As an avid observer and marginal participant in many of the 1970s changes that transformed the lives of men and women, I thought for many years that the transformation merely had to play itself out, that women's economic independence was assured and that with it, the full range of economic citizenship would soon be available to both sexes. I was convinced that words like liberty, individual rights, and freedom would soon have new meanings, unconstrained by gender. Then, in 1985, I got caught up in a court case that powerfully captured both the effect of the transformation still under way and the depth of resistance to it.
The case began in 1979 when the EEOC sued Sears, Roebuck and Company for discriminating against women. The EEOC charged Sears, among other things, with refusing to hire or promote women into well-paying commission sales jobs in anywhere near the numbers equivalent to their representation in retail sales. Sears admitted that few women held the jobs in question, but it defended itself from charges of discrimination by claiming that women were simply not interested in them. These were jobs, argued the company, that required competitive sales techniques, evening and night work, or recreational and mechanical interests that women did not have. It had tried to find women to work in these areas;indeed it had set up its own affirmative action program. But it had failed. This was not the fault of Sears but the result of women's deeply conditioned socialization. To buttress its contention that no appropriate pool of women workers existed, Sears called in a historian to argue that women had historically placed their home roles ahead of labor force commitments and would indeed be uninterested in the jobs in question.
As the EEOC's rebuttal witness, I argued that throughout the twentieth century, women had worked at a variety of jobs when and as opportunity had become available; that, like men, they worked for income to support themselves