Katherine Turk

Equality on Trial

Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace

University of Pennsylvania Press 2016

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network September 19, 2016 Lilian Calles Barger

Katherine Turk is assistant professor of history at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her book Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the...

Katherine Turk is assistant professor of history at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her book Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) explores how women tested the boundaries of work place equality following the passing of the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The under staffed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was given the task of interpreting the ambiguous meaning of sex equality. Thousands of letters flooded the commission appealing to broader notions of fairness and sexual equality. The ambiguity of the law allowed women to assert expansive interpretations to include safer workplaces, higher wages, flexible schedules, equal pay and comparable worth. The EEOC struggled to apply the law as it dealt with sex-specific protective state laws, industry practices and common sense notions of gender. The backlog of claims pressed the EEOC to narrow the definition of sex equality and turned to statistics in developing cases to be tested in the courts. Turk examines multiple legal cases, union and industry conflicts that shaped the limits of sex equality falling short of fundamental change for working class women. Title VII was a powerful weapon that weakened the sex division of labor but was unable to overturn the white, male, breadwinner standard.


Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.

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