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The Government’s Protectionist Meddling Doesn’t Help Women

December 5, 2022

Capitalism, not big government’s heavy hand, empowers women to pursue their American dream.

Today, the dominant narrative among academics and the media is that capitalism furthers the objectives of the patriarchy and exacerbates sexism in the workplace and society. “Feminism and capitalism . . . ultimately cannot coexist,” we are told, because capitalism encourages the “invisibility of women’s work in the domestic sphere” and results in lower pay for women who make it to the workforce. Thus, many modern feminists advocate, we need government to step in and level the playing field. But a closer examination of U.S. history reveals that it’s actually been government that’s held women back, while free market capitalism has empowered them to live their lives as they see fit.

Women Wanted To Work, but Government Got in the Way

Until the mid-20th century, laws curbing women’s participation in the workforce were common in the U.S. In the 1880s, many public schools prohibited the hiring of married women and fired teachers when they got married. During the Great Depression, these “marriage bars” became more prevalent. Jobs, after all, should be reserved for men rather than married women, whose duties were at home. Minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws for women were also widespread, purportedly to help ensure women got paid fairly, since they’d be unable to bargain for themselves in a male-dominated workforce. Instead, these laws put many women out of work altogether.

Though these laws were clearly discriminatory, the Supreme Court refused to strike them down. Restricting women’s work was constitutional, the court said, because their proper role was to “preserve the strength and vigor of the race.” Thus, laws could bar women from certain professions, such as practicing law, because “the harmony . . . [of] the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband.” As a result, as late as the 1960s, over half the states still legally excluded women from some type of work.

Read the rest of the op-ed at Discourse Magazine. 

Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute.



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