BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

What Would Mary Do

Posted by sailorcindy on January 30, 2009

My first encounter with (or realization of) the issue of equal pay for women came from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when Mary complained to her boss about how unfair it was that her male predecessor had earned money for doing the same job she was currently performing. Her boss’s excuse? The man had a family to take care of.

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, reversing a 2007 Supreme Court ruling making it more difficult to sue for wage discrimination.

I know I should be thrilled. I know that this is a huge step forward for women, for little girls watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show and not understanding why anyone would object to paying a woman for doing the same job a man is doing. But I find myself filled with a profound sense of disappointment.

Not with the fact that the bill is now law. (In fact, I was thrilled when the President signed it with Lilly Ledbetter looking on.)

Not with the Supreme Court’s ruling back in 2007. (It’s hard to be surprised by a ruling that discriminates against fair pay when, in our Court’s illustrious history, they have found ways to justify slavery, child labor, and racial segregation.)

Instead, my disappointment comes from the vocal dissent and cheap excuses of businesses and members of Congress who oppose the bill, claiming it will open wide the gates for “more and costlier lawsuits” and could discourage employers from hiring women.

First of all, the Act’s purpose is to get the law back to where it was prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The Act merely restores rights that women (and all employees) held prior to this erroneous ruling; the real changes would come from The Paycheck Fairness Act (which is detailed nicely here). If the Act is merely restoring the law to where it was prior to Ledbetter v. Goodyear, and if our courts were not flooded with lawsuits pre-Ledbetter, does it follow that passing this Act would clog our legal system with meritless lawsuits?

And as for the contention that the Act will discourage companies from hiring women, well, doesn’t the answer seem obvious? Rather than refusing to hire women, companies should be doing the right thing, the very thing they should have been doing all along – paying women fair wages…paying women equally for performing equal work. Word on the street is that the best way to avoid a discrimination lawsuit is to not discriminate against employees.

These excuses not only ring hollow to me, they conjure up the memory of Lou telling Mary that men had wives and families to care for – an excuse Mary shot down, pointing out that men without children or wives do not make less than men with families. Now, 35 years after this episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired, women are still battling for equal pay. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a start, but our fight wages on.


4 Responses to “What Would Mary Do”

  1. Pat said

    I felt so proud to see Lilly Ledbetter with President Obama as he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into Law. Having the chance to hear and meet her at the BPW National Conference was a treat.

    Until there is no recognition of “Equal Pay Day”in April, our fight will not be over. We must continue to make everyone aware of how families are impacted by wage disparity.

  2. and more importantly, where can i catch re-runs of the mary tyler moore show. i bet we could learn a lot more from her days as the lone women in a male dominated field.

  3. Pat said

    I’m not sure whether reruns are being shown, but the Museum of Broadscast TV has DVDs of some of the seasons available as boxed sets for under $30.00. Some of the episodes are available for viewing in their archives. Here’s a link to the article about the show: (I couldn’t make it clickable- copy and paste.)


    And here’s the link to the DVD store:



  4. jpflaste said

    You can watch episodes on http://www.hulu.com.

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