Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Positive Sexism*

L. W. Sumnera1

a1 Philosophy, University of Toronto

No one who cares about equal opportunity can derive much comfort from the present occupational distribution of working women. In the various industrial societies of the West, women comprise between one quarter and one-half of the national labor force. However, they tend to clustered in employment sectors – especially clerical, sales, and service J occupations – which rank relatively low in remuneration, status, autonomy, and other perquisites. Meanwhile, the more prestigious and rewarding managerial and professional positions, as well as the major categories of blue-collar labor, remain largely a male preserve. In the same societies the average income earned by full-time female workers is one-half to two- J thirds that of their male counterparts. Although this disparity owes much to i other factors, including lower pay for work similar or even identical to that r standardly done by men, much of it can be explained only by the concentration of working women in traditional female job ghettos.


* An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy Discussion Group at All Souls College, Oxford. I am grateful for the valuable suggestions I received from the members of the audience on that occasion, especially from Ronald Dworkin and Janet Radcliffe Richards. I have also benefited from comments by G. A. Cohen, Marilyn Friedman, Nathan Isgur, Larry May, Kathryn Morgan, Ronald de Sousa, Mark Thornton, Heather Wright, and the editors of Social Philosophy & Policy.