Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gerald Gardner

Why do I love this obituary for Gerald Gardner? Because he used data for the cause of justice. And not for him, but for women. "He and his wife were among the earliest members of First Pittsburgh NOW, itself an early chapter of the National Organization for Women, which was founded in 1966."

Here's the story:

In 1969, First Pittsburgh, led by Wilma Scott Heide, who would become president of the national organization a few years later, filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations against The Pittsburgh Press, then the leading local daily. The complaint contended that the division by sex of the paper’s employment ads — “Male Help Wanted” and “Female Help Wanted” — amounted to discrimination against women.

“What Gerry did was calculate the statistical chance that a woman could get a job in one of the male categories,” said Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority and a former president of NOW. “He calculated pay differentials. The disparities just flabbergasted him. He contributed the hard intellectual theory based on the math, and he made it understandable, powerfully so.”

I love data! And I love it when people use it well.

4 comments:

it's margaret said...

Wow! God bless him!

Art Deco said...

At the time, the working population of women had earnings about 45% below those of male workers. However, that datum did not take into effect differentials in annual working hours or in variation in patters of labor force participation over the course of a lifetime. Not may years after (ca. 1978), comparisons of annual earnings between bachelors and spinsters revealed the latter to have annual earnings about 10% below those of the former.

The difficulty with positing that pay differentials are attributable to 'discrimination' on the part of employers is that latent in that is an argument that the employers could achieve equal output by employing members of a labor pool manifestly willing to work for wages 40% below those of the remainder of the general labor force. You would think there were in 1969 a considerable pool of merchants and manufacturers mercenary enough to do so. It is not as if the female population were a modest minority constrained by all manner of formal and informal caste restrictions. They formed fully a quarter of the labor force by 1930 and a third by 1957, lived wherever they could afford and entered all but a modest fraction of commercial establishments at will.

Now, consider my company. The company President was, until quite recently, female. Every last individual employed in the personnel department is female. North of a third of the salaried employees are female. Yet, you would be hard put to find a single woman in a skilled trade with the exception of two in the IT apparat. By the same token, over 90% of the clerical wage earners are women. These two halves of the labor force have very different tastes.

What does the sort of legislation favored by organizations like Eleanor Smeal's do (leaving aside their promotion of appalling crimes like abortion)? They compel in the realm of work, play, commerce, and residence the execution of contracts and informal relations that would not otherwise occur because they are against the better judgment of one of the parties. Does this count for anything at all? They do so on behalf of a 'group' that was not lacking in affluence or in recognition in the society as a whole in 1963. And they do so on the basis of potted economics and sociology. Justice hasn't squat to do with it.

Laura Toepfer said...

Oh, dearie me, Art Deco! I wish you had read the quote from the obituary a little more carefully. The case wasn't about discrimination on the part of employers, but on the part of newspapers posting employment advertisements based on gender. I'm afraid you're comparing apples and oranges.

Art Deco said...

“He calculated pay differentials. The disparities just flabbergasted him. He contributed the hard intellectual theory based on the math, and he made it understandable, powerfully so.”

Yeah, I misunderstood. Whatever.