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February 13, 2013
The year 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the year in which now-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-founded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. At the beginning of the 1970s, hundreds of laws at every level of government treated women and men differently. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project, under the leadership of Ginsburg and her co-directors, led the way in advocating legislative change and litigating to invalidate these laws. They convinced the United States Supreme Court to regard sex-based distinctions in law with suspicion, because those distinctions were rooted in “official reliance on sexual stereotypes…that shore up and perpetuate society’s longstanding prejudices.”
This anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the Women’s Rights Project, under Ginsburg’s leadership, during its first decade and to consider all that remains to be done to combat gender stereotypes. This essay examines the ACLU’s early and current efforts to combat those stereotypes in a number of core areas, including challenges to laws and practices that perpetuate the beliefs that caretaking is women’s work and breadwinning the job of men; that disadvantage women because of pregnancy; and that, even in the 21st century, exclude women from certain jobs and foster stereotypes about the capabilities and interests of girls and boys, men and women.