In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America

By Alice Kessler-Harris | Go to book overview

Introduction

In 1937, the United States Supreme Court sustained a Georgia law that allowed women to pay a lower poll tax than men. 1 This was quite fair, argued the majority, “in view of the burdens necessarily borne by them for the preservation of the race.” Convinced that marriage and childbearing were the normal conditions of women, the majority argued that women's taxes would, in any event, be paid by their husbands. A law that distinguished between men and women thus quite reasonably benefited men as well as their wives. In 1948, the Court approved Michigan's prohibition against women working as bartenders unless they happened to be the wives or daughters of male bar owners, who could be expected to protect the morals of their kin. 2 Justice Felix Frankfurter, speaking for the Court's majority, thought Michigan's desire to exclude “wives and daughters of non-owners” from an occupation that might “give rise to moral and social problems” so reasonable that “to state the question is in effect to answer it.”

Neither of these decisions seemed particularly problematic at the time it was made. Until late in the 1960s, and perhaps even after, most men and women tended to agree that the normal order of family life properly subsumed women within its boundaries, rendering their needs and desires as well as rights and obligations secondary to those of husbands and children. Positioning women (even those with neither husbands nor children) as family members accounts for many of the economic institutions and practices we recognize as traditional: the sexual division of labor; disparate wages for male and female jobs; the feminization of poverty; protective labor legislation for women only; women's dependence on government welfare. For many years, and to many people, these practices did not appear to be unfair or unjust. Just the opposite. Each sustained a comforting vision of family life and social order. If they deprived women of economic equality and hindered their access to full citizenship

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In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Responsibilities of Life 19
  • Chapter 2 - Maintaining Self-Respect 64
  • Chapter 3 - Questions of Equity 117
  • Chapter 4 - A Principle of Law but Not of Justice 170
  • Chapter 5 - What Discriminates? 203
  • Chapter 6 - What's Fair? 239
  • Epilogue 290
  • Notes 297
  • Index 365
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