Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column where we cover the women’s issues of the day – from many days ago.

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Two long overdue developments today in regard to an Executive Order by a former President, and a Task Force appointed last year by the present Chief Executive.

Though it certainly took a while, guidelines have finally been issued specifying what kinds of sex discrimination in the workplace were barred by President Johnson’s Executive Order issued on October 13, 1967. The order required equal opportunity and treatment of women by contractors and subcontractors when they do business with the Federal Government, but it didn’t say exactly what constituted illegal treatment.

The new guidelines were issued by the Labor Department at a White House briefing, and they ban a number of common practices. Newspaper “Help Wanted” ads may no longer specify whether the employer is looking to fill the position with a man or a woman, unless it can be shown that gender is a “bona fide occupational qualification” for the job. It is also now illegal to penalize women for taking time off to give birth, or to bar mothers of young children from being hired unless fathers are similarly banned.
Specific job classifications may no longer be made off limits to women, and separate seniority lists based on sex are unlawful. Enforcement can begin immediately, and will be the responsibility of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

Unfortunately, establishing these guidelines are the only part of the 33-page report by the President’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities that President Nixon has accepted. The report itself was completed and submitted on December 15th, but was suppressed by the White House until today, though some parts of it have leaked out.

The Task Force, announced with great fanfare by President Nixon on October 1st of last year, and headed by Virginia R. Allan, gathered information about sex discrimination in the U.S., and made recommendations about how to end it in its report entitled “A Matter of Simple Justice.”

The President's Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities. The Task Force was chaired by Virginia R. Allan, and the report was signed by Elizabeth Athanasakos, Ann R. Blackham, P. Dee Boersma, Evelyn Cunningham, Ann Ida Gannon, Vera Glaser, Dorothy Haener, Patricia Hutar, Katherine B. Massenburg, William C. Mercer, Alan Simpson and Evelyn E. Whitlow.

The President’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities. The Task Force was chaired by Virginia R. Allan, and the report was signed by Elizabeth Athanasakos, Ann R. Blackham, P. Dee Boersma, Evelyn Cunningham, Ann Ida Gannon, Vera Glaser, Dorothy Haener, Patricia Hutar, Katherine B. Massenburg, William C. Mercer, Alan Simpson and Evelyn E. Whitlow.

In a cover letter accompanying the report and sent to the President, Nixon was asked to use his influence on behalf of “the more than half our citizens who are women and who are now denied their full legal and Constitutional rights.” The Task Force noted that “an abiding concern for home and children” should not cut women off from “the freedom to choose the role in society to which their interest, education, and training entitle them.” The letter also said that “The United States, as it approaches its 200th anniversary, lags behind other enlightened and indeed some newly emerging countries, in the role ascribed to women.”

Among other things, the Task Force recommended establishing a permanent Office of Women’s Rights and Responsibilities, whose director would report directly to the President, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, having the President send a special message to Congress calling for new laws against gender bias, and increased assistance in regard to child care for women who work outside the home.

Coincidentally, the results of a 56-question survey about workplace discrimination were released today by the American Association of University Women. Of the 4,173 women and 3,001 spouses and male workplace colleagues who returned the surveys, 84% of the women and 77% of the men said that they believed women still suffer from discrimination in the workplace. 60% of men, but only 43% of the women, still think that a woman’s prime role is that of wife and mother.

Clearly, even as the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment approaches, a lot of work still needs to be done to achieve full equality for women.

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David Dismore

David became a lifelong admirer of the suffragists after briefly encountering them in a high school textbook in the early 1960s. Though missing out on that first part of the struggle for equality, he became active in "second wave" feminism through LA NOW in 1974 and has been a full-time feminist, TV news archivist, and women's history researcher at the Feminist Majority Foundation since its creation.