Women & Wages

Women & Wages

Historians of women were confronted with an unusual dilemma a few years ago, when their work became the object of impassioned debate in an unlikely forum: the courtroom. In 1984, defending itself against an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging systematic sex discrimination, Sears Roebuck, the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private-sector employer of women, engaged historian Rosalind Rosenberg as an expert witness. In support of Sears’s claim that, far from being victims of discrimination, women simply were not attracted to the highly paid commission sales jobs at issue in the case, Rosenberg testified that throughout American history women had shunned some types of work and preferred others. Drawing on the notion of “women’s culture,” which stresses the distinctive values and cultural orientations women develop as a result of their social location, Rosenberg suggested that the sex-segregated pattern of employment at Sears could best be understood as the product of women’s own choices.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels