Informed in 1944 that she was “not of the sex” entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School, African American activist Pauli Murray confronted the injustice she called “Jane Crow.” In the 1960s and 1970s, the analogies between sex and race discrimination pioneered by Murray became potent weapons in the battle for women’s rights, as feminists borrowed rhetoric and legal arguments from the civil rights movement. Serena Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race is the first book to explore the development and consequences of this key feminist strategy.
Mayeri uncovers the history of an often misunderstood connection at the heart of American antidiscrimination law. Her study details how a tumultuous political and legal climate transformed the links between race and sex equality, civil rights and feminism. Battles over employment discrimination, school segregation, reproductive freedom, affirmative action, and constitutional change reveal the promise and peril of reasoning from race—and offer a vivid picture of Pauli Murray, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and others who defined feminists’ agenda.
Looking beneath the surface of Supreme Court opinions to the deliberations of feminist advocates, their opponents, and the legal decision makers who heard—or chose not to hear—their claims, Reasoning from Race showcases previously hidden struggles that continue to shape the scope and meaning of equality under the law.
Mayeri shows that racial politics’ impact on the women’s movement was not a coincidence of timing but rather the inevitable result of ideas and individuals colliding at key moments in history. Her carefully crafted reconciliation of racial justice with women’s rights offers a template for incorporating race into ongoing feminist debate rather than letting such conversations end in painful silence.
The author powerfully describes the rise and fall of the gender–race analogy, as well as the transformation of how both supporters and opponents of women’s rights appropriated the analogy, culminating in the collapse of the feminist movement during the Reagan era.
Analogies between race and sex have a long history, dating back to the early years of the American suffrage struggle. In the 1840s, women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott protested their exclusion from anti-slavery leadership and abolitionist Frederick Douglass championed equal suffrage at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. A century later, the civil rights and feminist revolutions rekindled debates over whether and how race-sex analogies should be used. Reasoning from Race is a brilliant, scholarly book covering these debates, which are so important to understand as we tackle the unfinished business of sex equality in America.
This brilliant book opens an entirely new window on the vexed relationship between civil rights and the women’s movement. Its dazzling exploration of race–sex analogies forces us to reconsider the promise and peril of all analogical reasoning. Among other things, it should make anyone who has ever thought that ‘gay is the new black’ reconsider.
Paying close attention to ‘how law is made and what is lost along the way,’ Reasoning from Race provides a paradigm-altering account of legal feminism. Serena Mayeri recovers a robust tradition that understood how gender, race, and class worked together, and she tells its surprising story with bold sweep, meticulous research, and stylistic grace in this powerful and important book.
Reasoning from Race sets as its ambition to trace the history of how sex-equality federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence came to rely on and in turn often be limited by analogies to race. It is a history of ideas, of the relationship between the movement for civil rights and women’s rights from 1960 through the 1970s, and the individuals who bridged those two movements. In each of these respects, Mayeri succeeds brilliantly.
- 2012, Winner of the Darlene Clark Hine Award
- 2012, Winner of the Littleton-Griswold Prize
- 382 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.