The White House hosted a Summit on Working Families this week to discuss making the American workplace more family-friendly. Apparently, this was unacceptable to Rush Limbaugh.
Particularly objectionable to him was the segment on women in the workforce. According to Limbaugh, sexism is a thing of the past—a long-defunct relic of the Mad Men era. In fact, Limbaugh believes the issue of gender discrimination was actually created by Democrats as a political tool:
My point is, we don’t have a Mad Men world today. … So what’s going on is the same old playbook from the Democrat Party. You set up a set of circumstances that are not true, that are based on old stereotypes, and make it look like you are doing everything you can to overcome them and portray and perpetuate this silly Republican War on Women.
Let’s take a look at Limbaugh’s arguments and see if we really are just worrying our pretty little heads about nothing. First, he claimed that there are too many women in power today:
My point is, there are no Mad Men women situations in the office today. There are too many women bosses, too many women running the show, too many women CEOs.
Fact: Currently, less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. Women are the top earners in only 8.1 percent of the nation’s largest companies, and occupy only 16.9 percent of the board seats in those companies. By any of these measures, women occupy less than 20 percent of leadership positions in the United States’ largest companies. For Limbaugh, apparently, that is far too many.
Limbaugh also seems to suggest that, because of the overwhelming number of women in charge, there is no way that “Mad Men women situations” could occur in today’s offices. It’s not as if women are still relegated to secretarial jobs, passed over for management positions or confronted with sexual harassment in the workplace.
Fact: Women make up a whopping 96 percent of secretarial and administrative assistant positions. Less than 9 percent of top management positions are held by women. And almost half of all women have experienced some type of harassment at work. These situations have improved somewhat since the Mad-Men era, especially with non-discrimination laws in place, but they have not disappeared.
Limbaugh is also worried that women are overpowering men educationally:
There are not nearly as many men going to college these days. The culture is changing rapidly.
Fact: The Congress Economic Joint Committee suggests that women’s educational attainment has barely “edged out” men’s in the last quarter century. In 1984, 74 percent of men and 73 percent of women had at least four years of high-school education. Twenty-five years later, 87 percent of women and 86 percent of men have a high-school education. And although women do outnumber men in colleges and universities, they are severely underrepresented in the top earning majors. Upon graduation, women can expect to earn only 82 percent of what their male counterparts make. How does Limbaugh explain why women are still not paid the same for equal work?
Now let’s turn to his sophisticated analysis of gender roles on television:
If you want to talk about television and how it chronicles cultural change, one of my favorite shows is Suits. … In the last episode of Suits, there are two prominent male characters who are spineless wusses, obsessed with feelings and touchy-feely. And it is secretaries, women, who have to come in and tell them to buck up, get a spine, get some gonads and stop running around here with your tail tucked in between your legs.
Well, if female secretaries can be depicted on television taking care of their male bosses, we must really be experiencing significant cultural change.
To be fair, the lead partner in Suits’ fictional law office is a woman of color. But all of the other partners at the firm? Men. Oh, yes, and the woman was hired because she was sleeping with a male partner. All of the secretaries at this supposedly gender-equitable law office are, you guessed it, women. True to stereotype, these women spend most of their on-screen time caring for their male bosses, gossiping about their relationships or generally messing everything up because they’re just so damn emotional.
Perhaps Limbaugh is denying the existence of sexism because he truly has America’s best interests at heart. He explained this sentiment in a previous segment dedicated to lambasting the Working Families summit:
We are wasting the talents and the abilities of tens of millions of people in this country, all the while this president runs around and talks about how greedy and selfish the people of this country are ’cause we’re not supporting [the summit].
It’s hard to understand how proposals for paid maternity leave and complimentary childcare could deny opportunity to “tens of millions of people.” Especially since, according to White House economic adviser Betsey Stevenson, instating family-friendly policies would actually keep more people in the workforce and even expand economic growth. In fact, Stevenson says, “We estimate that if we close the male/female employment gap, we would expand our GDP by 9 percent, and that would put us on a much stronger growth path than we’re on now.”
So, to summarize: Women still make up a disproportionately small number of business leaders, are paid less than men for equal work, face harassment in the workplace and are negatively stereotyped on network television. The facts might not be on your side, Limbaugh, but at least you still have good old-fashioned sexism to keep you going.
Photo of Rush Limbaugh courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Emily Shugerman is a politics major at Occidental College and an intern at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.