In my latest reading of Susan Faludi’s 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi talks about the Sears case, in which Sears was being investigated for sex discrimination.
The defense for Sears brought on the stand a feminist named Rosalind Rosenberg, who argued that women simply preferred the low-paying salesclerk jobs to higher-paying jobs in commission sales because they were less competitive and did not want to work in the night-time or on the weekends because that “could interfere with their child-rearing duties” (Faludi’s words on page 381). Rosenberg said that “Many women choose jobs that complement their family obligations over jobs that might increase or enhance their earning potential”, and that “women are less likely to make the same educational investments as men” (Rosenberg’s words). Faludi mentions Clarence Thomas, who at the time was the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Ronald Reagan, and who “maintained that all the pay, hiring, and promotional inequities in the Sears docket could be explained by such factors as education, and, curiously, commuting patterns” (page 384). Faludi states that Thomas was so outspoken that the lawyers for Sears considered calling Thomas as a witness!
Faludi does not accept such arguments (which, by the way, are still used by many conservatives). She says that some lower-income women preferred to work at nights because that was when their husbands were at home and could take care of the children. Faludi also argues, on the basis of a 1982 survey of Sears, that many of the saleswomen did not prefer part-time work because they themselves bore a “major responsibility for supporting their household”, since their husbands made less than $25,000 a year. Regarding the argument that women are unwilling to invest in education that could help them advance, Faludi asks what educational investments are necessary in order to sell Sears sofas on commission. And, against the argument that women do not even want higher-paying commission positions, Faludi refers to the number of women who have applied to such jobs, as well as women who are discontent with the un-challenging work that they are doing (sometimes after having been demoted from more challenging positions).