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Now a word about the wage gap…

One of the most memorable moments of this year's less-than-stellar Academy Awards ceremonies was the acceptance speech of Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress as the mother in "Boyhood." She used her speech to advocate for equal pay for equal work for women, a message that drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd, particularly from actress Meryl Streep who popped out of her seat looking happier than if she'd just won an Oscar herself.

The Sunday night moment was instructive on any number of levels, not the least of which is that it obviously tapped a nerve with at least half of Hollywood, where the record regarding equal treatment of women is not exactly exemplary. And we're not just talking about the bad old days of Louis B. Mayer and producers sleeping with aspiring starlets. That in the 21st century there are televisions programs exclusively devoted to catty commentary about actress fashion choices at such awards ceremonies seems remarkably misogynistic. Men may sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of fashionista put-downs on such occasions, of course, but never frequently and seldom as bitingly. That this year the E! Network canceled the "Mani Cam," the camera trained exclusively on the polished nails of actresses on the Oscars' red carpet, seems like modest progress, indeed.

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Nevertheless, Hollywood knows how to spot a burgeoning civil rights crusade when it sees one, and women are right to feel ignored after so many films have been produced in recent years examining the injustices perpetrated against most every human trait but gender. The progress the country has made in gay rights and same-sex marriage, in particular, has been breathtaking in its scope and speed while the progress the United States has made in championing the rights of working women appears virtually non-existent.

Don't get caught up in statistics over exactly how much women in this country earn compared to men. Whether it's 77 cents on the dollar or some other number, suffice it to say that even allowing for such factors as education, experience and the kind of jobs performed, women are earning significantly less than men doing the same work. It's particularly bad for minority women who seem to be victims of double-discrimination, earning as little as 54 cents on the dollar. This is nothing short of a national disgrace and ought to be near the top of the country's political agenda, which it quite obviously is not.

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Instead, the push seems to be going in exactly the opposite direction. Last year, the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would have made it easier for women to find out if they're being discriminated against on pay day, was blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Elsewhere, states are expanding restrictions on women's reproductive rights and abortion services while the federal effort to ensure women have access to contraceptives under the mandates of the Affordable Care Act has lost ground, too.

The wage gap is real. And it won't be closed by sitting around doing nothing about it. What's needed are reforms to make it more difficult to discriminate against women in workplace hiring and salary decisions. That can start by making it easier for women to fight back and potentially bring class-action litigation when it's clear there is a pattern of gender discrimination. But it also means making affordable child care more available to working women, raising the federal minimum wage and providing incentives for businesses to offer paid parental leave.

Political conservatives may laugh at the notion that working-class women would be championed by actresses earning millions of dollars to dress up and play pretend in front of cameras, but at least they've demonstrated some empathy and — working in a business dominated by male studio executives and where actresses are expected to be beautiful and perpetually in the 20s — likely had their own brushes with discrimination. Can white, male Republicans in the Senate make the same claim?

It may also point to one reason why Hillary Clinton continues to dominate polls looking ahead to the next presidential election — and not just with Democratic voters. Love her or hate her, there's little doubt that she has run the gauntlet of gender bias over the course of her professional life and survived it. Patricia Arquette got an ovation for expressing a view shared by many but heard by not enough. If Mrs. Clinton is able to tap that same dissatisfaction among women, she may ride the outrage all the way from Hollywood to a return engagement in the White House.

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