.
In 1979, the first year this data was collected, women earned $0.61 for every dollar earned by a man.
Genevieve, your thoughts on is this a slow progress?
Is it too quick?
I don't know what's your reaction to this?
I don't think we give women enough credit.
I mean, I think the reality is, Bonnie, and we've had this discussion many times, I just don't think these numbers are accurate when you actually compare.
Women have same backgrounds, same degrees, same title, same numbers of years in the workforce and so forth with men.
Once it's exhausted, it was $0.99 out of every dollar.
So, yeah, we want to get to the dollar, but 99 out of 100 is not bad when women and men have the same background, the same education level, same numbers of years in the workforce, same title, they basically are at equal pay.
We also know women are graduating from college more than men when we're getting more master's degrees than men.
But the difference is what they choose to major in is different by and large than men.
They tend to go into areas, whether it's social, whether it's nursing, whether it's social sciences, whether it's health care, health care workers versus engineering, for example.
And when you go different routes into careers, we all know different careers pay different amounts.
And so you may have more women graduating, but they're not graduating with degrees that are paying at the same level that many men are graduating with.
But that's by choice.
It may also be how much time you can spend with your family, how much time you can spend, not having to commute, working from home.
There's a lot that goes into what people choose for their careers.
And it's not just the bottom dollar.
Women do drop out or part time drop out because of children and to take take care.
They're more often the caregivers for elderly relatives.
But I must also point out we have had any number of women who are heads of the Women's Bureau at the Labor Department completely dispute what you just said.
They say they are based on the hours work, on the specialties, on the backgrounds of men versus women, and that regardless of those data and they do include those factors, women are still underpaid.
I don't know if 100% is supposed to be the clarion call or not, but I do know I did see a survey from the Women's Bureau years ago that showed that women PhDs made $0.98 on the dollar for every man.
So I really think education has a lot to do it and do with it and not, unfortunately, a liberal arts education, but a tech education, an engineering education, a high paying field, an education that qualifies you for a high paying, let's face it, mainly male dominated field like high tech, like engineering, etc., etc..
These numbers were generated by comparing people in the same roles.
So I don't think that it's accurate to say, Oh, you're talking about nurses versus corporate lawyers.
And of course there's a difference.
But but even even within that discussion, I mean, there's a whole lot of factors that contribute to inequality.
There's a new book out about women in the sciences and how hard it has been for women who are very high achieving scientists to achieve not just pay equity, but even equal lab space in that culture.
Just like we're talking about the military a moment ago, that sort of macho culture of a male dominated field.
It's been a struggle for women to get equal respect and equal pay.
And then there is the structural issues.
So we're talking about raising families, being caregivers.
Caregivers as professional caregivers are drastically underpaid, considering how badly we need them.
And we really noticed that during the pandemic there was a real need for health care workers.
There's a real need for teachers.
And, you know, these are female dominated professions that, because they're female dominated, have been underpaid.
But also we could have a society where both men and women could take adequate family leave to take care of the people in their lives without giving up their careers.
And there's a lot of pressure on women to do that.
So I think to present that as a choice, that it's really lovely.
Women can take a lot of time off from the workforce, misrepresents the fact that a lot of that is a forced choice.
I'm not sure what you mean by adequate family leave, but if you're trying to raise young children and if you're the primary caregiver in your family, or if you have elderly parents or relatives, you're trying to care up, take care of it.
I don't think there's any kind of paid leave that would that would make those options doable.
I really don't.
Know, there are countries that do have that.
There are countries where both men and women equally can take an entire year of paid leave and take care of their brand new children and get back in the workforce without paying a penalty.
I mean, we we actually could have the kind of society where that was possible, but we can get 12 to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
That's the best we can do in this country.
One of the things that happens when you have a gray hair like mine is that you've been around a long time and so you've seen things change.
And I think when we first started talking about that issue 32 years ago, the pay gap was much bigger.
So part of me says, why are we talking about the enormous progress that has been made?
I mean, when I first started dealing with the pay equity issue, I was in the Reagan administration, I was head of the US Commission on Civil Rights, and we did a huge study on what was then called comparable work or pay equity at that time, the gap was $0.63, so now it's up in the eighties.
And if you actually do control for education type of job experience and hours work, it really narrows even beyond that 83 or 84%.
But let's also let's as a woman of color, I'm you know better than I that it might be in the eighties for, I don't know, women overall or white women.
I'm not sure how that those data are divided.
But it is, as we pointed out in the voiceover to this story, it is not anywhere near that for women of color.
Well, again, it depends.
If you're talking about Hispanic women or Latina women, there's going to be a big gap.
And part of that has to do with education.
Part of it has to do with the difference between the native born population and the foreign born population.
It has to do with English fluency.
All of those things factor in.
I think what we really need to focus on what really needs to be our concern is actual discrimination against women, where a woman is discriminated against because of her sex.
And I'm here even as a conservative to tell you that is not disappear.
And now on to another issue that had been there 32 years ago and has gone up and down and and backwards and keeps changing and changing reproductive rights just as it was when the show began.
Abortion remains one of the most controversial issues.
After a big win last year, anti-abortion activists are hoping to go even further, even though many GOP politicians said they wouldn't go after chemical abortions.
A Trump appointed judge is hearing a case that could put medication abortion on the chopping block.
The FDA's longstanding approval of Mifepristone one of the most popular abortion pills, could be overturned.
Anti-abortion activists achieved one of their primary goals last year when a conservative majority on the US Supreme Court overturned a woman's right to an abortion.
At the federal level, the case is known as Dobbs V Jackson Women's Health.
Ruth, how is it that 50 plus years later, women's reproductive rights are so limited in so many states now and could eventually end up limited being limited in most states?
Some people would characterize this as and I'm not characterizing it as but quoting others who see this as women's rights going backwards.
Oh, I don't consider that to be a particularly controversial statement, Bonnie.
Mean, I think this is an issue where, without a doubt, since we started doing this show, we have moved backwards.
And I live in one of those states that you mentioned with the full ban.
So we have actually moved back to 1849 in Wisconsin.
We have a an abortion ban on the books that was put on the books before women had the right to vote.
About 70 years before women had the right to vote and actually before the germ theory of disease was understood.
So it is a very retrograde world that we're living in here.
And we have we are seeing the effects.
We are seeing women who have terrible problem pregnancies where babies are not going to survive and their doctors are afraid of being charged with a felony.
And so they are not treating them.
And a woman who was miscarrying in Wisconsin who bled for ten days without treatment because of this felony abortion ban that's on the books here.
The judge in Texas who's going to rule at any moment on medical abortion is going to impact more than half of abortions in the United States now, which are done by medical abortion very early in pregnancy.
The FDA approved that drug regimen more than 20 years ago.
There has never been a roll back of an FDA approval like this.
And the the antiabortion medical society bringing this case is is relying on false claims that these drugs are unsafe.
They've been proven safe.
And more importantly, in this environment where we the post Dobbs environment, where doctors are afraid to provide needed medical care to women, what the abortion drugs do is put more control in women's hands.
Genevieve, I know that conservatives, way back in the day after Roe and Griswold, they used to say we're not we may want to go after abortion, but we'll never go after birth control.
And here they are going after birth control.
I don't think this.
Is going after birth control.
These are drugs that are used after a baby is already created and it's used to have an abortion.
And as Ruth pointed out, it is a 50 plus percent of most abortion in this country happen via these these drugs.
And look Bonnie here's the reality is that the FDA rushed this through back, I think it was the year 2000, and they did it along some lines.
It now as you look at the law of what the FDA was supposed to do in reviewing this drug, they didn't follow their own guidelines.
And that's what's being questioned in court.
The reason this is coming to the forefront, though, now is because you do have these 20 states and probably maybe 21 who are worried about people in their states where abortion has been limited or banned, bringing in drugs from other states.
I will say as a conservative, that the idea that a judge is going to be making the decision about whether or not a drug is safe or not safe, I don't think it's a great idea.
And, you know, it's this drug this time, but it could be a different drug.
We do have tort law that is available if someone is harmed by a drug that was improperly approved and you can sue the drug company.
But that's not what's going on here.
What's going on here is the kind of judicial activism that, as a conservative, I've always been opposed to.
And it is also, I think, an attempt to circumvent federalism, because what is essentially happening here, one of the reasons this case is being brought is not just that it would stop the distribution of those drugs in states that have abortion bans, but it would affect the entire country.
And so it's as if we're saying that the citizens of the state of Texas can decide what citizens in the state of New York are going to have access to.
One of the lawyers arguing, I believe, for the state attorneys general, the judge, it was a four hour hearing in that court and the journalists who emerged from it said he was clearly looking for a workaround, how to how to put the the who take this power away from the Food and Drug Administration without political pushback.
Do you think if this judge does what everybody expects he will do and throws this out there, is that going to be good for a Republican candidates.
Big, big boon to the Democrats?
Yeah, I think women are very motivated by this issue.
I mean, you know, and I think Republicans have shown that they're uncomfortable.
It's like that.
You know, they they chased this thing down.
They were in the minority saying that they wanted to ban abortion but not achieving it yet.
And now that they've actually achieved it, there are an awful lot of women.
And certainly in Wisconsin, we've seen the effect of that with the suburbs going far more Democratic as women voters who used to be Republicans say, whoa, this is not my party, this is not what I want.
So, I think this is not necessarily a good thing to win.
It has real world effects, though that are absolutely devastating for real people, and its really incredible that we could move backwards in this way I think its really shocking and its a wake-up call.
Well, now, it wouldn't be the first time in American political history that that a party in control and it's been both parties at different times goes a little bit over the cliff when they get some power over an issue that is very important to them.
That's it for this edition.
This anniversary week, we pay tribute to one of our earliest regular panelists, former U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder from Colorado.
She died this week but spent much of her life campaigning for women's rights.
Whether you agree or think to the contrary.
See you next week.
(MUSIC) Funding for To the contrary provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation The Park Foundation and the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation.