When the joke backfires
July 11, 2016 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Women Were Included in the Civil Rights Act as a Joke And a racist joke, at that. But working women and black civil rights lawyers had the last laugh when they brought women’s workplace rights to the courts and won.
posted by infini (14 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Martha Griffiths for picking up their fumble and running it ftw.
posted by ardgedee at 6:12 AM on July 11, 2016 [14 favorites]

Soundtrack for this topic (from the 1968 pre-disco Bee Gees, so timely)
I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn't see that the joke was on me

posted by oneswellfoop at 6:20 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure Howard Smith meant it as a joke.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:47 AM on July 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh man, those rules for stewardesses!
posted by corb at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2016

This is such a useful corrective to the idea that feminism has always been an elite movement that focused on the self-indulgent desires of upper-middle-class women.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:59 AM on July 11, 2016 [27 favorites]

I keep thinking about what an extraordinary person Ida Phillips must have been. She applied for the factory job in the first place. She wrote a letter to the President when she thought she had been denied it unfairly. She pursued it with the EEOC, and she sought out a lawyer when the EEOC told her that they thought she had a valid complaint but couldn't do anything for her. When she couldn't get a white lawyer to take her seriously, she decided to seek out black lawyers who had experience with civil rights cases, which was a pretty extraordinary thing for a white Southern woman to do in the '60s. She kept going with it after she moved to a new town and couldn't take the job anyway, after she lost the first trial and lost the appeal. And likewise Reese Marshall, a young black male lawyer who saw this white woman's case as a significant civil rights issue, who took on a case that he must have known he would probably not win, who knew that he would put in a lot of work for which he might never be recognized or compensated. We should build statues of these people. We should have national holidays to recognize them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:35 AM on July 11, 2016 [69 favorites]

Reminds me of the time when a Canadian MP started talking in Parliament about violence against women, and was greeted with peals of laughter. In 1982.
posted by clawsoon at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Today most American working women would probably be surprised to know that they have an unrepentantly racist, male octogenarian to thank for outlawing sex bias on the job.

Well, I'M certainly very surprised, yes. That initial description in the article made me wonder if it was Strom Thurmond for a second.

Thanks for posting this--what a history education!
posted by magstheaxe at 8:20 AM on July 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Martin Facility cited in this case is now the Lockheed Facility practically down the street from where I live, and my co-worker's wife works there. Plus, she is the primary breadwinner in the family by a sizable amount, with a higher level management position.
posted by Badgermann at 8:25 AM on July 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I always thought he was trying to kill the bill, believing that nobody in his right mind would vote for such a thing.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:38 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

From Smith's speech from the floor in support of the amendment:

If the bill is passed there is a provision. . . which would require that every employer in the United States, from General Motors on down to anyone who employs as many as 25 people, keep an accurate record of all hiring and firing activities. . . . I put a question to you in behalf of the white women of the United States. Let us assume that two women apply for the same job and both of them are equally eligible, one a white woman and one a Negro woman.

The first thing that the employer will look at [unless the Smith amendment is approved] will be the provision with regard to the records he must keep. If he does not employ that colored woman and has to make that record, that employer will say, "Well, now, if I hire the colored woman I will not be in any trouble, but if I do not hire the colored woman and hire the white woman, then the [Equal Employment Opportunity] Commission is going to be looking down my throat and will want to know why I did not. I may be in a lawsuit." That will happen as surely as we are here this afternoon. You all know it.

Pdf link (see note 71)
posted by jpe at 10:40 AM on July 11, 2016

the idea that feminism has always been an elite movement that focused on the self-indulgent desires of upper-middle-class women

The tragedy of Second Wave feminism is that half of its accomplishments are taken for granted, while many liberals forget the battles it fought for and ultimately lost.

It's worth noting (in part because the article calls it out in ways that I find slightly unfair) that much of the racial animosity in the suffragette movement derived from how many female abolitionists argued for African-American voting rights on the basis of universal suffrage, and African-American men wound up being granted the right to vote (ostensibly) because they had 'proven' themselves to be men. (I say ostensibly because women were also excluded on the basis of some utterly stupid, ultimately futile political calculus by the Republican party.) The 14th Amendment's explicit mention of male voters is by no means unintentional.

I've always thought of the Civil Rights Act as the one time in American history that we didn't wind up pitting various rights groups against each other.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 11:01 AM on July 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Or maybe that's why it was so successful; contrary to movements today that have more in common than they realize. (Lower levels of the Tea Party and Occupy.)
posted by fragmede at 12:47 PM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a great example of intersectionality at work!
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 3:19 PM on July 12, 2016

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