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.