EDITORIAL: State lawmaker’s sexist statements unacceptable

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Before Wyoming even became a state, women had important rights here.

Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869 — 21 years before officially becoming a state in 1890. We’re proud to be known as the first state that gave women the right to vote.

Just a few months after the act was signed into law on Dec. 10, 1869, Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City became the first woman to be appointed a justice of the peace.

Fast forward a few decades to 1924, and Wyomingite Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first elected female governor to take office in the United States. She went on to become the first woman to be appointed director of the U.S. Mint — a position she held for 20 years.

“Wyoming is also known as the ‘Equality State’ because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed here,” said a statement on U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi’s website. “Wyoming women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office.”

Wyoming has a long history of strong, intelligent, hard-working women. We’re proud of our heritage, and proud to see Wyoming women succeed in today’s world — whether they’re working on a farm, programming a computer or raising a family.

That’s why a Casper lawmaker’s recent comments about women are so upsetting.

“Women are always going to take their full maternity leave, and there’s the dependability issue about whether they’re going to show up for things,” Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, told Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake in an interview last week.

Wyoming women and men alike took issue with Gay’s sexist statements.

But, surprisingly, Rep. Gay went on to question women’s credibility in a follow-up interview with the Casper Star-Tribune.

“Women in the workforce traditionally take a disproportionate amount of their sick days off for other reasons than sick days,” he said. “They take Junior to the hospital or go see Johnny’s soccer game.”

In another interview with the TV station KCWY in Casper on Monday, Gay said men tend to emphasize work over family, while women tend to emphasize the family over the job.

First, we hope this is a state where both men and women put their families first. But we also hope Wyoming is not a state where a mother who takes her child to the hospital is seen by employers or lawmakers as undependable.

Part of what makes Rep. Gay’s repeated remarks so alarming and disappointing is the broad, unfair stereotypes he uses.

Not all women are mothers. Those who do have children work hard to balance their family life with their occupation, if they choose to work outside of the home.

We should recognize Wyoming women’s hard work — not insult them and question their work ethic.

Rep. Gay’s initial comments came in response to a question about the pay gap between men and women.

“That’s a fact of life, you know, and it’s the nature of Wyoming’s business and also the nature of gender politics,” Gay told Drake, predicting the Legislature would make “small progress” on the gap, but be unable to make it go away.

Gay — who’s facing a challenge from Casper Democrat Debbie Bovee — later backpedaled, telling Casper television station KCWY that he plans to introduce wage equalization legislation. He said the legislation would make sure men and women earned the same money for the same job by emphasizing “that women will be compensated for time off for other things, family things, not only the personal time off.”

Lawmakers should work toward narrowing the wage gap. Women make only 69 cents to every dollar earned by men in Wyoming, giving our state one of the worst disparities in the nation.

It’s time for women to have equal wages in Wyoming. It’s also time for women to have equal treatment. Nearly 150 years after the Equality State first gave women the right to vote, we thought that went without saying. Unfortunately, it appears some people still need a reminder, even in the Wyoming Legislature.

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