GRE Reading Comprehension
Defenders of special protective labor legislation for women often maintain that eliminating such laws would destroy the fruits of a century-long struggle for the protection of women workers. Even a brief examination of the historic practice of courts and employers would show that the fruit of such laws has been bitter: they are, in practice, more of a curse than a blessing.
Sex-defined protective laws have often been based on stereotypical assumptions concerning women's needs and abilities, and employers have frequently used them as legal excuses for discriminating against women. After the Second World War, for example, businesses and government sought to persuade women to vacate jobs in factories, thus making room in the labor force for returning veterans. The revival or passage of state laws limiting the daily or weekly work hours of women conveniently accomplished this. Employers had only to declare that overtime hours were a necessary condition of employment or promotion in their factory, and women could be quite legally fired, refused jobs, or kept at low wage levels, all in the name of "protecting" their health. By validating such laws when they are challenged by lawsuits, the courts have colluded over the years in establishing different, less advantageous employment terms for women than for men, thus reducing women's competitiveness on the job market. At the same time, even the most well-intentioned lawmakers, courts, and employers have often been blind to the real needs of women. The lawmakers and the courts continue to permit employers to offer employee health insurance plans that cover all known human medical disabilities except those relating to pregnancy and childbirth.
Finally, labor laws protecting only special groups are often ineffective at protecting the workers who are actually in the workplace. Some chemicals, for example, pose reproductive risks for women of childbearing years; manufacturers using the chemicals comply with laws protecting women against these hazards by refusing to hire them. Thus the sex-defined legislation protects the hypothetical female worker, but has no effect whatever on the safety of any actual employee. The health risks to male employees in such industries cannot be negligible, since chemicals toxic enough to cause birth defects in fetuses or sterility in women are presumably harmful to the human metabolism. Protective laws aimed at changing production materials or techniques in order to reduce such hazards would benefit all employees without discriminating against any.
In sum, protective labor laws for women are discriminatory and do not meet Their intended purpose. Legislators should recognize that women are in the work force to stay, and that their needs—good health care, a decent wage, and a safe workplace-are the needs of all workers. Laws that ignore these facts violate women's rights for equal protection in employment.
The author places the word "protecting" in quotation marks in line 15 most likely in order to suggest that
- A she is quoting the actual wording of the laws in question
- B the protective nature of the laws in question should not be overlooked
- C protecting the health of workers is important to those who support protective labor laws
- D the laws in question were really used to the detriment of women workers, despite being overly protective in intent
- E the health of workers is not in need of protection, even in jobs where many hours of overtime work are required
Correct Answer: D