Discussion from H-Women, March 1998


Sex in Title VII and Other Policy Questions Discussion/March 1998


Query From Amanda S Barusch Barusch@aol.com 02 March 1998

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing a policy text for master's students in social work. I would like to provide more extensive historical information than is typically available in such texts, and a friend suggested I send some questions to you. I am working on the chapter on women, which presents a (brief - 25 page or so) history of major policies that have affected women in the U.S. - It now has 3 sections: women as family members, women as citizens, and women as workers. My questions:

  1. What do you see as the key policy developments that must be discussed in an overview of U.S. policy vis a vis women?
  2. I'm trying to find material related to: the development of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act - the history of divorce - and the legal treatment of domestic violence. Any suggestions?
  3. I've been told that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was introduced by someone who intended to kill the whole act with this "ludicrous" provision - is this true? Where might I find information about it?

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 03 Mar 1998

On the issue of Title VII see the very succinct discussion in Susan Hartmann, _From Margin to Mainstream: American women and Politics Since 1960_, pp. 54-56; Hartmann's notes also will refer you to more detailed studies by Cynthia Harrison and Carl Brauer on the motives and strategies of Howard Smith (the VA representative who introduced the Title VII amendment to the C.R. Act of 1964) and the women in Congress and Senate who convinced the Democratic leadership to finally "keep" the amendment.

From Jillian Dickert dickert@binah.cc.brandeis.edu 07 Mar 1998

...I'll focus on your first question with regard to social policy, which is likely to be more relevant to social work students. At the outset, let me compliment you on your chosen section breakdown (citizens/workers/family members)-- I thin this is the right approach. (We who study gendered political sociology call it state/market/family relations.) I am also glad you are providing an historical perspective, something that is not done often enough in policy textbooks. For key historical developments regarding women and social policy, I would point you first to Progressive Era protective legislation for women workers (especially women's hours laws) and mothers' pensions (the precursor to AFDC, which of course you will want to discuss)-- see Theda Skocpol's book, _Protecting Soldiers and Mothers_(1992) for one of the best available analyses of these. Muller v. Oregon is the key Supreme Court case on protective legislation you'll want to mention.

More recently, the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a key family policy development. For a terrific discussion, see chapter 7 of Joyce Geib and Marian Leaf Palley's book, _Women and Public Policies_(1987). (The book also has a chapter on the development of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, your question 2.) The same coalition that organized to pass the PDA also coalesced around the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1992, another key development.

Of course, what's most striking about the US case is the *lack* of social policy developments with regard to women. For example, why is there no paid maternity leave policy in the U.S? Why no family allowances? What about day care? Most European nations were able to pass these policies by World War 2, but the US was not. (The maternity leave question is the subject of my dissertation at Brandeis.) When you take an historical and comparative perspective, the US really stands out as a laggard with regard to comprehensive social policies for women. This should be an important part of your discussion.

From Jo Freeman jfrbc@cunyvm.cuny.edu 05 Mar 1998 Might I suggest that one also look at my article on "How Sex Got Into Title VII" in the March 1991 issue of the _Journal of Law and Inequality_, pp.163-84.

From Lois K. Herr loiskherr@att.net 05 Mar 1998

You're right--"women" were added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a calculated attempt to kill the bill. We got the last laugh on that, though the fight to guarantee those rights continues. I suggest you look into the NOW files and references kept in Boston at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe-great resource and helpful reference librarians!

From Cynthia Harrison harrison@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 07 Mar 1998

Not exactly. Howard Smith added the sex provision at the request of Virginia members of the National Woman's Party; he was a long-standing supporter of the E.R.A. (this was a time when liberals opposed it because of the potential impact on protective labor laws) and so he was an ally of the NWP. Martha Griffith and Katherine St. George were prepared to offer the amendment, but they let Smith do it because they knew he would bring more votes than they would. For Smith, it was fine if the addition of sex killed the bill, but *if it passed* he wanted *white* women in it--a traditional response of Southerners. Emanuel Celler responded (correctly) that this was an attempt to enact the ERA and they were both right in that the ERA did eliminate sex-specific protective labor laws. But smith knew that the bill was going to pass, so it was unlikely he would have added an amendment like that just for the hell of it. He bragged about being the author of the "sex" provision in his campaign literature in 1964. (NOW was not a player in this--not yet in existence

From Jo Freeman JFRBC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU 11 Mar 1998

Someone needs to research why and how the myth was started. But I'll make an educated guess.

AFTER the Civil Rights Act was passed and the EEOC created, those who were behind it realized that they had an agency of limited resources and finite bud get, and that resources used to investigate complaints of sex discrimination left fewer to investigate race discrimination, which was, in their minds, the real purpose of Title VII. Adding protected classes to the bill did not invo lved calculations of resource allocation. But implementing it did. Furthermo re, one third of the compliants the first year concerned sex discrimination. Therefore, they deliberately sought to undermine the legitimacy of the "sex" provision so they wouldn't have to devote EEOC resources to those complaints an d would have more for its primary purpose. To do this they gave speeches,

Issued press releases and otherwise spoke to reporters and authors, who blindly took their word for it. It made good copy to make fun of ending sex discrimination. Herman Edlesberg, the first EEOC Executive Direc tor, said the sex provision was a "fluke" which was "conceived out of wedlock". The NY Times editorialized on whether Playboy would have to hire men as bunnies .

NOW was founded largely to make the EEOC take the "sex" provision seriously, and focused its energies on that for the first couple years. The earliest demonstrations and street protests were by NOW,demanding regulations to end

sex discrmination in employment. (e.g. separate want ads by sex). The first such demonstration was in December 1967 at the EEOC offices in several cities.

For more on this see Chapters 3 and 7 in my book, THE POLITICS OF WOMEN'S LIBERATION, (Longman 1975)

The real question is not why did the press report the myth. Quick report ing and quoting of authorities is in its nature. But why have historians so re adily believed the myth, even when scholars who investigated the matter readily found contrary evidence? I suspect the answer to that question is found in the axiom of social psychology that people believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts.


From Kriste Lindenmeyer Klindenmeyer@tntech.edu 11 Mar 1998

I too would like to offer special thanks to Jo Freeman for sharing her work on
Title VII and sex discrimination. This is exactly the kind of posting that highlights the usefulness of scholarly edited lists like H-Women.

I wonder why the apparently incorrect story about the inclusion of "sex" in the 1964 Civil Rights Act has continued to thrive (the suggestion that it was only introduced to stop the legislation's passage). Who started this myth and why does it continue? I've heard it myself at several women's studies events, even though it was discredited more than ten years ago.

From Cynthia Russett cynthia.russett@yale.edu 11 March 1998

...One possible source of this distorted account of the inclusion of sex in the Civil Rights Act is Caroline Bird, _Born Female_, one of the very early books (revised ed. 1970) to come out of the modern feminist movement. On p.4, describing Howard Smith's decision to propose the sex amendment, Bird writes that "discrimination against women struck most people as funny," and so, "If Title VII could not be beaten, perhaps it could be laughed off the floor." I think this book was the basic account of this episode for quite a few years.

I agree that it's great that we now have Jo Freeman's corrected account, and I will certainly find it useful.

From Penelope Harper Penelope.Harper@trincoll.edu 11 March 1998

The myth that "sex" was added to Title VII to stop its passage is not without precedent elsewhere. The received wisdom for years was that women in New Zealand were granted the vote in the 1890s because legislators never thought it would actually pass. In actual fact, enfranchisement followed decades of active campaigning. Is it too simple to suggest that there may be a reluctance on the part of both contemporaries and historians to acknowledge women's serious political and social goals?

From Cynthia Harrison harrison@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 11 March 1998

It was reported initially by the newspapers.