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Patricia Arquette and Women's Rights

Did you watch the Oscars last night? I only caught a few highlights, including Lady Gaga’s excellent tribute to The Sound of Music and Patricia Arquette’s ill-informed diatribe on women’s rights.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Boyhood was a great movie, and Arquette thoroughly deserved her Oscar. But her comments, both on the stage and behind it, display a troubling misunderstanding of rights and statistics.

Chatting backstage after her acceptance speech, Arquette said the following:

"The truth is, the older women get, the less money they make...the highest percentage of children living in poverty are female-headed households, and it's inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don't...have equal rights for women in America and we don't because when they wrote the Constitution, they didn't intend it for women."

Okay, there’s a lot in that. Let’s break it down.

First of all, it’s unclear what earning less money as you get older has to do with rights. It’s equally unclear why she would attribute something with obvious cause - poverty in single-parent homes - to some sort of rights violation. What rights do men have in America that women do not? Is it a right to force other people to pay you money, and should the law force families to stay together or prohibit women from getting pregnant to address the problems she bemoans? Clearly not.

One can only assume that the root of her complaint is the mythical wage gap that the left keeps repeating, no matter how many times it is debunked. You’ve no doubt heard this statistic: “women earn 70 percent of what men earn for doing the same work.”

If it sounds shocking, it’s because it’s not true. Not even remotely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that across the country, the average woman makes about 82 percent of what the average man does (the 70 percent statistic hasn’t been true since the 80s). There is no effort to correct for different types of employment, seniority, industry, productivity, or any other factor that might affect wages. When you correct for these other factors, the wage gap disappears.

To conclude that the data from BLS demonstrated some sort of institutional discrimination or a violation of women’s rights makes as much sense noting that 18-year-olds make less than 40-year-olds, and concluding that institutional ageism is the reason. Women make different choices than men. They work different hours, go into different industries, and tend to take more time off for family reasons. These choices, not a lack of women’s rights, are the true source of the wage gap.

To embrace the alternative viewpoint requires us to believe that American entrepreneurs are so sexist that they willingly spend 40 percent more on labor than they have to, just to keep women down. My colleague Julie Borowski has covered this topic extensively.

Arquette went on to say:

"The truth is: even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it's time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now."

If a rich, white, Academy Award winning actress is expecting sympathy from the minority groups she names, I expect she’ll have rather a long wait.