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Reason Says Prop. 209 Is Unnecessary

September 15, 1996|NANCY FITCH | Nancy Fitch is a professor of history at Cal State Fullerton

So now Supervisor Marian Bergeson has joined Ward Connerly as a poster child in the crusade against equal opportunity, claiming that Proposition 209 will "stop public sector agencies from discriminating . . ." This is the same tired argument embraced by William J. Bennett and Jack Kemp.

Bergeson believes that the initiative will not be detrimental to women. Yet the initiative's Clause C clearly states that "nothing in this section shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." As a successful college professor who almost didn't get into graduate school because one of my white male professors believed that "women should stay home and collect blue chip stamps," I am suspicious of language which will allow discrimination against women when it is "reasonably necessary."

If women's sports programs cost too much, is it "reasonably necessary" to eliminate them so that more money can be put into male athletics? If the entire generation of white men who gained positions during the country's "Mother of All Affirmative Action Programs," which existed from the origin of this country until the early 1970s and sanctioned deliberate discrimination against women and minorities, decide that one should hire white men over women as professors because women are "not suited" for college positions according to some arbitrary assumptions, is that "reasonably necessary?"

Though proponents of this proposition argue that the initiative is solely about abandoning preferences, this proposed law is carefully designed to dismantle civil rights protections won over the last 25 to 30 years. Women, especially women like Marian Bergeson, should not be taken in by glib, self-serving "assurances" of the authors that it does not discriminate against women.

The idea that women are so inherently "different" from men that sometimes discrimination makes sense is behind Clause C.

The danger in accepting this assumption was illustrated very well in a lawsuit won by Sears a number of years ago. In the case, Sears' lawyers argued successfully that they were not discriminating when they did not hire women for lucrative sales-commission jobs because they believed that women--as a result of long-standing patterns of socialization and culture--did not want the jobs.

Discrimination was endorsed in this case because the courts recognized "the validity" of so-called "natural" differences between men and women based upon cultural and historical patterns. Clause C would allow this kind of legitimized inequality in all areas of public employment, education and contracting.

This alone should persuade many men and women of all races that they should stop this movement against affirmative action and equal opportunity in California before it spreads across the nation.

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