Because of Sex (#32/50)

The title of this book is definitely meant to be an eye-catcher. The phrase actually comes from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination because of various factors like race, national origin, religion, and sex (Hence the title: “because of…sex.”). Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never studied law and think all this will go right over your head. This book paints each woman’s story with a relatable brush and explains the legal issues in an accurate but understandable way.

Title – Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work

Author – Gillian Thomas

Page count – 246

Each chapter in this book focuses on a different legal case, covering the situation from which the lawsuit arose through its appellate court journey until its final destination: the United States Supreme Court. The cases cover “the right to remain employed during pregnancy, the right to be a working mother, the right to hold a job historically deemed “for men only,” the right to be assessed by one’s own merit rather than group traits…[and] the right to be free from the indignity of sexual harassment” (p. 229). Thomas also does a great job bringing in the theory of intersectionality – because women of color, women from lower social classes, women with disabilities, and so forth face discrimination from multiple angles.

The reason this book is so important is because it shows that sexism and discrimination is not a “thing of the past” that people “just need to get over.” The Civil Rights Act itself wasn’t even passed until 1964. I would not consider my mom an “old person,” and she was already 7 years old by that time. One of the first cases discussed in the book is from 1975. At that point, my mom was graduated from high school, meaning as she entered the workforce, it was technically still legal to refuse to hire her, refuse to promote her, sexually harass her, and fire her…just for being a woman. And the final case in the book – about pregnancy discrimination – is from 2014. At that point, I was already two years into the work force. Discrimination is still a problem. It is recent. And it is personal.

There are obviously still steps that need to be taken to ensure women’s right to exist in the workplace without discrimination (although, it should be noted, that these laws often protect men from discrimination as well): paid family leave and affordable child care (so all parents can participate in raising their children while continuing to work), raising the minimum tipped wage (so employees are empowered to stand up to customer harassment without fearing the loss of wages tied to their tolerance of that harassment), and prohibiting all but the most necessary “employer-mandated grooming and appearance codes” (p. 236) that typically treat women as decorative sexual objects.

The fact that, at this moment, the likely-next President of the United States is a woman gives me hope. We may have a long way still to go to achieving equality, but we’re certainly headed in the right direction.