Thursday, December 22, 2016
I have been blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016).
And coming soon, the rest of the book:
Chapter 5 "Our Girls" (Feminist parenting, maternal custody, and shifting societal norms of gender)
Chapter 6 "Still Many Obstacles" (Stanton's legacy to feminism and the modern reform of domestic relations law)
Friday, December 16, 2016
I have been blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). See Introduction, Chapter 1 (Marital Property), Chapter 2 (Marriage reform), and Chapter 3 (Divorce reform). Today I want to talk a bit about Chapter 4 “The Incidental Relation of Mother.”
Stanton’s philosophical point in identifying motherhood as "incidental" was that women’s role of mother did not define her legally or socially, but rather was one incident of her life. In a time when the cult of motherhood and the idealization of the domestic sphere of the home defined women, and denied them all public and legal rights as married women, Stanton clashed with the accepted status quo and challenged the notion that motherhood was the defining attribute of women’s citizenship. But one of the hardest audiences to convince of this was women themselves. Still she persisted in trying to shift the culture, as he wrote to the Seventh National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1856: “The woman is greater than the wife or the mother; and in consenting to take upon herself these relations, she should never sacrifice one iota of her individuality to any senseless conventionalisms.” Stanton herself had seven children, and presented a credible authority of one who could challenge the legal restriction of motherhood, even as she appreciated and enjoyed the role.
Both chapter 4 and chapter 5 of the book further develop the specific concrete rights and actions that Stanton then demanded under her philosophy of incidental motherhood. Chapter 4 addresses Stanton’s views of reproductive rights, most namely the right to “voluntary motherhood” and control of sexual relations and procreation.
This chapter to me was one of the most important chapters as I worked to set the record straight. For today, Stanton has been adopted as a poster-child of the prolife movement. Quite literally, her image and words are used on posters, flyers, and commemorative coffee mugs put out by the prolife organization, Feminists for Life. She is cited, repeatedly, in US Supreme Court amicus briefs as evidence of a feminist history against abortion. However, as I detail in the book and here, Stanton was not a prolife advocate. Not at all. In fact, I found only one reference in all of the thousands of historical documents I reviewed in which Stanton even mentioned the word abortion. In this one line, she lists it as one of many social problems identified by reformers, but which she traces back to the core problem of women’s inequality and lack of control in marriage and social and sexual relations.
What Stanton did talk about was voluntary motherhood. Voluntary motherhood was the ideology of both feminists and conservative women reformers which advocated the right of women to control when they engaged in sexual relations with their husbands. It reject the marital sexual privilege of the husband and the presumed right to unlimited sexual access. Instead, it placed the sole control of sexual relations with the wife, as it was the wife that bore the physical, emotional, and social consequences of pregnancy. It was a theory of abstinence that placed the right of reproductive control within the singular hands of the woman.
Stanton also wrote a great deal about infanticide, rather than abortion. Infanticide was the more shocking claim as it alleged a woman had killed her infant after its natural birth. Stanton defended women accused of infanticide and demand mercy rather than the death penalty. She trumped the defense of Hester Vaughn, an eighteen-year-old English working-class girl convicted of infanticide when her baby was found dead next to her where she had given birth alone, starving, in a freezing cold tenement. Stanton used infanticide to illustrate the injustice of a legal process that included women as jurors, judges, lawyers, lawmakers and even witnesses. For in heavy-handed prosecution of this crime, without prosecution of the male partner or attacker who caused the crime and without mercy from women who understood the situations of such a pregnancy, the law was patently unjust.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform. Chapter 2 was "The Pivot of the Marriage Relation" on marriage equality and restructuring marriage. Today is Chapter 3 on divorce reform and domestic violence.
From the Introduction to the chapter:
The “marriage question,” as it was called in the nineteenth century, was less about marriage and all about divorce. America inherited the divorceless legal tradition of England derived from canon law, prohibiting divorce but allowing separation and annulment. A few colonies and states experimented with divorce, slowly expanding the fault grounds for divorce by the middle of the nineteenth century, with a few states adopting broad grounds for any misconduct or cause. Legislatures were guided by legal concepts of individualism and contract theory, and influenced by temperance arguments for the protection of women. As the country grew through expansion, immigration, and industrialization, divorce increased. Numbers went from 9,937 in 1867, the first year a national census on divorce was taken, to 33,461 in 1890 and to 167,105 by 1920. The moral outcry was loud, as clergy and moral reformers predicted the deterioration of the family and the downfall of society.
Stanton was at the forefront of the very public debate on divorce. She viewed divorce as an important issue of women’s rights because it freed women from marriage, where their legal status was denied and their personal freedoms curtailed. Viewing marriage as a trap, she was supportive of any legal means for women to escape, including no-fault or “easy divorce.”Taking this a step further, Stanton argued that women had a duty, an obligation to divorce, in cases of domestic violence and intemperance, to protect themselves and their children.
Divorce had been seen historically and biblically as a way for men to “put away their wives,” but Stanton reframed it as a legal remedy for women. She “single-handedly shifted the age-old idea of divorce as a male prerogative to a right demanded by women on humanitarian grounds.” Women needed divorce, Stanton argued, to escape domestic violence, abuse, poverty, and simple unhappiness. “Liberal divorce laws for oppressed wives,” Stanton proclaimed, “are what Canada was for Southern slaves.” The majority of divorces, over two-thirds, were filed by women—a key fact for Stanton proving the importance of this issue for women and the propriety of including it within the women’s rights platform. Divorce was not a morality crisis, but simply a consequence of women’s assertion of rights. “This is woman’s transition period, from slavery to freedom, and all the social upheavings, before which the wisest and bravest stand appalled, are but necessary incidents in her progress to equality.” Divorce provided the self-help remedy that let women enforce their own rights and expectations of marriage, with the secondary effect of transforming marriage into a more egalitarian structure.
Stanton’s tenaciousness on divorce, however, alienated colleagues and divided the women’s rights movement. Her vocal support of divorce outraged reformers, increased opposition to women’s rights, and contributed to the split in the organized women’s movement. Stanton remained undeterred, convinced of the necessity of divorce to women’s full equality. As the eighty-year-old Stanton recalled, “[S]o bitter was the opposition to divorce for any cause that but few dared to take part in the discussion.” But, she said, “I was always courageous in saying what I saw to be true, for the simple reason that I never dreamed of opposition. What seemed to me to be right I thought must be equally plain to all other rational beings.”
Stanton initially presented divorce as woman’s duty to free herself and her children from an alcoholic husband and domestic violence.
She first wrote of her support for divorce in 1850 in a short article aptly titled “Divorce,” published under the pseudonym “Sun Flower” in the women’s temperance newspaper, the Lily. At this time, a New York legislative committee had proposed a bill to expand divorce beyond the cause of adultery to include desertion, imprisonment, drunkenness, and insanity. Stanton brought this to her readers’ attention and gave it her vote. “I see there is a bill before the Legislature providing some new doors, through which unhappy prisoners may escape from the bonds of an ill assorted marriage. . . . I hope that bill may pass.” She strongly endorsed divorce in the context of intemperance and abuse. “The Legislature, so far from placing any barrier in the way of a woman wishing to leave a drunken husband, ought to pass laws, compelling her to do so.” Divorce, she suggested, would be woman’s duty in such circumstances. Going further, Stanton proposed a broader right to no-fault divorce. “If, as at present, all can freely and thoughtlessly enter into the married state, they should be allowed to come as freely and thoughtfully out again.”
She later then wove divorce reform of no-fault divorce and equal fault divorce into her speeches to the New York legislature and to the public, “speaking wisdom to the popular ear.” But the notorious McFarland v. Richardson trial gave her a national stage on which to play out her critique of marriage and solution of divorce. McFarland, with premeditation, shot his ex-wife’s lover, a famous journalist. The jury acquitted on grounds that McFarland was entitled to defend his property of his home and his wife. Even though his wife had divorced him (out-of-state). And even though he had committed domestic violence against her.
Stanton then repeated her shocking demand for free and easy divorce a year later in the context of the Laura Fair trial in San Francisco. Fair was sentenced to death for shooting her longtime lover when he returned to his wife. Stanton argued the disparate inequalities in the law that would starkly excuse the murder by a husband, but condemn the same murder by a woman.
The Intimate State: Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern U.S. HistoryCall for Proposals: Due April 10, 2017Editors: Margot Canaday, Nancy Cott, & Robert SelfWe are soliciting original history essays—archive-based research on specific topics, as well as conceptual essays addressing more abstract questions—regarding gender, sexuality and the state for a new edited volume. We seek to bring twenty-five years of scholarship on gender, sexuality, and the family to bear on the history of modern state authority in the United States (1865 to the present). While the volume will reach back to the Reconstruction era and value this history as such, we also hope to point toward a usable past in an uncertain present.The historical study of state power (its accumulation at various scales, its structures,and its modes of operation) is a longstanding field while that of gender, sex, and sexuality is relatively young though very vibrant. For the most part, these two fields have produced their profoundest insights and advancements without substantial dialogue with one another. Yet contemporary developments and recent scholarship have made it plain that government action at the local, state and federal levels is entwined with incentives, obligations and punishments related to gender and sexuality, and that decisions imagined as personal and intimate choices are almost always already structured by state rules.These collected essays will aim to demonstrate that the involvements of government authority in intimate life warrant greater historical analysis and theorization than they have generated to date. We envision a volume that encourages scholars whose primary intellectual commitment is to the history of gender and sexuality to leverage that scholarship in the service of new understandings of modern state power (whether at local, state, regional, national, or transnational scales) and that scholars of state authority will also be persuaded to attend more to the insights of gender and sexuality studies in their scholarship. How might the history of American state development—its periodization, its overall theorization—look different at every governmental level from the local to the federal when questions of gender and sexuality move to the center of the analytical frame? The volume invites intersectional approaches to that question, foregrounding the relationship of gender, sexuality, and state power to race, class, and other categories of analysis and experience, and also welcomes contributions that are transnational or comparative in their approach.Possible topics might include gender/sexuality and:--borders of the nation/immigration
--racism, racial violence
--penal power and incarceration
--militarization and war
--national securityAs well as state power/regulation and:--forms of marriage, nonmarriage, marital dissolution
--commercialized sex/sex work
--sexual science, eugenics
--reproduction, contraception, abortion
--transgender lives and experiencesPlease send an abstract of no more than 750 words, including references to major sources for the research if archive-based, to Margot Canaday (firstname.lastname@example.org), Nancy Cott (email@example.com), and Robert Self (firstname.lastname@example.org) by April 10, 2017, along with a one-page CV. Authors will be notified by June 1, 2017, of their selection to participate in a conference to be held at Brown University in January of 2018. Essays (of no more than 10,000 words) to be circulated for the conference will be due December 15, 2017.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform and Chapter 2 was "The Pivot of the Marriage Relation" on marriage equality and restructuring marriage.
Sticking with Chapter 2, here is an excerpt I have been reading at book talks:
Stanton’s second goal was to offer a solution that would transform marriage into a relation respecting women’s equal individuality. Her proposal was to conceptualize marriage legally as a contract, rather than a sacrament or status, which would allow freedom to designate the terms and the termination of the marriage.[i] Socially, she advocated an egalitarian vision of marriage as a union of soul mates that fully respected the freedom of each individual as they worked together as partners in the joint enterprise of the family. This transformational vision of marriage required little state regulation, permitting free divorce and other restrictions on choice of marital partner. Stanton believed in the theoretical ideal of free love, resulting “whenever compulsion and restraint, whether of the law or of a dogmatic and oppressive public opinion, are removed.”[ii]
So when her friend Frederick Douglass remarried to Helen Pitts, a white woman, she sent her personal congratulations and support for his subversive act. She noted that
there’s much hostile criticism on your condescension in marrying a white woman. After all the terrible battles and political upheavals we have had in expurgating our Constitutions of that odious adjective “white” it is really remarkable that you or all men should have stooped to do it honor. The “white” feature of this contract is bad enough, but “the woman” is still worse.
Stanton commented on the gender implications of the controversy, in which his “large circle of admiring friends protest” against him risking his legacy as a black civil rights leader on white interests, especially those of a mere woman.[iii] Stanton wanted to draft a public announcement of support for Douglass from both her and Anthony and invite him to speak at the next women’s rights convention. Anthony refused, concerned with the potential backlash on “the subject of amalgamation” against the growing consensus on women’s suffrage. Anthony wrote to Stanton, “I do hope you won’t put your foot into the question of intermarriage of the races. It has no place on our platform, any more than the question of no marriage at all, or of polygamy, and so far as I can prevent it, shall not be brought there.” She pleaded, do not “throw around that marriage the halo of a pure and lofty duty to break down race lines.”[iv] For Stanton had publicly supported interracial marriage before, attending legislative hearings in Boston to repeal colonial miscegenation laws and printing an editorial in her newspaper in support of interracial marriage.[v] But this time, she backed down.
Despite the suggestion that marriage was not a proper issue of women’s rights, for Stanton, it was central to her vision of equality. Changing the marriage relation, she wrote early in the movement, “is at the foundation of all reforms.”[vi]
[i] ECS, “Side Issues,” Rev., Oct. 6, 1870; ECS, “The Kernel of the Question,” Rev., Nov. 4, 1869.
[ii] DuBois, “On Labor,” 65.
[iii] ECS to Frederick Douglass, June 27, 1884; see Maria Diedrich, Love across Color Lines (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999).
[iv] SBA to ECS, Jan. 27, 1884; Newman, 4.
[v] ECS to Elizabeth J. Neall, Feb. 3, 1843; “Theodore Tilton’s Opinion of Anna E. Dickinson,” Rev., Nov. 5, 1868.
[vi] ECS to SBA, Mar. 1, .
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Stanton, Feminism & the Family: “The whole question of women’s rights turns on the pivot of the marriage relation.”
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform.
Today, is chapter 2.
Chapter 2, “The Pivot of the Marriage Relation” addresses Stanton’s key philosophical premise that equality in marriage was as important as equality in public, church, and state.
I do not know that the world is quite willing or ready to discuss the question of marriage. . . . It is in vain to look for the elevation of woman, so long as she is degraded in marriage. . . . The right idea of marriage is at the foundation of all reforms. . . . I feel this whole question of woman’s rights turns on the pivot of the marriage relation, and sooner or later it will be the question for discussion.
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony, Mar. 1, 
Marriage needed “pivot,” to do an about-face from the slave-like subordinated status of married women under coverture to an autonomous, individual partner of a marital partnership. For this first feminist, family was not opposed to women’s rights, but was a key site of needed change. The public and private spheres were not segregated as feminist theory first developed.
Stanton’s critiques and theories of marriage were colored by her own disappointing personal experience in marriage. She had dreamed, and often espoused, the idea of a close companion, a soulmate, with whom a woman shared family, work, and intimacy. Instead, she was married to abolitionist and some-time lawyer Henry Stanton who was fully absorbed in his own (unrealized) political ambition. Henry spent most of their married life living elsewhere, working on a political campaign or issue in another city or state, while Elizabeth raised their seven children. The two finally set up separately households in their fifties, visiting and remaining cordial for family events.
Philosophically, Stanton’s first objective was to establish that marriage was a problem. She made her point sometimes symbolically, using metaphors like slavery which her audience understood, and lamenting the wife’s duty to obey and take her husband’s name, “Mrs. Henry Stanton.”
Stanton’s radical “Man Marriage” critique presented in speeches and newspaper editorials conveyed this idea of the oppressive nature of marriage on a more sophisticated level. Like modern feminist legal theorists, she deconstructed the seeming objectivity of the law to show how the laws of marriage were made “by and for the benefit of men.” She applied this critique to the controversy over Mormon polygamy, subversively suggesting that polygamy was no worse than monogamy for women.
Stanton’s second objective was to offer a corrective solution to the problem of marriage. Her reconstructive ideal conceptualized marriage as a contract. Marriage as a contract, rather than a status, changed everything legally for Stanton. It supported the notion of a legal partnership of equals, free modification of termination of that contract by divorce, as well as state laws of higher age for marriage and abolition of common law marriage.
Friday, December 2, 2016
This is part of a continuing series blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Today, is chapter 1.
“What do you women want?” That was the question Elizabeth Cady Stanton was asked by the New York legislature in 1854. She responded with a long-list of demands for marital property, child custody, domestic violence protections, women on juries, tax exemptions for widows, and wholescale elimination of coverture.
These many goals were laid out by Stanton in her Declaration of Sentiments delivered at the Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848. (Now the site of the Women's Rights National Historical Park). The Declaration was Stanton’s road map for reform, in that she articulated 17 demands for reform of state, law, church, and the family in order to accomplish women’s full equality of opportunity.
Stanton began her fifty-years of legal and political advocacy for women’s rights on the issue of marital property. This was her starting point, and so it is the starting point for the book. In 1848, the NY legislature was considering reforms to the property laws that prevented married women from owning property, either separate, earned, inherited, or marital. It was supported by some expressed feminist concerns, but more by business concerns with recession, transferability of property, and family debt protection. But the issue was at the front and center, with Married Women’s Property Acts beginning to be passed across the nation, and grassroots advocacy happening in Stanton’s close circle.
Stanton also started with the issue of marital property as it was the one that involved her personally. Her father, Daniel Cady, was a respected property and equity lawyer, legislator, and jurist. He was in the inner group of those considering legal reform, reformers who interacted with Stanton. Stanton also learned the law from her father, in what I call a “de facto apprenticeship,” observing his clients and trials, reading law with his apprentices, and serving one year as his clerk. This legal training and ability to “think like a lawyer” would serve her well. But her own attempts to own and earn separate property, to make up for her under-employed husband, ran smack into the limitations of coverture.
After introducing Stanton’s personal training and experience with the law of marital property, this chapter traces her philosophies, speeches, and proposals for legal reform. These included marital property laws that envisioned joint ownership of martial property – an idea that was not on the table in the Married Women’s Property Acts that merely allowed a woman to retain separate ownership of premarital or separately inherited (and later earned) property. She also advanced ideas of “taxation without representation,” challenging the taxation of widows’ property without the corresponding right of a property owner to vote.
The chapter also explores Stanton’s attempt to capitalize on the newly-enacted Privileges & Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which Stanton though was self-evidently empowering for sex equality. The Supreme Court, however, quickly squashed the expected interpretation of the clause to apply to voting or a generalized sex equality. Had Stanton’s view prevailed, much on women’s legal equality would have been different.
Here is an excerpt: Download ExcerptStantonChap1
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
As part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice’, and in conjunction with Swansea University’s annual ‘Symposium by the Sea’, we are pleased to announce a two-day symposium on the female litigant in the medieval and early modern period (c.1100-c.1750). The intention is to bring scholars together in order to explore women’s access to legal redress and to shed new light on individuals’ lived experiences of the law. We are seeking 25-minute papers from researchers (of all career-stages) working on any aspect of the history of women litigating in the courts across the known world during this broad timeframe. We welcome work on all courts, regions, jurisdictions, ethnicities, languages and religious and confessional identities, and on any aspect of those histories or historiographies. Post-graduate students are encouraged to apply.
Topics and approaches might include:
- The operation of gender in the courts.
- The practicalities of litigation: travel, subsistence, accommodation, planning and expense.
- The impact of a woman’s life-stage, status or ethnicity on her experience at law.
- The woman’s voice and barriers to its ‘audibility’.
- Visual or textual representation of the female litigant.
- Specific case-studies and longue durée perspectives.
- Historiography and ‘where do we go from here?’.
Applicants are invited to submit by 21 January 2017 a proposal of c.500 words, together with a short biography for inclusion in the programme.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Ann Gordon, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony, Federal Judicial Center (2005)
United States v. Susan B. Anthony was a criminal trial in the federal courts. In the federal election in November 1872, Anthony, the best-known advocate of woman suffrage, registered to vote and then voted. The government charged her with the crime of voting without “the legal right to vote in said election district”—she, in the words of the indictment, “being then and there a person of the female sex.” Her trial revealed the complexity of federalism in the post-Civil War years. She was convicted in federal court under federal law for violating state law about who was eligible to vote. New York state law prohibited women from voting, and a recent federal law provided for the criminal prosecution of anyone who voted in congressional elections “without having a lawful right to vote.”
Primarily a case about woman suffrage and sexual discrimination, United States v. Susan B. Anthony is also a case about Reconstruction and the balance of federal and state authority. Prior to the Civil War, the demand for woman suffrage was directed to state governments, each of which set the qualifications of voters in the respective states. Reconstruction redirected the demand. The federal government assumed some authority over the voting qualifications enacted by the states, and woman suffragists saw in that change an opportunity to extend voting rights not only to black men but also to black and white women. They called for universal suffrage.
Anthony and the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, after failing to gain explicit reference to the voting rights of women in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, set about testing the meaning of what those amendments did say and how the amendments might have changed the rights of women. Anthony was among a group of women in the country trying to establish, through test cases in the federal courts, that the amendments had so redefined citizenship and rights that women were protected by the federal government in their right to vote.
(Cartoon mocking SBA for wanting to vote)
Remarks by Susan B. Anthony in the Circuit Court of the Northern District of New York, June 19, 1873
As a matter of outward form the defendant was asked if she had anything to say why the sentence of the court should not be pronounced upon her.
"Yes, your honor," replied Miss Anthony, "I have many things to say. My every right, constitutional, civil, political and judicial has been tramped upon. I have not only had no jury of my peers, but I have had no jury at all."
Court—"Sit down Miss Anthony. I cannot allow you to argue the question."
Miss Anthony—"I shall not sit down. I will not lose my only chance to speak."
Court—"You have been tried, Miss Anthony, by the forms of law, and my decision has been rendered by law."
Miss Anthony—"Yes, but laws made by men, under a government of men, interpreted by men and for the benefit of men. The only chance women have for justice in this country is to violate the law, as I have done, and as I shall continue to do," and she struck her hand heavily on the table in emphasis of what she said. "Does your honor suppose that we obeyed the infamous fugitive slave law which forbade to give a cup of cold water to a slave fleeing from his master? I tell you we did not obey it; we fed him and clothed him, and sent him on his way to Canada. So shall we trample all unjust laws under foot. I do not ask the clemency of the court. I came into it to get justice, having failed in this, I demand the full rigors of the law."
See also Doug Linder, Famous American Trials: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony and Trial Record in the Case of Susan B. Anthony
Friday, November 4, 2016
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Politicizing and Practicing Motherhood
“I’d like to burn you at the stake,” pioneering feminist Betty Friedan famously spat at conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly during a 1973 debate about the Equal Rights Amendment. Her loathing reflected the recognition of a formidable opponent. Though our largely liberal profession took several decades to recognize Schlafly’s power in shaping political culture, the flurry of insightful reflections from historians in the wake of her recent death affirms Schlafly’s rightful place in the historical record even as her anti-feminist and anti-gay politics position her on what many agree is the wrong side of history.
A hallmark of Schlafly’s public persona was portraying the world as a series of stark opposites. Her feminist straw woman was joyless man-hater; in 1977, she contrasted a conservative, “positive woman” with the “miserable” who embraced the new feminist honorific “Ms.” But if we treat Schlafly exclusively as the conservative complement to this caricature, we miss important dimensions of her function in the history of feminism as more than a reactionary foil. An illuminating way to read Schlafly as a more complex figure is to look beyond her rich public life to explore how she perceived motherhood not just as a political symbol but also as a personal practice.
I’m not the first historian to suggest that Schlafly demands a nuanced approach. For one, the feminism Schlafly railed against ironically enabled her political career. Moreover, that illustrious career was constrained by the same misogyny that thwarted women of all political affiliations, as her unsuccessful attempts in the 1950s to break into the old-boys’ foreign policy network proved. For Schlafly’s homages to homemaking (and her frequent infuriating introductory anecdote that she had asked permission of her husband to speak publicly), she rivaled Friedan in her efforts to mobilize a generation of female political neophytes. She sent detailed handwritten notes to housewives, precisely instructing how to organize around “women’s issues” such as education, abortion, and “the homosexual agenda,” which made “family values” a central plank of contemporary conservatism and launched her into public life. Like her early-twentieth-century progressive foremothers, Schlafly used a form of “maternalism” to access the political arena, though in order to promote rather than challenge traditional gender roles even as her very participation embodied such a challenge.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
MARCH 8 (International Women’s Day) 2017
CALL FOR PAPERS
As part of the celebrations for Hull as UK City of Culture 2017 the University of Hull is hosting an interdisciplinary celebration of the life, work and legacy of Mary Wollstonecraft, (who spent her formative years in the nearby town of Beverley).
Papers are welcome on any aspect of Wollstonecraft’s life, work and legacy from Gender Studies, Philosophy, Politics, History, Literature, Education or any other relevant discipline.
A prize of £100 will be awarded for the best paper, which will also be published in the Journal of Gender Studies Special issue on Mary Wollstonecraft, which will follow the conference.
Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words to K.Lennon@hull.ac.uk by January 6 2017
For some thinking on the legal thought of foundational feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, see Charles Reid, Jr., The Journey to Seneca Falls: Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Legal Emancipation of Women, 10 Univ. St. Thomas L.J. 1123 (2013)
Monday, October 31, 2016
Which means the Salem Witch Trials.
Most of the victims of the trials were women. And most of the accusers. Scholars have talked about the trials as misogyny and at the same time as women's assertion of agency and power. They also suggested the lax evidentiary standards allowed social judgments about women to be determinative of legal guilt.
Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (2015)
Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1998)
Jane Moriarty, Wonders of the Invisible World: Prosecutorial Syndrome and Profile Evidence in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, 26 Vermont L. Rev. 43 (2001)
Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2003)
Peter Hoffer, The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (1997)
Friday, September 9, 2016
When Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment to the states in 1972, it seemed as if a monumental feminist victory was at hand. In five years all but three of the 38 states needed for ratification had approved the measure, which asserted that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Then conservative forces — led by Phyllis Schlafly, who died this week at the age of 92 — fought back, killing the E.R.A. and staggering the feminist movement.
Since then, Supreme Court rulings have recognized principles of equality the amendment was intended to enforce. Did feminists win even though the E.R.A. was defeated?
Joanna Grossman, Even the ERA Couldn't Bring About Real Equality
Mary Ann Case, Supreme Court has Delivered on Many of the ERA's Promises
Elizabeth Price Foley, The ERA's Defeat Prevented More Radical Changes
Serena Mayeri, Despite Feminist Gains, Effects of ERA's Defeat are Unknown
I recently wrote a bit on this topic in a book chapter forthcoming tracing the history of the ERA back to its origins in the late suffrage movement and then up to its modern resurrection. See Tracy Thomas, After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds. forthcoming Oxford U. Press) (with TJ Boisseau)
A key question is whether legally women need the ERA, or whether its goals of general equality and specific rights have effectively been accomplished through other means. The virtually unanimous consensus of legal scholars is that the ERA’s goals have been effectively achieved through the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence. Courts now review gendered state action under intermediate scrutiny requiring that any laws treating women differently be justified by important governmental interests and that the laws be closely tailored to those interests. Other scholars, however, have emphasized the limitations of equal protection analysis for sex equality. For gender discrimination cases under equal protection, the Court utilizes a lower standard of intermediate scrutiny, rather than the strict scrutiny used in race and religions discrimination. This lower standard tolerates many of the continuing instances of less overt sex discrimination and laws that have discriminatory effect rather than textual prohibitions on gender. The equal protection approach is also limited because it requires proof of intent--defendants thinking bad thoughts about women--which [Catharine] MacKinnon notes “doesn’t address how discrimination mostly operates in the real world,” where “the vast majority of sex inequality is produced by structural and systemic and unconscious practices” inherited from centuries of gender hierarchy. Equal protection law’s formal classification structure, she explains, which rigidly treats only exactly similar things the same, is incapable of assessing the ways in which people “can be different from one another yet still be equals, entitled to be treated equally” or where affirmative diversity is needed to treat alike those whom are different.
Some scholars also conclude that equality for women has essentially been achieved for women without the ERA because the specific substantive goals of the amendment were accomplished through a variety of federal legislation on specific issues as well as the parallel state constitutional amendments. Twenty-three states adopted mini-ERAs and such amendments have helped strengthen women’s ability to challenge discriminatory laws in those states. Courts often interpret the state ERAs to require strict scrutiny, and two states mandate an even higher absolute standard that presumes any discriminatory law to be unconstitutional. In addition, federal legislation has mandated equal employment and education in The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Such piecemeal legislation, however, is subject to the political ebb and flow and can be rolled back, as the Violence Against Women Act was when the Supreme Court held in United States v. Morrison (2000) that Congress had no power to address civil remedies for domestic violence.
The renewed campaign for an ERA emphasizes the continued systemic harms to women of economic inequality, violence against women, and pregnancy discrimination and the limits of existing laws to address these concerns. Proponents of ERA emphasize the need for a permanent constitutional guarantee to control an overarching legal and social principle of women’s equality. The U.S., unlike the majority of other countries, has refused to incorporate such an express guarantee in its written constitution or adopt the international women’s bill of rights by ratifying the United Nations’ treaty. The absence of an express guarantee permits traditional literalists like Justice Antonin Scalia to opine: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” The ERA offers a corrective to this thinking and the equivocal state of women’s rights under the law. It offers a textual guarantee of sex equality, an inspiration for public policy, and a powerful symbolic support of women’s equality in all social and legal venues.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Arch anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly died this week. She has ironically, as Slate notes, become "doomed to represent the feminism she hated."
I recently wrote about Schlafly and her leadership of the political movement that stopped ERA. After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds.) (Oxford Univ. Press forthcoming) (with TJ Boisseau).
The face of women’s opposition to ERA was conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA (Stop Taking Our Privileges) organization. Schlafly, a mother to six children, offered herself to the anti-ERA movement as a voice for stay-at-home mothers in need of special privileges and protections under the law. The irony that she, much like all the most prominent reformers historically lining up on either side of the ERA amendment (such as Alice Paul, Florence Kelley, and Pauli Murray), held a law degree and enjoyed a flourishing decade-long career in the public eye, was utterly elided in her rhetoric.
Doggedly focused on women’s roles as mothers and home-makers, Schlafly trumpeted the cause of women’s difference from men—championing the special rights of women as citizens who, ideally, did not work outside the home. She asserted that equality was a step back for women: “Why should we lower ourselves to ‘Equal Rights’ when we already have the status of ‘special privilege?’” She and other ERA opponents reframed the issue as forcing women into dangerous combat, co-education dormitories, and unisex bathrooms. Feminist advocates responded by clarifying that privacy rights protected concerns about personal living spaces in residences and bathrooms, but their counsel was unheard in the din of threat to traditional family and gender roles. Opponents equated ERA with homosexuality and gay marriage, as the amendment’s words “on account of sex,” “were joined with ‘sexual preference’ or homosexuality to evoke loathing, fear, and anger at the grotesque perversion of masculine responsibility represented by the women’s movement” Schlafly hurled insults at the ERA supporters, urging her readers to view photographs of an ERA rally and “see for yourself the unkempt, the lesbians, the radicals, the socialists,” and other activists she labeled militant, arrogant, aggressive, hysterical, and bitter. When ERA supporters “gathered at the federally financed 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Houston and endorsed homosexual rights and other controversial resolutions on national television, they helped to make the case for ERA opponents.”
The shift in debate slowed and then stopped ratification of the ERA. In 1974, three states ratified the amendment, one state ratified in 1975 and in 1977, and then ended with only 35 of the 38 required. At the same time, states began to rescind their prior ratifications, with five states voting to withdraw their prior approval. The legality of the rescissions was unclear, but these efforts had political reverberations in the unratified states. When the deadline arrived without the required three-fourths approval, Congress voted in 1978 to extend the ratification deadline three years to June 30, 1982. Not a single additional state voted to ratify during this extension.
The life and times of a trailblazing feminist in American law. The first female Stanford law professor was also first director of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, one of the first women to be an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and the biographer of California’s first woman lawyer, Clara Foltz. Survivor, pioneer, leader, and fervent defender of the powerless and colorful mobsters alike, Barbara Babcock led by example and by the written word — and recounts her part ofhistory in this candid and personal memoir.
"For woman lawyers, Barbara Babcock has led the way. How? By being smarter and tougher than the men; also, more empathetic and self-aware. Funny, shrewd, and telling, her memoir Fish Raincoats is a joy to read.”
— Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon: A Man Divided
“Life will afford you no better sherpa on the extraordinary journey women have taken in the legal profession than Barbara Babcock. This book should be required reading for anyone who isn’t certain that they have a place at the lawyers table. Babcock’s amazing life has made a space for so many of us. Her story will do the same.”
— Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate
Here is also a book review I wrote of Babcock's key work on the biography of California's first lawyer Clara Foltz. Book Review: Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford Press 2011).
Thursday, August 25, 2016
This website Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution launched last fall tells the backstory of modern feminist and legal history from about 1940 to present. It includes terrific videos, photos, book resources, and detailed news that fill in the backstory of the women's political and legal movement. Great stuff to show in class or use for research.
For example, here is the entry and links for the 1963 Equal Pay Act
This amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex when workers perform substantially equal work and has been credited as one factor in the rise of women’s wages overall. The passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 demonstrates that work in this area is not complete.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Zoe Detsi, Review, European J. American Studies, Thomas A. Foster, ed. Women in Early America (NYU Press 2015)
Women in Early America is an intriguing collection of essays offering richly diverse readings of women’s lives and experiences in 17th- and 18th- century America. This volume is a significant contribution to the scholarship concerning the role of women in history and their participation in historical moments of political change and cultural negotiation. From Gerda Lerner’s seminal work on The Woman in American History (1971) to Linda Kerber’s enlightening book titled Women’s America: Refocusing the Past (6th ed., 2004), to Mary Beth Norton’s meticulous transatlantic study Separated by their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (2011), scholarly efforts have been made to deepen our understanding of women’s history by initiating a shift of focus from their domestic role and dependent status to their active involvement in political, military, and economic affairs, as well as cultural production.
The scope of the volume’s methodological approach to the history of early women in America is very broad. The essays cover an impressive range of women’s experiences from the colonial period to the American revolutionary war offering a number of perspectives that embrace cultural history, gender theory, race studies, while resenting a multitude of women’s voices from different social, cultural, political, ethnic backgrounds, and geographical areas. All eleven essays provide scholars and researchers with a wealth of archival material – diaries, letters, narratives, documents – and with fresh insights into examining women in history as active agents in their own right challenging social conventions and political decisions. Either as aristocratic women in New Mexico or indentured servants in Virginia and Maryland, as slave owners in Jamaica or runaway slaves, as interpreters in Puritan Massachusetts or traders in French America and Detroit, as Loyalist women during the revolution or proponents of female education in the new nation, early women in America were deeply involved in (inter)cultural practices and greatly affected by economic policies and social changes.
The Table of Contents is here.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Robin Sager, Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America (LSU Press 2016)
In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager probes the struggles of aggrieved spouses shedding light on the nature of marriage and violence in the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. Analyzing over 1,500 divorce records that reveal intimate details of marriages in conflict in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin from 1840–1860, Sager offers a rare glimpse into the private lives of ordinary Americans shaken by accusations of cruelty. * * *
Correcting historical mischaracterizations of women’s violence as trivial, rare, or defensive, Sager finds antebellum wives both capable and willing to commit a wide variety of cruelties within their marriages. Her research provides details about the reality of nineteenth-century conjugal unions, including the deep unhappiness buried within them.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Paul Kerry (BYU, History), Mary Wollstonecraft on Reason, Marriage, Family Life, and the Development of Virtue in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 30 BYU J. Public Law 1 (2015)
The aim of the argument here is to show how A Vindication of the Rights of Woman presents a view of the equal dignity and intellectual capacity of the sexes embedded in the proposition that males and females are beholden to the same standard of virtue and chastity. Wollstonecraft further argues that both women and men have the same obligation to develop virtue by living lives that are ordered to duties by reason. Reason guides the passions and is exercised through the use of moral agency. Although her treatise calls for certain kinds of female independence, there are also spheres of interdependence and complementarity on which she insists in marriage, childrearing, and family life, but also in the development of virtue. Indeed, in the quest to develop virtue, men and women need each other: “The two sexes mutually corrupt and improve each other. This I believe to be an indisputable truth, extending it to every virtue.” Although Wollstonecraft accords religion a central teaching role as well, it is critical to the philosophical underpinnings of her treatise that human reason (God given, in her view) can derive the principles she puts forward and as such her arguments resonate with those made by natural law advocates. Without this set of arguments, Wollstonecraft's compelling philosophical insights are only partially understood if not largely missed, reduced as they are to calls for specific kinds of action rather than understood as reasoned contributions to political thought. A part of the work here must include restoring Wollstonecraft's argument through her own words by close reading.
This begs an important question: How could Wollstonecraft's many words on key elements of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, childrearing, family life, and the development of virtue and the role of reason go undetected or be neglected? Some of Wollstonecraft's ideas are explained away strategically by suggesting that she had to work within the accepted idioms of her time to revolutionize from within the prevalent discourse. On this view, Wollstonecraft is seen to pose her arguments “within a framework that was minimally acceptable to popular prejudices.” The implication is that she cloaked her real arguments inside of language and tropes that would allow other, less acceptable ideas of the time, to be granted passage into the public discourse. Yet, her ideas, those presented here, are strongly present, in some cases tirelessly omnipresent, in her treatise. She holds these up not as the husk in which to hide the real kernel of her meaning, but as essential to her argument--they are the root of her philosophical thinking. It is strangely myopic to classify her thinking on chastity, marriage, the family, and the complementarity of the sexes as mere window dressing because her views are not radical nor break decisively with traditional thinking.
Another answer to the question is that Wollstonecraft's insights are often placed onto a procrustean bed of feminist theory. Wollstonecraft's place in intellectual history has changed along with the political fortunes of the women's movement. Sometimes it appears as if A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is caught in an interpretative struggle over the meaning of feminism, rather than allowing the treatise to challenge and broaden what feminism means. It is tempting to confer on this text a status as a forerunner of modern feminism, but, depending on what a critic defines this to be, such a status can lead to distortions in understanding the text. The risk of “vile anachronism”is always present when studying any thinker from an ideological or theoretical perspective. Finely textured ideas of past thinkers run the risk of becoming flattened to fit an agenda. This apprehension is conveyed in the words of one critic: “One can see how the moral analysis and the social description in A Vindication could be appropriated for a more conservative social theory, which . . . would confine [women] to a desexualized domestic sphere as wives and mothers.” Certainly the multivalent meanings in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman might disturb a tidy reading that would grant it some kind of prototypical status or bind it to one end of a political spectrum. The high aim of scholarship, of course, is to attempt to understand Wollstonecraft's treatise without pressing it tendentiously into one's particular agenda, theoretical, political, or otherwise. Yet, warning about conservative appropriation can easily chill legitimate efforts to rehabilitate a key text in ways that might threaten the dominant feminist paradigms that have confined A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to a narrower reading than is borne out by the evidence. Rather than pre-emptively silencing or ignoring potentially “contradictory implications” it could be that the most interesting insights are to be found in exploring the tensions rather than in pulling or pushing the text in one ideological direction or another.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
More from me blogging on why it is appropriate that Elizabeth Cady Stanton will appear on the new $10 bill.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, however, stands out from this respectable group [of women suffrage leaders on the new $10 bill] as the leading philosopher and advocate of the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. As I discuss in my book Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law, Stanton was the “radical conscience” and founding mother of feminism. She was also a leading legal thinker advancing a full array of women’s rights. Stanton is memorialized today at the National Women’s Rights Museum located in Seneca Falls, New York. There, a waterfall pours over her prophetic words written in the Declaration of Sentiments.
In Stanton’s Declaration, she laid out seventeen demands for women’s rights in addition to the vote. These included the right to equal opportunity in education, employment, and religion. And they included rights within the family designed to assure gender equality, such as joint marital property, no-fault divorce, domestic violence protections, maternal child custody, and equal access to lawmaking through women jurists, lawyers, and juries. Stanton rejected the prevalent idea of the separate sphere of domesticity confining women to the “protection” and isolation of the home. Instead, she saw integrating women into the public sphere of political action and employment as important, while also elevating women as an equal power in the family with rights to property, autonomy, and parenting.
Stanton’s advocacy for sex equality is integrated into the legal history of family law. She advocated for change to the laws of marital property, equal marital partnerships, no-fault divorce, domestic violence remedies, women’s reproductive control, maternal custody, and de-gendered parenting. It turns out that almost all of Stanton’s radical ideas for the family seem innocuous today only because they have become the law. Turns out she was right, even if she was one hundred years too early.