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Posts Tagged ‘roe v wade’

by Julia

A good male friend recently asked me what percentage of the television shows I watch fit into the category of “Women Who for Some Reason Embrace the Patriarchy.” Avoiding the cop-out answer that “all popular culture reflects the patriarchy,” I realized that it’s a pretty large percentage. Anyone who has lived with me or spent any time in front a television with me knows that when I’m not watching The Wire or Ravens football, there’s a good chance that I’m watching TLC or MTV. I was into Jon & Kate plus 8 before Kate went blonde, I started watching the Duggars when they were at 13 Kids and Counting (now at 20, I think?), and I’m pretty sure my college roommate and I threw a watch party for the premiere of 16 and Pregnant (long before there were domestic violence awareness commercials at every break during Teen Mom).

Disregarding the fact that having articulated that list kind of makes me want to self-revoke my college and high school diplomas, I observe that all of these shows revolve around women reproducing, and either reproducing a lot or reproducing at a stigmatized age – both of which are categories of reproduction that I have neither experienced nor known anyone to experience. There are a lot of class observations to be made here (Kiera, I’m totally going write that post on dialectics and Teen Mom), but I want to focus this post more on the latest addition to my television line up (no, not Boardwalk Empire, though it is amazing): TLC’s Sister Wives.

Sister Wives documents the lives of Kody Brown, his three wives – (l-r) Janelle, Christine, and Meri -and their 13 children in Lehi, Utah. They lead relatively normal lives – all but one of the children attend public school, they wear conventional clothes, etc – except they all live in the same house with three separate apartments for each of the women, through which Kody rotates on a schedule, sleeping with a different woman each night. At first, it seems like Kody makes a real effort to spend equal time with each of the women (his meticulous schedule helps him – vomit). But as the show progresses, it’s clear that there is some serious inequality going on, all of which manifests in major jealousy among the wives. The show revolves around the major plot twist: 16 years since his last marriage (to Christine), Kody wants to add another wife to the family – Robyn (far right).

This show got over 2 million viewers for the premiere, and with such viewership comes, obviously, scrutiny. The scrutiny wasn’t limited to the Today Show, however: Utah police are looking into possibly prosecuting the Brown family for bigamy. Not really surprising given the huge media attention, and with this whole law school thing going on, I didn’t pay much attention to the progression of the story. That is, until my Torts professor announced that he would be representing the Brown family. My professor, a constitutional law scholar, explains his reasoning here.

So my fascination with the polygamist, patriarchy-embracing family took on a legal flavor. I hopped on my legal statute search engines and dug up the history of bigamy prosecutions in Utah. Turns out, there aren’t many. The ACLU gives a great summary here, but basically it comes down to this: “a person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” In the case of the Browns, Kody is only legally married to Meri, his first wife, and he cohabits with the other three women, thereby falling under this statute. Historically, Utah courts have be hesitant to prosecute claims of bigamy unless there are allegations of other crimes in the relationship: rape, incest, child abuse, etc. (More on the definition of “crime” as construed under this statute in a bit.) The reason for turning a blind eye? The Fourteen Amendment and, ironically enough, the landmark civil rights case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003). In Lawrence v. Texas, a Texas law criminalizing sodomy  was found to have violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the court said “absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects, consenting adults enjoy the freedom to define their private intimate relationships within ‘the confines of their homes and their own private lives.'” This same legal principle contributed to the relative freedoms women enjoy under Roe v. Wade.

Is this a matter of “Bigamy! From the people who brought you anal sex and abortions!”? As you would imagine, it’s not quite that simple. But the protection of privacy (and, in this case, the expression of religious beliefs) is what allows consenting adults to partake in polygamist marriages, absent any other crimes. As the ACLU points out, these other crimes can and should be prosecuted under other statutes.

However, by criminalizing private, consensual, adult relationships that are motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs, we fail to live up to the constitutional promise that consenting adults be free to maintain and define their personal relationships without fear of government interference.

So that explains why my professor is representing them. However, this is the same professor who spent the first two weeks of law school talking about Hegel, Critical Legal Studies, Queer Legal Theory, and Feminist Legal Theory. So how does feminism fit into all of this? I believe it all comes down to whether or not something as nebulous as patriarchy can be criminalized (answer: it can’t…who writes and enforces the laws to begin with??). But should patriarchal exploitation be criminalized in relationships between (or in this case, among) “consenting adults”? It is clear that there’s some major inequality going on in this family. I think a lot of what I’ve observed is pretty easily surmised, so I’ll just include two select stories that epitomize the relationship.

On their twentieth wedding anniversary, Meri and Kody discuss some of the jealousy problems that arose when Robyn was added to the family. Meri asks Kody the question that I had been wondering throughout the series: “How would you feel about me taking on another husband, or having another male lover?” Kody’s answer: “The thought of you with another guy sickens me and seems wrong to me. I feel like you want me to admit that what I’m doing is unfair – and that’s just not an emotion I’m willing to address.” Wrong on so many levels, all of which come down to patriarchy.

The most disturbing quotation from that same scene came when Kody and Meri discussed having another child. Meri and Kody have one child together, a teenage daughter, and though Meri used to want to have more children, fertility issues have prevented that, and now she has decided she doesn’t want to try for more children any more. She tells Kody that she doesn’t want to do in vitro fertilization, at which point Kody smiles and turns to the camera and says, “I haven’t been told ‘no’ in a strong enough fashion for it to mean ‘no’ yet.” I think that pretty much epitomizes the problems encompassing the entire show. Consent in this relationship, it seems, is a one-time deal. All of these women did choose freely to enter into this relationship, knowing that they would take on more wives, etc. But when it comes time to add the new wife, there really isn’t any negotiation – it’s the Kody Show. And this type of inequality, writ large, is the Patriarchy Show. And guess what? It’s not limited to polygamist marriages.

I’ll leave the analysis on deconstructing patriarchy within heterosexual relationships to another time (or perhaps another person), but it is essential to recognize that inequality pervades all relationships if you don’t actively resist it. This doesn’t mean we should stop having partnerships, but it does mean we all need to work incredibly hard to live up to the name we give our interactions and truly act as partners. The clear problem in Sister Wives is not the polygamy, it’s the patriarchy. There is no negotiation, no consent-seeking, and, therefore, no equality. And that’s incredibly oppressive and detrimental to women.

But should the state be intervening to prevent exploitative, patriarchal relationships? I’m sure you could find some feminist legal scholars out there who would argue for the criminalization of polygamy on these grounds, but then how many monogamous relationships would crumble under similar examination? While it pains me to watch the jealousy that plagues these women in this incredibly unequal relationship, I can think of other reality shows that portray similar levels of misogyny within supposedly “normal” marriages – rife with cheating, deceitful husbands and crying women left at home wondering what she did wrong. And I can think of millions of monogamous, “real-life” relationships that lack communication and equality.

The answer, then, is not to try to criminalize inequality in marriages. From a constitutional perspective, it’s a complete invasion of privacy. From a practical standpoint, it’s impossible. And from a feminist standpoint, it’s just not the right route. We need to strive towards demanding equality in our relationships. This comes from empowering both men and women to seek and desire consent in every iteration of the word, and to desire equality in their relationships. Partnerships can come in many forms, and it’s not my role to judge someone else’s choice, how many partners they want to have, or whether they want to have any all. It is my role, however, to be concerned with the lack of consenting partnerships. A partnership is a grounds for constant renegotiation of boundaries. What one initially consents to should not be binding. What breaks my heart about this show, then, is not that these women are in a polygamist relationship, but that they are stuck, like so many other women, in relationships that no longer make them comfortable and no longer fulfill them. The way to rectify this situation is not to criminalize their partnership, but rather to empower women and men to strive for a world in which no one exists in a oppressive partnership, for at that point, it ceases to become a partnership at all.

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by Elizabeth

“Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen,” Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor joked recently in a speech at Georgetown University. Following Tuesday’s decision to strike down bans on corporate spending in elections, it seems that truer words have never been spoken.

Last Sunday’s Politics Daily online show, Woman UP, discussed O’Connor’s palpable absence on the Court, a feminist issue in two senses. First, without O’Connor’s the Court has made several 5-4 decisions with remarkable implications for women’s rights in America. Further, O’Connor’s early retirement to care for her ailing husband sparks a familiar dialogue on women as caretakers, often at the expense of their careers. The Woman UP panel, consisting of Jill Lawrence, Patricia Murphy, Emily Miller, and Bonnie Erbé, made evident that SCOTUS would have very different dynamic– and certainly a better one– had O’Connor not been made to retire.

The very first woman on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was a law school graduate who’d been offered secretarial jobs. But as a Reagan nominee who Grew up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, O’Connor was often criticized for never quite fitting the image of a modern feminist. Her husband was known to have spent his days in her chambers while she worked, and O’Connor herself notably delayed her career until her three sons were in school. On her clerks’ door she left a Xerox of her hand with a note that read, “For a pat on the back, lean here.”

But O’Connor was a justice who, after listening to colleague Antonin Scalia constantly rail against affirmative action, responded, “How do you think I got my job?” A pioneer and most often the swing vote, she helped to protect several key policy issues for women’s rights. Though O’Connor allowed certain limits to be placed on access to abortion, she supported the fundamental right to abortion protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, she used a test she had originally developed in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health to limit the holding of Roe v. Wade. Though the decision limited the scope of its protections, Casey upheld Roe; writing the plurality opinion for the Court, O’Connor famously declared, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

O’Connor’s decision to retire in 2006 inevitably disappointed some.

Some criticized her decision to step-down because of her husband’s health as anti-feminist. Others lamented the loss of the crucial, protecting fifth vote. In 2007, O’Connor told Newsweek that she had did not intend for her career on the high court to end as it did, noting that she probably would have worked until she died or became incapacitated, like most (male) justices. “Most of them get ill and are really in bad shape, which I would’ve done at the end of the day myself, I suppose, except my husband was ill and I needed to take action there,” she said.

While, I certainly wish she had stuck it out, O’Connor’s resignation and heavily weighed absence are a reminder that even for the women of country’s nine elite, life/work balance is an elusive concept. As the Woman UP panel contends (and about which they argue whenever defensive and ignorant-seeming Emily Miller speaks up), is that no male judge has ever been forced to early retirement because of his wife or family. Indeed, it seems those “family issues” that force so many male politicians into resignation are really, well, just their own stupidity in having extramarital affairs.

Though we can’t say for sure that women would have been absolutely protected if O’Connor had kept her seat, Jill Lawrence outlines four contentious 5-4 decisions from 2007 alone that likely would have changed with O’Connor’s vote. Among them are the Lily Ledbetter decision and the Gonzales partial-birth abortion ban.

O’Connor has been quite vocal about last week’s 5-4 decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturns federal restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. She says the ruling essentially reverses the 2003 opinion she helped write and threatens the independence of state courts. She told CNN, “It has the effect of turning judges into these politically elected figures in arms races, if you will, by people with the means to support them.”

Even though O’Connor refused to identify herself as a feminist, her decisions and beliefs suggested a jurisprudence we certainly miss.  O’Connor, who will be 80 in March, was, and is, at the top of her game- and as Jill concluded her piece, “that makes it all the more painful that she’s on the sidelines.”

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by Elizabeth

As Julia mentioned, today is the Fifth Annual Blog For Choice Day and we’ve been given the task of answering “What does ‘Trust Women’ mean to you?”

Here’s my go at it-

As I reflect on the meaning of Dr. Tiller’s favorite slogan on this 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it occurs to me that this is not about abortion. It was never was about abortion. It never will be about abortion. What we are fighting for– and what Dr. Tiller simply, silently, and courageously requested through the pin on his lapel–was choice,  freedom, autonomy, equality,  trust.

Our nation, one made by and for adult citizens, has become one imagined only for fetuses and children, where a mass cultural fixation has turned women into children and babies into citizens. All citizens are not created equal and our rights are not freely granted. This is evident in the legislation that forces women to view ultrasound images, get consent from a parent or spouse, or wait twenty-four hours after having traveled hundreds of miles before they may terminate their pregnancy.   This can be seen in the ability of pharmacists to deny a woman her birth control. This is obvious in the literature of Crisis Pregnancy Centers and pro-life organizations which falsely and frighteningly suggests that women are more likely to contemplate suicide after having an abortion.  It is clear in the prevailing attitudes, practices, and policies make clear that women are not, and should not be, responsible for themselves.

But to trust women and their ability to decide what they want with their bodies is not a simple matter if more choices do not exist. Beyond abortion, we need the opportunity to educate, to provide safe homes and communities, to access health care, to have affordable childcare, to see  family planning or STD clinics, and to receive equal pay for equal work.

We must not only trust women to make decisions but we must also afford them with the opportunities to do so. I trust women to make the decision that they feel is best for themselves, their families, and their lives, but that decision can only be a real decision when choices exist.

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by Julia

Today marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision ruling that the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment is “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.” In the decades since, legislative attacks on this right have whittled away at a woman’s right to corporal autonomy. Like so many other government actions, these attacks have disproportionately impacted lower-class women (think: Hyde Amendment). In honor of Dr. George Tiller, a clinic physician who was murdered last June, NARAL Pro Choice America asks bloggers to answer the following question:

What does ‘Trust Women’ mean to you?

I interpret “trust women” to simply mean that no one – not the government, not anti-choicers, not your religion – has the right to dictate what you do with your body. I grew up in a liberal household, and even with a relatively strong Catholic family, I always learned that no higher authority should be able to dictate what goes on in your body. When I was in high school, I came across this thought experiment that completely shifted my consciousness and rendered me a staunch pro-choice advocate:

Anti-abortion activists protect a fetus above the rights of the mother. But what if that fetus is female (not to mention gay, or disabled, etc.)? In this case, the fetus has more rights in the womb than it will EVER have once it is born.

My right to live was more important when I was in the womb than it is now if I were to become pregnant. Anti-choicers staunchly defend a fetus’s personhood, but when that fetus becomes a woman, suddenly she is just a vessel for reproduction. This hypocrisy set me on a life-long course towards legally protecting a woman’s right to choose and to protect the civil liberties of all citizens.

In order for Roe v. Wade to work effectively, however, every woman needs to have access to accurate information. So included in my devotion to choice is also my support of transparent and comprehensive  sex-ed programs, the protection of abortion clinics, and progressive sexual advice sites, like Scarleteen. Upholding Roe v. Wade also means advocating for abortion rights in the current health care debate, and refusing to allow politicians to throw women under the bus for the sake of their corporate affiliations or re-election campaigns. I don’t want to live in a society where the autonomy of 52% of the population is subordinated to the will of religious zealots or corrupt politicians.

I trust women not because I am a woman, but because every citizen should have the moral agency to make personal decisions.

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