The law embodies the story of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The Common Law ( 1891)
Has the law, over time, treated women and men similarly? When we look at how the law has delimited the economic, social, political, and personal lives of females and males in American society, do we see comparable pictures? Honest answers to these questions--debated frequently and, certainly, currently--must be that the two sexes have not been treated similarly, let alone equally. Over the centuries, mothers have not been given the same options as fathers; wives have not been given the same "rights" as husbands; female professionals have not been given the same benefits and opportunities as male professionals. And the list of disparities could go on. Why these disparities have prevailed--and continue to prevail--despite inroads in resolving the differences, is at the heart of the debate.