Cyndi Lauper at the Tony's

Acting Our Part for Equal Pay

If you caught the Tony awards last night, you might have noticed it was a particularly good year for women on Broadway.  The top awards for direction of both a play and a musical went to women (Pam MacKinnon, for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Diane Paulus, for “Pippin”). Patina Miller was named Best Female Lead Actress for her portrayal of The Leading Player in “Pippin,” a role that was originated by actor Ben Vereen four decades ago. And Cindy Lauper was honored for her score for the new musical “Kinky Boots.” Not bad for a girl who just wants to have fun.

The status of women (on Broadway and beyond) has made notable advances in the past half century: Tony Awards have been given to six female directors, women are more likely than men to earn a four year college degree, women serve in military combat roles, and we’ve had several female Secretaries of State and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

How remarkable then that 50 years to the day after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. As troubling as this figure is on its own, it’s even more so considering that as the Pew Research Center reported last month, “A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family…”

At the Equal Pay Act signing ceremony, President Kennedy acknowledged that the law was merely a first step. So what should come next? We must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.84 / H.R. 377). The bill would bar retaliation against workers who disclose their wages, strengthening the Equal Pay Act to ensure that it provides effective protection against sex-based pay discrimination, and allowing women to receive the same remedies in court for pay discrimination as those subjected to discrimination based on race or national origin. Another step is urging President Obama to issue an executive order banning federal contractors from firing or otherwise retaliating against workers who share salary information and wage practices. The President has repeatedly voiced his support for fair pay – the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill he signed after becoming president, making it easier for women to fight wage discrimination. It’s time to build on that record.

Here’s a bit of Tony trivia for you: the award is actually named for Antoinette “Toni” Perry, a 20th century actress and director. It will take all of us – Tonys and Tonis alike – playing our roles to ensure that the persistent scourge of wage discrimination becomes a thing of the past. Let’s get our act together so that fifty years from now, equal pay for equal work is a reality for all.

Image courtesy of  Getty Images / Neilson Barnard.

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Barbara Weinstein

About Barbara Weinstein

Barbara Weinstein is the Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and Associate Director of the Religious Action Center.

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