WE’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY – BUT APPARENTLY NOT FAR ENOUGH

If you recall, the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby” was tied to a cigarette, Virginia Slims, back in the ’70s. The notion was that “wow, look at all that has been accomplished by women.” For those women who think we should be satisfied that yet another male will lead this country, let’s step back in history to look at some of the ways that women have been treated since our Founding Fathers and Mothers landed on these shores.

Women truly have been the last recipients of whatever benefits male-dominated state legislatures, a male-dominated Congress, a male-dominated Supreme Court, and all 43 male presidents have been willing to bestow. But women have always been the first recipients of the desire to keep them locked into the dutiful keeper of hearth and home.

The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal”, and, at the time it was written, it certainly didn’t include women. The typical signer of the Declaration was male, white, wealthy, and propertied. The signers of the Declaration – 56 males in all – were predominantly educated and wealthy. Many were college and university graduates with a professional predominance of judges and lawyers. Women didn’t even enter the equation.

In 1776, years before her husband, John Adams, would become president, Abigail Adams cautioned him “to remember the ladies.” Obviously, he and the other Founding Fathers didn’t listen. At the Constitutional Convention, again women were excluded from participation. The 55 male delegates represented 12 colonies – Rhode Island refused to send representatives. The issue of women’s rights was not discussed; the “ladies” were sublimely ignored. Yet, the issue of slavery was debated.

The delegates decided that it would be impossible to arrive at an agreed upon constitution without the support of southern states – they knew they didn’t need to worry about women. Therefore, efforts were made to accommodate the practice of slavery in the southern states with a Constitutional provision inserted to protect importation of slaves until 1808. Women had no such impact on the debates swirling at the Convention.

In 1868, the 14th amendment actually used the words “male citizens” in section 2 when determining who would be counted in setting the number of representatives each state would receive in Congress. A companion Civil War amendment, the 15th passed in 1870, mandated that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Ah, one might think, that means that African-American women could vote after passage of the 15th amendment. After all, they fit the criteria set forth in the amendment. And one would be wrong again. Even though the amendment failed to distinguish male from female in providing the right to vote, our male-dominated society once again said, “no dice” to the right of women to vote.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony demanded that women be given the same civil and political rights that had been extended to black males under the 14th and 15th amendments. Thus, she led a group of women to the polls in Rochester to test the right of women to vote. She was arrested two weeks later and while awaiting trial, engaged in highly publicized lecture tours and in March 1873, she tried to vote again in city elections. After being tried and convicted of violating the voting laws, Susan succeeded in her refusal to pay the fine. But Susan B. Anthony was not to live to see women enjoy the right to vote. She died on March 13, 1906 – the 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Women were not only left out of the political process, they were also considered chattel – mere property. The doctrine of coverture was imported from England and followed in the American colonies. Coverture was the principle that once a woman was married, her identity was absorbed by that of her husband. They become one, and that one was? You guessed it – the husband. The married woman could not dispose of property, could not contract, could not sue or be sued, could not sign legal documents, could not obtain an education without consent, and could not keep a salary.

If losing one’s identity weren’t bad enough, the legal system also consorted in keeping women in their place. The Anglo-American common law originally provided that a husband, as master of his household, could subject his wife to corporal punishment or “chastisement” as long as he did not inflict permanent injury upon her.

In a series of mid-1800 North Carolina cases, judges likened wives to unruly children who needed to be chastised and physically punished if necessary to be kept in line.

  • Joyner v. Joyner, 59 N.C. 322 (1862)
    • A husband struck his wife with a horse-whip and a switch
    • Judge’s response: “But we are of the opinion that it was necessary to state the circumstances under which the blow with the horse-whip, and the blows with the switch, were given; for instance, what was the conduct of the petitioner; what had she done, or said, to induce such violence on the part of the husband?”
    • Judge’s decision: The wife deserved the beatings because she had an “unruly temper.” The judge stated that “if you will amend your manners, you may expect better treatment.” No divorce granted.
  • State v. Black, 60 N.C. 262 (1864)
    • A husband, during an argument with his wife, dragged her onto the floor by her hair. He restrained himself from choking her.
    • Judge’s response: “The wife commenced the quarrel. The husband, in a passion provoked by excessive abuse, pulled her upon the floor by the hair…” “A husband is responsible for the act of his wife, and he is required to govern his household, and for that purpose the law permits him to use towards his wife such a degree of force as is necessary to control an unruly temper and her behave herself; and unless some permanent injury be inflicted, or there be an excess of violence, or such a degree of cruelty as shows that it is inflicted to gratify his own bad passions, the law will not invade the domestic forum or go behind the curtain.”
    • Judge’s decision: Jury should have ruled in favor of the defendant (the husband).
  • State v. Rhodes, 61 N.C. 453 (1868)
    • The husband struck the wife three blows with a switch about the size of one of his fingers. No one could remember the words spoken by the wife which triggered the beating, so they were considered “trifling” by the court.
    • Judge’s response: “The violence complained of would, without a question, have constituted battery, if the subject had not been the defendant’s wife. The question is therefore plainly presented whether the court will allow a conviction of the husband for moderate correction of the wife without provocation.”
    • Judge’s decision: ….that family government is recognized by law as being complete in itself as the state government is in itself… and that we will not interfere with or attempt to control it in favor of either husband or wife. …. But then who can tell what had happened an hour before, and every hour for a week? To him they (the words) may have been sharper than a sword. There is no error. [The husband won.]

While not all states allowed wife-beating, the fact that courts legally condoned the activity is ludicrous. But remember, women were seen as chattel rather than co-equal partners in the marital relationship.

And now, after centuries of being treated as second-class citizens, after being the last group to receive the right to vote, after fight after fight to achieve economic, social, and political equality, we are about to see one of the worst examples of just how insidious gender discrimination still is.

Hillary Clinton has all the qualities to be a leader, to be the president of the United States. She has been an excellent senator for her constituents in New York, she has earned the praise of both Democrats and Republicans as being well-informed, she is disciplined and on message when she speaks. Other nations have already elected women as leaders. But I can just hear the responses to that statement. They might go something like, “Yes, but we are the greatest, most powerful country in the world. We can’t trust that position to a woman.”

The media has selected its darling and that is Barack Obama. Even Saturday Night Live did a skit on the extraordinary treatment he gets. And when Clinton referred to it during the Tuesday night debate in Ohio, she got booed. What on earth for? I am guessing those who booed were Obama supporters.

I have not heard anyone say they are not voting for Hillary because she doesn’t have experience or that she can’t handle the presidency. The reasons I have heard go to a real hatred of anything Clintonian and a distrust of the abilities of women. And, I will guarantee you that many of the men in this country would vote for anyone who wasn’t a woman.

Hillary Clinton is a woman, and she bears the last name of Clinton. Those will be the reasons she is not elected. It certainly isn’t because of her lack of qualities. And, it isn’t because Obama has dazzled everyone with his experience instead of his words.

So after a long history of leaving women in the dust when it comes to equality in this country, it is about to happen again. Hillary, just like the moth that gets too close to the flame, got too close to the flame of the presidency for comfort. And, she is about to get burned by reality – the reality that Americans may still not be ready to give a woman the opportunity to be president. I certainly hope I am proven wrong.

But anyone who thinks gender isn’t playing a role in this election is hiding behind a false sense of how far women have come. Yep, “You’ve come a long way Baby” but, apparently not far enough.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in Barack Obama, Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, Domestic Violence, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Constitution, U.S. Presidency, Women in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to WE’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY – BUT APPARENTLY NOT FAR ENOUGH

  1. Phil Marx says:

    Charlotte,

    I can not argue that sexism is not alive and well in this country today. The same can definitely be said for racism also. And both these forms of bigotry probably have stong effects upon our poitical system.

    What concerns me though is that while many people complain about the perceived racial or gender bias when someone else fails to support a particular candidate, they refuse to acknowledge that their own reasoning can appear just as biased. What I mean is that if I (a white male) vote for anyone other than Clinton, I will be accused by many of being a sexist. And if I vote for anyone besides Obama, I will be accussed of being a racist. If that is the only criteria used for judging someone’s vote, then the woman who votes for Clinton, and the black who votes for Obama should be considered as bigots also.

    Granted, that is not the claim you appear to be making in your post. I assume that you believe there are reasons other than her gender why any particular male voter might not choose Clinton. I’m basing my asessment of you on more than just this one post though. I think the fact that you were a strong and vocal Edward’s supporter early on at least shows that you are not gender-biased in your own decisions. Ironically, the fact that Edwards was my least favorite among the three top Dem’s could be seen as evidence that racial and gender identity are not my most important selection criteria.

    There is another identity that has not been mentioned much in this campaign, and that is ageism. To be fair, I do not believe the effects of this bigotry have been as wide-spread and harmful to the nation as a whole as both racism and sexism have. But it still is a form of bigotry. Ageism has been seen, such as when Chuck Norriss Endorsed Huckabee, but there is another area where I have not seen it analyzed enough.

    McCain is seen as the old-man of the group, thus differentiating him from the others, and making the others somehow seem similar(young) to one another. Personally, I see it differently. Obama is only six years older than me, but Clinton and McCain are both at least twenty years older than me. From my personal perspective, it is more accurate to seperate the candidates between the young (Obama) and the old (Clinton & McCain) if using age as a selection factor.

    I did not begin with a concientious objective to support the youngest candidate, but a lot of Obama’s message does resonate well with me. And I find a lot of similarity of my dislikes for both McCain and Clinton. It’s very likely that my support of Obama actually stems from agism. But, on the other hand, Most of the older people (from my own perspective) seem to reject Obama for either Clinton or McCain, so I wonder if ageism is not at play there also.

    Overall, what disappoints me about this campaign is that there are many people who seem unwilling to listen to other’s views with an open mind, while at the same time calling those others bigots. I can find something good and something bad to say about each of the candidates. I could do this about their policy positions, or about their personal style of delivering the message. In my opinion, anyone who can not do this is too ignorant to be worth listening to, regarless or the race or gender of them or their chosen candidate.

    It is not fair that if I began a conversation with “Well, what I like about McCain is…” I would automatically be rejected by many people as being racist and/or sexist, regardless of the substance of what I had to say.

    When it comes to identity politics, the bottom line for me is this: The only person I’d really trust is a forty year old, single, heterosexual, white, male, homeowner, former factory worker, current college student, that drives a pick-up truck and has two cats. Anyone who was that much “like” me would surely have my own interests at heart. Of course, if such a candidate were ever taken seriously, I’d probably begin to wonder if maybe I should just run myself and eliminate the middle-man.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this post though. I like the way you add a lot of historcal context to your stories. And when I needed to find out exactly how old Clinton was, I just knew I’d find a link on your post telling me.

  2. Phil:

    Thank you for the great response. I did overlook ageism as a factor, and I do believe it is also playing a part in this election – perhaps even more so than sexism or racism. It is too bad that when we have a choice between two historic candidates that voting for either one triggers allegations of sexism or racism.

    I believe Obama and Clinton both have leadership qualities. As you noted, I originally supported Edwards – he is a progressive populist, and that is where my heart and mind lie. Neither Clinton nor Obama are progressives or populists. I have found points to disagree with as to both candidates.

    I don’t think any candidate is infallible, and what concerns me is that Obama is being touted as a JFK or as a Lincoln. This is way over the top. When the elected candidate takes office in January of next year, reality will set in.

    Something else that has been bothering me is why is it that it takes a billion dollar campaign and a charismatic candidate to get the “youth” interested? I have voted since I was 21 (we couldn’t vote at 18 back then) through dull and boring campaigns and exciting campaigns. It never once occurred to me to not vote because the campaign was not exciting enough. It makes me wonder how sincere all these new found voters really are about our right to vote.

    In four years if the campaign isn’t exciting enough will they crawl back under a rug and wait another decade to vote? I take my right to vote seriously, and I enjoy showing up at the polls early in the morning to cast my vote. I will vote no matter what type of campaign is run.

  3. Marianne says:

    Charlotte,

    I found both of your posts very informative and enjoyable. I also enjoyed Phil’s post.

    Lately, I have been thinking about whether Ms. Clinton has been maltreated throughout this process, and I tend to feel that she has been.

    I base this sentiment on comments that I hear being made by the media, casual personal comments by average citizens and message boards postings.

    Also, I cannot seem to find any information online about a Hoosiers for Hillary group, here in Fort Wayne. However, it is very easy to find anything you want to know about rallys for Senator Obama. Is this a budgetary issue, or is there just a relative lack of support for Senator Clinton?

    In regard to the issue of fairness, last night, the Governor of Pennsylvania (Rennell?)appeared on the Charlie Rose program. He is a strong supporter of Senator Clinton and he and Charlie were discussing that issue-the differential treatment of Senator Clinton,vs. the other two candidates.

    Charlie suggested that perhaps a perceived (never really acknowledged its existence) negative opinion of Senator Clinton had less to do with her gender, statements and policies, and more to do with things beyond her personna. He then went on to comment that it may be that people associate her with the past, when the ultimate quest is for “change”.

    I thought that his comments made some sense, particularly in view of the current stress in the economy, housing and the general discontent about the Iraqui war.

    So, is it not possible that while Senator McCain may be associated with the Bush and Iraq, Senator Clinton is associated with a past Presidential administration and strong political roots? Maybe some people feel that the “Clintons have had their chance”.

    Senator Obama, on the other hand, is fresh, new and charismatic. Many have said that his own beliefs are extremely similar to Senator Clinton’s, so their ideas are not really opposing. He does not bring the “baggage” of the past, neither positive nor negative, and the people want a “clean slate”.

    However, I did hear another comment by a female commentator last week, implying that the Clintons were finding out that they may have to relinquish their grip and/or “monopoloy” on the Democratic party, due to Senator Obama’s popularity. The impression was that the name “Clinton” was being associated with a sense of cockiness and/or arrogance.

    Others may associate the Clintons with NAFTA, and some have dug up examples of inconsistencies and what they describe as “lies” in her statements. Some have said that they don’t trust her. Still others, feel that she should not have forgiven her husband’s indiscretions. Some liked it when she cried, feeling that it brought out her “softer” side.

    To me, it seems that she just cannot win in the eyes of the masses, and maybe she is trying too hard to appease them. She may not smile enough and sometimes may appear defensive but it’s hard not to react when one is under attack…

    To make matters worse, I think that some mistakes were also made in her campaigning process. For instance,while it is only natural that former President Clinton should support his wife in her quest for the Presidency, I think that his presence may have hurt her, in the long run. That is because of his connection to the past, and also, by virtue of the fact that some people have expressed “fear” that he would be “behind the scenes”, influencing policy, if Senator Clinton were elected.

    These are all just theories, though, and I guess that we will never really know why some amount of negative perception seems to surround Senator Clinton. What if the variables were altered and she were a different woman, one without a political history? Would the consensus then be that she lacks the experience?

    In general, I think that some people are trying very hard to dislike Senator Clinton, and I accept that. This is a close contest and it’s natural to expect things to get a little ugly.

    But what troubles me is the extent of animosity that I see expressed and apparently felt toward Senator Clinton. It almost borders on hatred. This is disturbing within one political party and between two candidates who essentially are in agreement over so many issues. It does trouble me that the hostility is not coming from Republicans but within the Democratic party; and why have not major players in that party, who are much more well-informed than myself, not supported Senator Clinton? Is it sexism, history, jealousy or do they know something that I don’t?

  4. little debbie says:

    i became interested in obama, and watched his voting record closely beginning in early 2003 when i ran across his name in a message board as i was looking for information regarding mortgage fraud issues in general. didnt know who he was but the poster that got my interest noted obama was gathering information from the public and if you suspect you have been a victim of mortgage fraud you should email info for him to review. even if it wasnt in illinois it could support the problem he was researching. from the start of my “obama watch” i consistently checked his site to review his votes, looked him up in google to review his comments, his public activities. long before his dem convention speech, i had started feeling he had the “stuff” it would take to lead our nation. he wasnt perfect, and i had no hero worship factor going. i didnt agree with every vote or every comment..but i agreed with enough to feel he would serve well in any official capacity he attained. i have found it frustrating throughout the primary season the often stated ideas that:
    1. his popularity is based on good oratory skills (so thats a bad thing when its obama..but it was a good thing for bill clinton who also used to be a great orator and ran on the idea of hope and change? and its all he has going for him? not if you look beyond it–he and hillary were similar on most issues).
    2. his only experience is a couple starter months in the senate and a speech he gave in 2004. (he had several years experience in the illinois legislature as a part of the minority of democrats and gained the respect of most people of both parties he worked with. and yes hillary has done fine as a senator for new york but is it more experience than obama has really? did being the first lady during bills presidency count as experience when most of that time was spent defending each of them on legal issues which were brought about due to reasonable and justifiable factual information, and trying to create a healthcare olan shrouded in secrecy and still not shared with the public? i think not).
    3. his followers are mesmerized in the same way religious fanatics are about a “savior” (give me a break..i am an atheist and have no need for any silly savior thing..i just want to see our country have a president who has characteristics i define as necessary for national and international leadership).
    4. hillary was derided by sexism so much more than obama was on race (i watched the whole primary game very closely and think the counts are even. obama might have more from what i have seen overall).
    5. the prsumptive nominee status was given to obama just to keep MEN in control (if anything, it was because she was divisive and viscious and proved she would continue to manage politically the same way she and bill always have–by doing what could be done to destroy anyone who got in their way..she pointedly said mccain would be a better choice than obama more than a couple times..she was not perceived as the right woman for the job by many more than me..not BECAUSE she is a woman, but because she is the KIND of person she has been historically and remains to be).
    i feel she is very carefully crafting every statement she is making since suspending her campaign. she is definately feeding the frenzied PUMA etc with her speeches and comments by NOT verbally addressing their hopes of her deciding at the last minute to run as an independant. yes she does verbalize her support for obama and has stumped for him. but i frankly have feelings of distrust with her still. i hope i am proven wrong after the convention is done! i check her site and the sites many of her supporters now use and i wonder how many of those people really were her supporters anyway, or whether they are part of oxy-rush operation chaos!!
    and no offence intended charlotte i respect your views from all i have read here, but just wanted to clarify how its has looked and felt from across the fence 😉 !

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