Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Equal: Women Reshape American Law by Fred Strebeigh

Now, don't let the subtitle deter you. I had this on my to-read list forever, and kept looking at it and thinking "boring," and moving on to something else. Well, sisters and brothers, I was wrong. Equal is a fascinating look at the women, both lawyers and judges, who fought for women's rights starting in the 1970s, and some of their landmark cases.
The book is broken into five sections: Scrutiny, Pregnancy, Lawyering, Harassment and Violence. The first section is on the preliminary fight to get discrimination by sex outlawed. And I knew that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was awesome, and that she had brought many important discrimination cases to court, but I didn't realize just how awesome she was. Hers was the first successful case where the Supreme Court declared that discrimination due to sex was illegal. And, contrary to the incorrect belief that feminists are only out to make life better for women, she also fought to end practices that discriminated against men because of their sex (such as men not being able to collect the same caretaker Social Security benefits as women, not being considered a dependent for military benefits/housing, or not being able to get the same widow/widower tax deductions as women).
There are other awesome stories, such as Catherine McKinnon's role in getting sexual harassment cases passed. Or the women staffers working for Joe Biden and the women judges who helped push the VAWA act through Congress. Or the women who fought deeply entrenched discrimination within law firms. Or how when the Supreme Court decided it was in fact legal to discriminate against pregnant women, women then galvanized into action and got the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed. And so on.
Basically, read it. It's interesting, well-written, and doesn't get too bogged down with legalese for those of us that don't know much about the inner-workings of the law. And it's also interesting for how appalling the arguments used for discrimination against women were, and also just how recent they were. (Of course, they're still happening with how extremely conservative the right has become...)

4 stars out of 5

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