3 to 5 pm
“‘Machines Work, Secretaries Think’: Sex Equality Law, the Comparable Worth Movement, and the Problem of Skill in Postwar Office Work”
Katherine Turk, University of Texas at Dallas
In the mid-twentieth century, the clerical was the paradigmatic woman worker. The neat division of labor between businessmen and female support staff seemed to reflect the innate abilities and proclivities of each sex: men were decisive and authoritative, while women were passive and pliable. This paper analyzes two decades of struggle among workers, feminist and labor activists, and attorneys over how to make the nondiscrimination laws of the 1960s work for clericals. It argues that conflicts among those attempting to breathe life into sex equality laws and employer-led transformations in work processes were as important as escalating social conservatism in shaping women office workers’ expectations and experiences.
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