The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Consciousness, Political Opportunity, and Public Policy

By Mary Fainsod Katzenstein; Carol McClurg Mueller | Go to book overview

13
Women Made a Difference: Comparable Worth in San Jose

JANET A. FLAMMANG

One question is frequently asked in the wake of the second wave of feminism in the United States: "What policy difference has women's activism made?" The list of policy accomplishments since the 1960s is impressive, including reforms in areas such as equal pay and credit, employment and educational antidiscrimination measures, affirmative action, abortion, pregnancy disability, pension rights, and child support. However, not all of these achievements for women were brought about by women, or even in the name of women's interest. For example, the 1963 Equal Pay Act was passed under pressure from unions, which wanted to prevent women from undercutting pay for male-dominated jobs. And the word "sex" was added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in employment, by a southern congressmember to weaken liberal support for the bill ( Freeman 1975).

On the other hand, women can claim credit for successes like Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, and the Pregnancy Disability Act of 1978 ( Gelb and Palley 1982). These legislative victories resulted from women's lobbying and coalition efforts. And women in Congress were credited with the passage of child support and pension reforms in 1984; House Ways and Means Chair Dan Rostenkowski noted that these measures would not have passed "if women in the House and Senate had not kept the pressure up" (Roberts 1984).

Recent policy achievements have underscored the importance of having women in strategic locations, both as activists pressuring political institutions from without, and as officials working from within. The case of "comparable worth" policy in San Jose, California, is no exception to this trend. Women made a difference in this city, home of the nation's first strike for pay equity by city employees, which has been nicknamed the feminist capital of the nation because of its impressive number of female elected officials. This case study will show how the strategic location of women as community activists, elected officials, and union members was indispensable to the strike, settlement, and effective imple-

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