Blogs > Stephanie Coontz > Women Have Come a Long Way, but Have Far to Go

Mar 12, 2014 12:04 pm

Women Have Come a Long Way, but Have Far to Go

tags: women

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which initially outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin -- but not on the basis of gender. The word "sex" was added to the act as a last-minute amendment by a senator who opposed racial integration and may have hoped to thereby kill the bill entirely. Even after the law passed, few people expected the prohibition of gender discrimination to be enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the group charged with implementing the act.

Sure enough, the EEOC immediately outlawed race-segregated employment ads, but refused to do the same for gender-segregated ads. The head of the EEOC announced that the amendment banning sex discrimination was "a fluke," not to be taken seriously. The National Organization for Women and other groups spent the next 20 years struggling to get the anti-discrimination provisions of the act applied to women.

Not until 1973 did the Supreme Court rule that it was illegal to divide employment ads into "Help Wanted: Female" and "Help Wanted: Male." Only in 1974, a full decade after the Civil Rights Act was enacted, did Congress outlaw discrimination in housing and credit on the basis of sex. Until 1981, many states still designated the husband as the legal "head and master" of the household. And it took until 1984 for the court to compel previously all-male organizations such as the Rotary and Lions clubs to admit women. (That same year, the state of Mississippi finally ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.)...


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