Playing It Safe: How the Supreme Court Sidesteps Hard Cases and Stunts the Development of Law

By Lisa A. Kloppenberg | Go to book overview
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6
Avoiding Gender Equality

Women have made great strides from the 1970s through the 1990s, entering previously segregated fields, attaining more economic se- curity, and gaining greater autonomy, including more choice of whether to pursue careers, families, or both. In an era of significant, often dra- matic, social changes for women, high-profile challenges to the status quo assumed symbolic importance not lost on the American public. Billy Jean King outplayed retired tennis star Bobby Riggs before a packed crowd and a huge television audience. A quarter of a century later, the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated China to win the World Cup. Presi- dent Clinton commented at halftime that people watching the outstand- ing play should appreciate the gains achieved under Title IX. Constitu- tionally, women have also made great strides, from the Court’s initial Equal Protection rulings in the 1970s through its castigation of Virginia Military Institute for excluding women in the 1990s. The Court has made it more difficult for large commercial groups like Rotary Clubs and the Jaycees to discriminate against women when states or local governments forbid discrimination.

But women are still excluded from certain kinds of employment, are sexually harassed, subject to gender-based violence, or denied leadership opportunities in male-dominated fields, including law and the justice system. Women are underpaid and undervalued in the workforce. In 1999, women still were paid only 74 cents for every dollar paid to men. As women move up the corporate ladder, their salaries relative to men are often driven lower. As of the late 1990s, among the Fortune 500 compa- nies, there were only a handful of female CEOs, among the next 500, there were only five. Jobs traditionally held by women remain clustered at the lower end of the pay scale, and even for traditional women’s work, women earn less than men. In 1995, the median income for registered nurses for women was $35,360 and for men $36,868. A 1994–95 survey found that male elementary school teachers had a mean base salary of

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