April 2010 Archives

blog 15

Overall what I liked about this class is that it clarified a lot of things about the law that you here about all the time but usually isn't true. What I found most interesting, and disturbing, was marital rape exemption law. It was very shocking to find that it actually exists. What I found most surprising is all of the technicalities that are used in courtrooms. Especially in cases like Roe v. Wade where the focus is on the technicalities of words. Which is a part of what I found so confusing; the lack of common sense due to focusing on minute details and specific Constitutional words. Mostly, what I find so focusing is the lack of common sense. There does not seem to be on overall view on a situation or case but on strictly holding to precedent.

What I would have like to have learned more about (and incidentally am doing my paper on) is sex education methods such as abstinence only programs and comprehensive sex education. A topic that I would have liked to spend more time on is transgender and transsexual rights

I think what I learned most about was just basic law and case information which, as I said in the beginning, is helpful information in everyday life. A topic that I think is especially relevant is reproductive rights.

Overall, great course =)

Week 15 Blog Assignment

Over the semester, we have studied a wide range of legal issues that impact women, some historical and some very current, and we have examined a range of feminist approaches to understanding and combating unequal treatment of women. In your blog post, I'd like to get feedback from you on the topics that we covered. What was most interesting, or surprising, or confusing? What legal issues, if any, would you like to have studied that were not on the syllabus? Which topics were most useful to you in terms of understanding your own legal rights? Are there topics on which we spent too much time, or not enough? Your honesty is appreciated; I hope to teach this course again, and your input will help me to improve the course going forward.

Blog 14

The nature of business encourages sexual discrimination and it can understandably be hard to judge whether something is discriminatory. The burden of proof in Price Waterhouse v Hopkins from Waterhouse can be evidence of this, that while maybe not all employers are being sexual discriminatory, people in the workplace or customers are. This reflects the employer's decision in hiring practices.

I used to work at Shinder's, a local book store chain that had a not too well known porn section in the back. My managers took it upon them to make me the new porn guy because they liked the idea of giving someone who could barely look at some of the content without blushing precious life lessons in adulthood. I was in a position where customers were comfortable with talking about porn with me. One of my managers was an attractive buxom girl in her mid-twenties. More timid customers have shared that they wouldn't go into the porn room if she was working. Conversely, the main porn guy there would have (almost disturbingly) in-depth conversations with customers, sharing his favorite pornstars and the like. He made the porn buying experience much better for most people. Since outside of the occasional bachelorette party or joke, most porn customers were male, I wonder about the discrimination going on in hiring a male over a female for porn "guy" position. Sure, a female can do the basic mundane qualifications of the job quite well, stacking DVDs and cassettes and updating labels, but it made sense that a male could do the job much better in a small friendly store like Shinder's where employee expertise was respected.

I have also experienced discrimination from customers having been the team lead for Apple iPhone and computers, which means that I get to listen in on customer service reps taking phone calls from other people. IT is a field where the discrepancy between females and males are huge. I would give advice and tips after and during the call for reps that wanted the help. There have been numerous times where a customer would hear a female operator and instantly question the expertise of her, requesting a different rep. Female agents were usually asked to just deal with it on a case by case basis. Though, I did recognize a case of reverse discrimination where customers gave similarly skilled female agents higher customer satisfaction marks because they were female, sometimes even noting that they did so on the survey.

I think the issue of discrimination is a burden that I wouldn't want to deal with as an employer. I agree that creating a floor in laws is useful for ending discrimination like Marshall says in California Federal v Guerra (280). I realize that businesses wouldn't profit in the short term, but it would have good long term effects in ending discrimination. A post-modern approach of treating the hiring process seems pertinent and useful.

Week 14: Work

Looking over the statistics, I can't say that I'm really surprised at the findings. I think that cultural and dominance theories could explain what we are seeing here.

First, the cultural feminist would say that by nature of how closely we tie together gender and sex, that we are seeing a manifestation of cultural beliefs about gender. The jobs were women are in the clear majority (E.G. Health services, social work) are areas that pertain mostly to an ethic of care, which is what is normally ascribed to women. Because these people are raised with what society says are feminine values, they are best suited for these feminine jobs that share those values (also a social construct) (...and very circular reasoning).

The dominance theorist would say that the Patriarchy has created these jobs for women where they cannot excel or be paid competitively with men. These jobs are valued less because they have been labeled effeminate, and are structured in such a way that they embody societal norms of femininity. This results in a power imbalance which favors men. The classic example would be nurses versus doctors. Even though nurses are equally as important as doctors, and have to go through approximately as much training, they are paid less and receive far less respect. Furthermore, between doctors and nurses, women far outnumber men in the field of health services, but are paid less.

The images conjured of the two occupations also show which society values more. The doctor is seen as a rich, white man who drives around a Porsche, and has beautiful house, and is an active member of society who betters everyone's lives. The nurse is made into a slutty halloween costume, or is portrayed as air headed, or in TV shows only exists to do the doctor's bidding.

Workplace equality

The two jobs that I currently have both display certain genderized characteristics. However, I believe that any social interaction between two or more individuals is going to be affected by perceptions of gender, whether the reactions are positive or negative. The ways in which children are conditioned to perceive gender differences and the roles of individuals tend to color the ways in which they eventually treat their colleagues in the workplace.
On the weekends I work in the electronics department at a Target. I find the microcosm of a large corporate retailer particularly helpful in this analysis. When I was hired, two and a half years ago, I was offered the position of a softlines (clothing) sales associate. The team to which I was introduced was completely female. Of the twelve team leads who worked at the target when I started, the only three females were in softlines, most of whom seemed resentful of their position in what was notoriously referred to as the "women's side" of the store. While I was in this department, for only a few months, I did see a dispersal of these team leads into other areas of the store, but they were consistently replaced with women. Customer service and guest relations have also always been under the directive of a female executive.
The perception of women as more fashion oriented and sensitive to guests needs has helped women in achieving a certain amount of control in these management positions. However, the inability of these individuals to shake the social stigma that keeps them from moving up the leadership hierarchy has negatively affected their opportunities. For example, the most likely executive to be promoted from in-store executive to senior executive at their own store is the GETL. Women are never given this position, because the team members in grocery are notoriously intractable, and the senior executive who runs the store asserts that they require a 'firm hand'. the GETL has thus always been male, even when seniority dictates that a woman who has been there longer be promoted. Because pay is the same, it is difficult to assert gender discrimination, even though opportunity for advancement is being affected.
When a position in electronics first opened up, the job was offered to all back room team members, who were all men and used to lifting heavy objects. The theory being that those individuals who had experience with heavy stock would be better suited to a job in which heavy lifting was a requirement. I was unaware of the position, however, my softlines executive at the time brought the position to my attention, and asked me if I would be interested. It was a higher pay grade, and the Electronics team lead asked that I be sent over. I was immediately trained in by the three men who were working at the time. There was a certain amount of discomfort about my gender, and a few jokes made about being the girl in an all boy band, etc... Because they were all friendly, and accepting of my presence once I had asserted myself using the same attitude they did, I was transferred permanently and was soon promoted to the position of Specialist.
What struck me was that I had to assert myself using the same masculine attitude as the men I worked with. If I displayed any attitudes that they perceived as uniquely 'feminine', such as particular care for an elderly customer, if I wore any jewelry, or engaged in quiet conversations instead of boisterous ones, it would be mentioned in an underhanded way. The necessity of conforming to male standards of behavior in order to advance and obtain acceptance in my position was a reality.
At my other job, that of a legal research assistant at a law firm, the sexism is less blatant. Lawyers, who seem to be hypersensitive about maintaining the appearance of a gender equal workplace, never make the same derisive comments and jokes about women that one might hear among the retail employees I have worked with. There are, however, fewer female partners and fewer female employees in the higher ranks. The unbiased appearance of these individuals is relatively easy to maintain, making it difficult to prove any sort of gender based system when there is formalized equality at the firm. The gender perceptions are more subversive, displayed only in the ways paralegals and secretaries refer to specific individual lawyers. Demanding women are labeled 'bitch', 'shrew' or with a queer moniker, whereas demanding men are 'ruthless' or 'strong'.
At this job, I definitely see both the strengths and weaknesses of the equal treatment theory of feminism. While formalized equality has helped women rise to certain levels within the firm, there is still a disproportionate number of men in executive positions over women.
In my first job, I would say that a cultural feminist perspective would better achieve literal equality, but not substantive equality. The tendencies of the male employees to refer to women as sex objects and have certain expectations of women and their roles is indicative of a deeper issue that I think would be better addressed by dominance theory feminists. This type of discrimination is internal, and based on societal indoctrination and perceptions.

Week 14: Gender Issues in Employment

I have been working since I turned 16, so five years, and during that time I have held a number of positions. My first job was as a clerk (read secretary) at the Public Works office of my hometown. While there were both men and women in higher positions in the department, the other office assistants were all women. That is to say, the individuals making the least amount of money in that establishment were women, as is generally true in society at large.

My longest tracks of employment have since all been in the education field. I have worked as an AVID tutor, a counselor and instructor at a language-immersion summer camp, and an ESL tutor at a high school for immigrants and refugees. In all of these jobs, with the exception of the summer camp (which needed greater parity so that there were counselors to sleep in both male and female cabins for supervision), the majority of my coworkers were female. According to the United States census factfinder, the field of education is comprised of 25% men and 75% women, and this is consistent with my own experience. My team working as an AVID tutor consisted of two other women and one man. The male tutor was the highest paid out of our group, but this seemed fair as he also had greater education and training (he had graduated from college with a teaching degree, while the rest of us were still undergraduates in various fields). In my current tutor position, I have yet to meet a fellow male tutor, although there are male student teachers and regular teachers who are male.

The qualifications for both of my tutor positions were the same, both sought current college students or recent graduates. Neither specified that tutors must be concentrated in education or any other particular field. If this qualification was responsible for the gendered nature of the job however, one would expect the field to be roughly 60% women and 40% men, following the gender division in most colleges. Tutoring positions tend to be significantly more female than that however, despite the fact that they offer better pay than most food or retail positions generally filled by college students.

I suspect that the predominance of women in the field of tutoring is due instead to the characteristics generally associated with tutoring work (and also in most cases to education jobs in general). The qualities that come first to mind include patience, enthusiasm, responsibility, perseverance, and empathy. Tutoring is definitely among the jobs associated with caring work, since tutoring tends to be very personalized, and requires a close rapport between the student and the tutor. I think these personal characteristics are more often associated with women than with men. Both of my work experiences have been with high school tutoring, but I imagine the gender division becomes even more apparent in tutoring with younger students, who are viewed as needing even more care and responsiveness to personal issues.

I think that the view that tutoring and education are the domain of women is deeply culturally situated, and tied to the patriarchal idea that women are naturally responsible for childcare. As a result, equal theory and liberal feminism would probably do little to change the gender ratios within this field. The opportunities are already available to both men and women and there is no apparent legal barrier in the way of men obtaining work as a tutor.

In fact, I know that most schools would greatly welcome more male staff. Since tutors often serve as mentors also, male students may tend to be more comfortable with male tutors. And I don't think there is anything wrong with this in a world where we all deal with different sexist aspects of a patriarchal system. For example, if I had a tutor in high school who had wondered about why my grades in pottery class were uncharacteristically low, I would have been far more likely to divulge the true answer to a female tutor (the teacher for that class had a habit of leering at the girls, and could not seem to find a way to help you fix your work without lots of physical contact, which made me uncomfortable).

As a result, I think dominance theory is most helpful in critiquing the sort of societal understanding of gender that prevents men from seeking tutoring work while encouraging women to gain employment in that same field.

week 14 // employment

I worked at a promotions/customer service center for 3 years; it was a family, woman-owned and operated business. Throughout that time I worked in almost every department at lower-lever positions. The vast majority of the employees were women while I worked there. In some departments there would be 1 man and 40 women, in others there were possibly 4 men, but that was the height of it. Women were the only data entry employees, which is definitely a trend in that sort of position across the country. Anyway, the requirements for this business, regardless of what department, were fairly open. Almost everything was hinged on knowing someone. Bias in hiring was commonly controversial because connections secured a job, not requirements. Regardless, this issue in itself wasn't usually gendered.

One very specific way that gender operated in the business was in the plant. The company has a factory, with manufacturing lines and warehouses. The only people in positions to use the machinery were the few men employed. While they weren't necessarily in "superior" positions or anything, they were the ones to do the heavy work. While it was not a sort of company policy or blatant understanding that there was a particular risk to women (such as that explored in UAW v. Johnson Controls), it was blatant in the way it worked. And as far as how it played out in daily situations... it wasn't some sort of secret or conflict or anything - if you needed something heavy done, don't fret, the boys would do it.

From an equal treatment theory perspective, perhaps the fact that women are at least equally paid or employed (and even in the majority of higher-paying positions) would suffice. But, for example, from a cultural feminist perspective - that isn't enough. In fact, that sort of situation is probably a great example of why a cultural feminist approach is necessary. While technically women were not inferior in this business, clearly the issues were deeper than numbers. Dominance theory would demonstrate that patriarchy permeates even into places that seemingly refute sexism. While women were in higher positions, they were still treated as if they were incapable of taking care of "masculine" tasks.

Blog 14

I work at a pharmacy and majority of the phamacist are men. they are the ones who are in control and run the work order. The pharmacy techs. are all women but one guy who is a senior tech. He came from another store where he was just a phamacy tech, but his phamacy went out of business, so he came to our store and without any training he went straight to the position of senior tech. This bothered me because i have been there for six to eight months before he got there, and they told me that I had to go through training in order to become a senior tech. Because he is a man and he is white he has the position haded to him but because I am a women I have to waiting until I get further training inorder to receive the job.

This shows how the work industry works. He did not get the job because he is white, its because he is a man, because they would have gave that position to a balck man before they gave it to a women. We all do the same work but because he is a man he has first pick and is handed rank over me, when I have been there longer. I know more that him, and I know that I am well competant in doing the work better than he can. He askes me for help to do his job, and he gets paid way more than I do.

Week 14

Most of my working years, which is close to 15 years and counting, have been in various areas of the medical field. I have held positions in direct areas of patient care such as nursing assistant, radiology aide to more clerical and office based non-patient direct areas such as insurance rep, admitting rep, various areas of scheduling etc. I have witnessed a change from these occupations being mostly all female to having more males working in these positions.

In the direct patient care settings, we all had to wear scrubs to work and some places had color coded/print uniform guidelines which identified where you worked in the facility. Working on locked units, I have often seen job postings for applicants to be preferably male as we would have enough females there and having someone who was strong enough to help with violent patients was needed quite often on these units. Security guards have all for the most part been male and we relied on them when we did not have a male on the nursing staff.

In regards to clinical/office settings, I have noticed the change in how the job titles reflect a gender neutral tone to the position. There are not too many positions that are still referred to as being a "medical secretary". In fact, "secretary" is not anywhere in the job position. It would to some in a job listing refer to be more of a position that would hire a female vs a male. The titles for these positions, which do vary in job responsibilities in the clinic have been called MOA(Medical Office Assistant) I, II, III. The I, II & III would indicate the job level or classification of the position. I being the lowest, with less experience & less pay, III being the highest with more experience and more pay. Other titles are "scheduler" scheduling representative, front desk rep etc. I have seen an increase in males occupying these positions. In fact, the clinic I currently work in has 2 males who work full time at the front desk.
Management positions within any clinics I have worked in have been held by females, many of them have been in the same positions of their staff nurses before becoming clinic managers.

Week 14

I have worked in retail for the past six years and I most recently have worked at J. Crew (and continue to do so) as a sales associate. The qualifications for this job include product knowledge and must be 18 years of age or older. The first qualification I listed is negotiable, but from what I have witnessed with their hiring strategies, I would say it is a qualification. The characteristics an employee must embody are being an outgoing individual, be extremely patient, and be personable. I would say, once again just based on observance, that this is traditionally a female oriented job. As a sales associate, we are told to constantly "wardrobe" the customer and "embellish" the outfits they choose to wear. It is not uncommon to hear queer slurs being thrown at male associates or personal shoppers. Male associates a lot of the time deal with much more socially based judgments than female associates. Most of these characteristics are typically associated with success aimed at women. It is a social fact that in our society, women are raised to want to please and appease people, which is what sales is a lot of the time based on.

Coming from an equal rights feminist standpoint, this job is riddled with issues. According to section VII, "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . 2 to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin". According to equal rights feminist, men and women can become equal through implementing laws and rules that make it so they are equal on the books. Although this may sound like proper reasoning, and from witnessing several discriminatory acts at J. Crew, there are certainly issues of gender here. Most of the individuals hired at the store fit the prototype created by the company. Both the men and women fit within their rigid gender roles and are told that any overlap of men and women's clothes are prohibited. An equal opportunity feminist would argue that J. Crew is violating the "sex" part of section VII, forcing all employees to act and be a certain way. Yes, it does not say "gender" specifically in the law, but this can be interpreted in the word "sex" since some individuals might classify themselves as a difference sex.

Week 14

I have worked in retail for the past six years and I most recently have worked at J. Crew (and continue to do so) as a sales associate. The qualifications for this job include product knowledge and must be 18 years of age or older. The first qualification I listed is negotiable, but from what I have witnessed with their hiring strategies, I would say it is a qualification. The characteristics an employee must embody are being an outgoing individual, be extremely patient, and be personable. I would say, once again just based on observance, that this is traditionally a female oriented job. As a sales associate, we are told to constantly "wardrobe" the customer and "embellish" the outfits they choose to wear. It is not uncommon to hear queer slurs being thrown at male associates or personal shoppers. Male associates a lot of the time deal with much more socially based judgments than female associates. Most of these characteristics are typically associated with success aimed at women. It is a social fact that in our society, women are raised to want to please and appease people, which is what sales is a lot of the time based on.

Coming from an equal rights feminist standpoint, this job is riddled with issues. According to section VII, "It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . 2 to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin". According to equal rights feminist, men and women can become equal through implementing laws and rules that make it so they are equal on the books. Although this may sound like proper reasoning, and from witnessing several discriminatory acts at J. Crew, there are certainly issues of gender here. Most of the individuals hired at the store fit the prototype created by the company. Both the men and women fit within their rigid gender roles and are told that any overlap of men and women's clothes are prohibited. An equal opportunity feminist would argue that J. Crew is violating the "sex" part of section VII, forcing all employees to act and be a certain way. Yes, it does not say "gender" specifically in the law, but this can be interpreted in the word "sex" since some individuals might classify themselves as a difference sex.

Blog 14

I can think of two jobs I have that have a gendered nature. First, I work at the University Child Care Center as a childcare worker. The qualifications for this job include past experience working with children and an interest in working with children. Some characteristics a person might need for this job would include patience, responsibility, the ability to multitask, and liking kids. This job is definitely female dominated. Probably about 99% of the employees there that work directly with the children are female. All the teachers are female, and generally all the childcare workers are female. I have seen maybe one or two male childcare workers. This job is typically female because females stereotypically possess the characteristics necessary for working with children. It is probably easier for a female student to get a job there than a male student because a majority of females have some experience working with children since babysitting is a common first job for teenage girls. The feminist theory that comes to mind with this job is cultural feminist theory. According to our Feminist Legal Theory textbook, cultural feminists take into account the biological differences of males and females (18). More specifically, they acknowledge that only women can have babies. The book also talks about how women are "essentially connected to other humans, through the physical connections of intercourse, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, and to humanity through an ethic of care" (19). This idea can certainly apply to the fact that women dominate childcare professions.

My other job is at a garden store. I work outside taking care of the plants and helping customers. This job requires the ability to engage in friendly conversation with customers, lift heavy objects occasionally, and the ability to be on your feet all day. Most anyone can qualify for a job at this garden store. Although the number of men and women that work at the store is probably fairly equal, there is a slight differentiation between the jobs that women do and the jobs that men do. Women are typically working directly with the plants and assisting customers or working at the cash registers. The men usually work in the stock room of the store or in the nursery section (which has all the bigger plants and trees). The women work the position that requires some nurture and care with watering the plants and removing the dead blooms. The men work with the heavier, bigger plants and operate the forklifts. Males are typically assigned to these tasks because they may be more physically capable of lifting the bigger plants. Also, the majority of the people holding the higher positions such as supervisor or manager are men. In fact, all the supervisors are men. All employees are paid equally depending on position and time worked there. If it was possible to compare the total of what the men make and the total of what the women make, the men would probably have a higher income. This would be due to the fact that males usually fill the higher positions. I am not sure what feminist theory could apply here. Maybe the equal treatment theory could apply. While all employees are treated equally, the males are given the more authoritative positions. I think that if it were really considered to be equal there would be more females in the supervisor positions. I guess the culture feminist theory could apply here as well taking into consideration the ethic of care women supposedly have and how that would apply to the position they usually hold (which involves caring for the plants).

Readings for Thursday 4/29

I have not been able to get the readings for Thursday to upload to the course website, so I put them on the blog.

Week 14

I worked at Starbucks for almost four years both as a barista and a shift manager at several different locations. The qualifications that Starbucks requires of employees include being very friendly, talkative with customers, while agreeing with customers on everything. Lots of work and a lot of busy work make up most of a shift, and shift supervisors deal with money management as well. For the most part, these characteristics are associated as being feminine in nature. Cleaning and cooking while being polite and agreeable are central to the stereotyped image of a woman. What's interesting, however, is that neither gender tends to dominate the workplace. While the ratio between genders is always fluctuating, there generally is not a dominant group.

I would attribute this to the nature of many Starbucks policies. Starbucks runs on a completely equal playing field. Pay is earned based on time with the company and position. Benefits, vacation, tips, and every other aspect to the job is completely even among workers. Of course, the problem that comes along with complete equal rights is running the risk of superficial rights. While gender was not a specifically targeted group (in most instances anyways), race and ethnicity were. In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, it was decided that an employer could be guilty of violating Title VII if a decision was made partially based on discrimination; it did not have to be solely based on discriminatory views. In this particular case, that interpretation of bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ) worked out for the benefit of the plaintiff. However, in the case of Starbucks, and I would speculate many other corporations as well, it can be easy to manipulate. BFOQ's can still be construed in such a way that it becomes entirely possible to exclude a specific group while making it near impossible to prove any discrimination.

In Starbucks, it is ethnic minorities that receive the short end of that stick. Morning shifts, the busiest shifts, and especially management positions, are particularly void of minorities. The BFOQ's that are critiqued in these situations often include non-fluent English (aka an accent) as well as education (aka lack of trust with specific monetary duties). Starbucks employs many good and helpful programs and policies. Unfortunately, what is not taken into account is the vulnerability of Title VII, especially the definition of BFOQ, when equal rights theories are applied. And for my own shameless propaganda efforts, this is a link to the story of my friend Aizze which vividly depicts my point. http://www.starbucksunion.org/node/2152

Week 14 Assignment

This week we are reading several cases on employment discrimination. As we briefly addressed in class on Thursday, these cases often turn on whether sex is determined to be a bona fide occupational qualification. Such a determination is not always clear to the courts, nor do feminists always agree on these questions.
In this week's blog post, I would like you to once again revisit the strains of feminist theory to which we continually return: equal rights, cultural, and dominance feminisms. Think about a job that you or someone who know has had. What are that job's qualifications? What characteristics must a person possess to succeed at that job? Is this job male or female-dominated (for information on the gender breakdown of a vast range of jobs, see the US Census Bureau's website). Are the characteristics associated with success at this job typically associated with men or women? Is there a particular feminist approach that is helpful in analyzing the gendered nature (or lack thereof) of this job?
As always, be specific in your references to course readings that you used to complete this assignment.

Formal Law on Coverture

I was vaguely surprised to find that Coverture was still used in the wording of Section 519.02; after all, it's effectiveness and use as a legal term has effectively been nullified with section 519.01 (which allows women to have a separate economic existence). The reason coverture is still used, in my opinion, is as a throwback to older terms that lawmakers are loathe to let go of. Should the word coverture be removed, then?

In my opinion, it should; even if it has no legal effect, it is still a shameful reminder of America's historic inequality to women. By removing it, the formalization of human rights for women can be formalized, and a legal error can e removed from the law books.

Blog 13

I was very shocked to find the word coverture in the current women's property statute of Minnesota; I thought coverture was dead. As we have learned in class, coverture is when a husband and wife are considered one and the wife is covered by her husband's legal identity. The wife does not have any legal rights. While Section 519.02 uses the word coverture in its description of women's property rights, Section 519.01 says that women have a legal identity entirely separate from their husbands. Section 519.02 totally undermines what section 519.01 says just by including the word coverture in its language. Section 519.02 takes away the rights that Section 519.01 grants women. The use of the word coverture implies that wives do not have legal rights separate from their husband. What section are we supposed to look at when they totally contradict each other? I am not sure whether the existence of the word coverture in the section is a mere oversight or if it was left there on purpose, but either way this word's existence holds great significance because of the history surrounding it and because of its negative connotations for women.

Coverture Letter

Sarah Anderson
217 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155

5050 Holly Lane N. No. 5
Plymouth, MN 55446

Dear Representative Anderson,

I am a constituent of district 43A and a fellow resident of Plymouth, and I am writing to express my concern regarding what I consider archaic wording in Minnesota State Statute 519.02. This statute, which deals with women's property rights, states that:
"All property, real, personal and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contacts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried."

My problem with this statute is its use of the phrase "during coverture". Coverture is "the inclusion of a woman in the legal person of her husband upon marriage under common law," according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary of Law. Using such a term creates confusion in light of Minnesota State Statute 519.01, which articulates that women maintain an independent "legal existence and legal personality" upon marriage, explicitly ending the practice of coverture. The two statutes appear to be in contradiction because of this wording, and the simple act of removing the phrase "during coverture" would serve to greatly clarify the intent of the law.

In addition to the logical problem of retaining contradictory wording within a statute, I also find the use of the term coverture problematic because of its lengthy history in opposing greater legal freedom for women. It was regularly employed to prevent a woman from owning property, pursuing education against her husband's wishes, signing legal documents, or entering into contracts. As recently as the early 1990's, opponents of laws that would provide women legal recourse in the event of marital rape drew upon the idea of coverture in their arguments.

Therefore I am asking you to propose that the Minnesota Office of the Reviser of Statutes directs a renewed focus upon this section and studies the societal implications maintained by the use of "coverture", as well as its logical inconsistency with State Statute 519.01.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Kelly E. Heitz

Note to Letter

While I agree that it is disturbing that the historically offensive word "coverture" is still used in modern legal statutes, I would like to add my personal thoughts to the letter I addressed to our governing representatives.

While I do believe that it would be progressive step to remove the word from statute 519.02, I also believe that the action in merely a symbolic one. I would advocate for the removal only because symbolic actions can effect change and aid society in moving towards more progressive ideals. However, I do not believe that a change in the statute is necessary to the preservation of a wife's individual legal status under the law.

Because there are protections against a traditional use of the word 'coverture' within the State Constitution and within statue 519.02 itself, I would argue that this use is not a direct threat to a wife's legal agency.

I felt that to include such a note directly in the letter to the State Representative would have been detremental to it's desired effect. Unfortunately, the comment feature is still broken, so I have attached my notes in a seperate post.

To Whom it May Concern

To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing to you on behalf of a concerned portion of your constituency, in regards a specific section of the Minnesota state legal code.
Statute 519.02 states:

"All property, real, personal and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contacts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried."

My concern lies in the the use of the word "Coverture". Coverture has been used, historically, as a reference to the collected laws granting husbands rights of ownership over their wives. Under coverture, the legal right of a wife to act as her own agent was subsumed by the legal rights of her husband, subject to his control. Derived from English common law, the role of a women under coverture, that of feme covert rather than feme sole, was not recognized as having interests distinct from those of her husband. While the unification of two legal entities into one is a fundamental building block to the institution of marriage, this specific term references a historically dated institution under which husbands had sole control over their wives actions. Perpetuating this mentality of gender inequality contradicts the second half of this statute, in which a wife is granted all privileges of a legally independent individual, "free from the control of her husband".
Within the first section of the Minnesota Constitution, the Bill of Rights, it is stated that:

"There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted."

In so far as coverature is concerned, the institution is one of implied slavery, and servitude of one individual citizen to another. In an effort to eliminate any possible contradictions within this statute, I respectfully request that this word be removed, and replaced with a term of a less historically offensive nature. As the definition of coverture was never modified following it's inception, the implied rights of a husband's ownership over his wife is dated and conflicts with the stated purpose of this statute, and the State Constitution at large.

Stefanie Steele

blog 13 : coverture

To whom it may concern,

Minnesota Statutes, Section 519.02. states,

All property, real, personal, and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contracts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried (Section 519.02)

While the purpose of this section is necessary and beneficial to women, the term "coverture" does not belong here. Coverture has been legally dismissed as a condition of marriage, as demonstrated in Section 519.02., and the retention of this term simply reinforces coverture as a condition of women under marriage. It is not a meaningless slip-up which does not deserve revision, it is a fundamental condition of women's justice. There is no place for this word in the context of women's rights today.

This language sets up the notion that in fact, coverture is not gone, but rather modified with the conditions of Section 519.02. Not only is this unconstitutional and corrupt, it is contradictory to Section 519.01, which distinguishes the legal existence of women.

Coverture in this context becomes a part of marriage. It is not enough to simply claim that this terminology is outdated - it still retains it's meaning. Just because the law is a historical part of the US, doesn't mean that sexist implications should stay in the text. And if so, why? There is no reason to keep "coverture" in the legal statutes that we operate on every day. Statutes are to be of use, and if the word is irrelevant and mute, it should be taken out. If it is not irrelevant and mute, then there are greater issues at hand. It should be absolutely no harm to remove this disgusting language from Minnesota Statute Section 519.02.

Kelly Bellin

Blog 13: For the Retention

I caution against a request for a removal of the word coverture in our legislature. Circumstantial relevance compels me to state my allegiance as William's equality-staring game comes to mind (12). In starting out with the idea that "Feminism should be Humanism," my perception of my association with Feminism after reading MacKinnon has shifted from nemesis to diplomat, and from diplomat to that of dual-citizen. I wish to acknowledge that when one from the class in power embraces ideas or lifestyles of the lesser class in the realm of gender, they are usually ridiculed and the (lack of) ethos can give male arguments less weight. While I don't plan on exceeding or equaling the potential of the lesser class in poignancy within the embracement of femininity, I hope to avoid a quick dismissal based on the circumstances of sex and demeanor.

I'm inclined towards inaction mostly out of humor and in reaction to philosophical influences, but I did consider the politic "high ground," and I slightly reject the idea that we should keep the law on the sole basis that it's merely a word and that it's not that big of a deal. I hesitate to draw parallels of a slippery slope, but a poem posted on campus somewhere and the future of Ireland's internet censorship comes to mind. Ireland lives in a culture where laws are more customs than actual laws, where there a gay bar was known to exist during a period when overt homosexuality is illegal. However, now it seems the sedentary attitude of Ireland's residents with respect to law can lead to censorship on the internet similar to what's in the UK and Australia, and, in more extreme of examples, of Saudi Arabia and China.

The word should be retained, or at least not much effort should be put in removing it, for the purposes of consciousness raising in a historical sense. My History of Law professor related a funny story to class a couple weeks ago about how, as a historian, she had felt guilty for removing a clause in the deed of her house in St Paul. The house and the houses neighboring it had a clause in the deeds that stated that blacks or other minorities couldn't own or rent these houses. She felt bad because she knew that sometime in the future, some historian would have to spend hours figuring out why there was this one peculiar house wasn't as racist as the other ones, and it's not like she can add another clause stating she didn't want nonwhites obtaining the deed. While slippery slope parallels can be drawn to examples of the poem or of the inaction of Ireland's residents, the matter of the word coverture is different in that the meaning of the legislature is in principle contradictory to the legal definition of coverture, as outside of the use of the word, the rest of the legislature is clear enough.

Another reason for relative inaction would be for consciousness raising in a societal sphere. Suppose that coverture in this sense is used as a societal rather than legal term. Blackstone describes coverture as being "under the protection and influence of her husband." If we take coverture to have cultural meaning rather than legal, like the wife taking on the husband's name even though she doesn't have to, the word makes more sense, especially when looking all three instances of the use of the word in this section of legislature. I'm reluctant to believe that legislators had a cultural meaning in mind rather than it being a mistake that slipped by as the law was being updated, but there is a useful meaning in this oversight: even if legally a wife has rights to her autonomy, socially, she is still under coverture.

Blog 13

Congresswoman Betty McCollum
Minnesota 4th District
165 Western Ave North
Suite 17
St. Paul, MN 55102

Dear Congresswoman Betty McCollum,

I am writing in regards to wording that I feel is contradictory in Minnesota State Statute 519.02. This statute describes women's property rights according to state law and is worded as such:
"All property, real, personal and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contacts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried."

I am bringing attention to the "during coverture" portion of this law. In regards to women's property rights, wives could not control their own property unless specific provisions were made before marriage, they could not file lawsuits or be sued separately, nor could they execute contracts. The husband could use, sell or dispose of her property (again, unless prior provisions were made) without her permission.

As I stated previously, the law seems contradictory with this being included in it's wording. I am requesting that this be revised with the exclusion of the statement of "during coverture." The law would then be non-contradicting in it's message according to the rights women have to property in Minnesota.


Michele Hauwiller

Blog 13

The problematic part of this Act concerns the word "coverture". Coverture, in this context, is upsetting because it refers to old common law where once a woman was married, she loses all legal rights to her husband. In a country supposedly founded on equality, the use of this word is both sexist and oppressive. It is also contradictory. In Minnesota law, ยง519.01 says that a women's property, of any kind, is legally, separately hers. The usage of the word coverture, then, negates those freedoms that were denied for hundreds of years. Furthermore, this contractual language, as described by Patricia Williams, "Masterfully disguised the brutality of enforced arrangements in which these women's autonomy, their flesh and blood, were locked away in word vaults, without room to reconsider (Williams, p. 15, 1988)."
While the seemingly irrelevant rhetoric may not seem worthy of assessment; the word coverture carries meaning that undermines women's legal rights. The Act says that any woman "during coverture" is legally free from her husband. Common Law as cited by Blackstone, says, "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law." Even though this Act declares a woman legally free from her husband, the word coverture brings to the surface a sentiment that reflects the persistent view of women's lesser value in society.
The paradoxical phrasing is an example of what Frances Olsen refers to as, "False equality," that is, equality on the outside. Until the assessment of the continued use of the word coverture is thoroughly evaluated, women's rights will continue to be undermined by powerful rhetoric.

Week 13: Letter

To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing you today in regards to Section 519.02 of the Minnesota Statutes. In this section it states,

All property, real, personal, and mixed, and all choses in action, owned by any woman at the time of her marriage, shall continue to be her separate property, notwithstanding such marriage; and any married woman, during coverture, may receive, acquire, and enjoy property of every description, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and all avails of her contracts and industry, free from the control of her husband, and from any liability on account of his debts, as fully as if she were unmarried (Section 519.02).

As I was reading this, the word that practically jumped off the page was the word "coverture." I do not understand why this word is still used in the Minnesota Statutes in regards to a married women's property. Coverture has a dark history in America, specifically for the women who lost their identity under the universal use of this word. A member of the Mississippi bar, Lena Zama, states, "Under the old English common law, when a man and woman married, they became one, and he was the one" (Zama 28). The word coverture denotes a continuation of English laws whose purpose was to shift all legal power (including property) to the patriarchal position. This, of course, is beyond sexist, but is also majorly problematic placing all the power within the husband's, or "the one['s]" hands. This denies a basic right of an American citizen, the right to own and govern their property that is rightfully theirs.

My using "coverture" in this section not only distracts many when reading the statutes, but also implies that we as a nation and independent legal entity have not moved on from these ancient, sexist institutions. What is even more confusing is that in Section 519.01 it states, "Women shall retain the same legal existence and legal personality after marriage as before, and every married woman shall receive the same protection of all her rights as a woman which her husband does as a man, including the right to appeal to the courts in her own name alone for protection or redress" (Section 519.02). This section that comes right before the section that uses the word "coverture" further complicates this issue. Section 519.01 uses the words "retain, "legal existence," and "legal personality" when referring to women and property. These words denote independence and a lack of coverture in current marriage property acts and statutes. By following this section with the word "coverture" simply destroys the truth in Section 519.01.

I purpose that the Minnesota Office of the Reviser of Statutes takes a new fresh look at this section and studies the societal implications that the word coverture still has. As I states before, this word has a history in the repression of women and a basis in complete contradictions within the legal relationships between men and women. This word must be stripped from this section in order for the statutes to be completely clear and rid of residual sexism in our legal documents. Please take these points into account and reexamine the word coverture in Section 519.02. Thank you.

Week 13 Blog Assignment

As we discussed in class on Thursday, Section 519.02 of the Minnesota Statutes describes the property rights of married women "during coverture," retaining the wording of Minnesota's 1869 Married Women's property Act. Yet Section 519.01 explicitly states that a married woman has a full legal existence distinct from her husband. So why does 519.02 retain the word coverture?

For this week's blog post, I would like you to consider whether this retention of coverture in Minnesota law has meaning and effect. If you choose, you may write your blog post in the form of a letter to an appropriate member of Minnesota's government to argue for the removal of the reference to coverture. Be specific in your post; support your argument with references to readings from the course. You may want to refer to the website for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes for information on how bills and statutes are written in Minnesota.

Extra credit from blog 7

I still agree with the comment I made on my blog 7 post because history is something that evolves as the world changes. things go down in history that are relavent to the time period and some of that information may not be true. History has documents of events that are concrete, the truth and will never change based upon the evolution of the world.

For instance history has things documented from the 1930 ( not sure of the correct year) about black people on how one could identify a black person as a criminal by looking at their features, but now today 2010, that is not the case because black people have evolved as well as America's view of black people has evolved

Extra credit

When looking at Ben's blog about marital rape from blog 10 I do not agree fully, with some of the comments that were made. Number one marriage is not seen as a private institution, so it would be easy for courts to get involved because people in marriages want others to know that they are married, every couple, no matter homosexual or heterosexual or any one else, when they get married they want their loved ones and every one else to know it.
As far as sex in the marriage, that is different because that is a private event that couples share within their own home and are not as voiceful about that issue, so the courts would not have a reason to intervene

Right to Choose

The right for a woman to choose whether or not to have a abortion has been under assault since before it was even legal; the rights of women, the right to privacy... all were taken under consideration for Roe v. Wade. Today, abortion is still under attack, utilizing ever-more clever means and ever more idiotic opponents. The question of the week is whether scholars of law or elected officials would better defend abortion.

Unfortunately, elected officials are in a far better position to defend the right to choose; despite the questionable level of morality and knowledge, they are the only ones in the position to actively influence the vote; scholars are lucky to have their voices heard over sound-bites. Hopefully, the right to choose will become ingrained with the elected officials acceptance of it, so that it need not be defended so vigorously.

Repro Rights continued

The NYT has an article on two new Nebraska laws that would ban all abortions at 20 weeks and later and require any ow,man seeking an abortion to undergo a mental health screening first. The article also notes that Dr. Carhart (the same on in the case we just read) is one of the only doctors in Nebraska who will perform abortion procedures.

Law Symposium Extra Credit

I attended the panel entitled Immigration Issues Facing Non-Traditional Families. The panelists spoke of the issues having to do with immigration for non-traditional families. They went over the history of the difficulties of immigration policies. Sexual deviance (namely homosexuality) was enough to disallow people from the US. It was labeled as a psychopathic disorder. Partly because of fear of homosexuality, those that are HIV positive were not allowed in, encouraging people to not get tested and not take HIV medicine. Tourist visas have been and still are difficult to get for partners of citizens.

Then they talked about how even today, there are still difficulties for non-traditional families. For instance, people still have some difficulties getting in because of HIV. There have been strides to get visas for a partner of a citizen, but they are only tourist visas; one still can't work. Transgender persons also have difficulties getting visas, though they might have an easier time if they are recognized as converting to an opposite sex relationship. It was interesting and surprisingly to hear that many of these new regulations that offered more rights to non-traditional families were just recently (less than five years) put into place.

Compelling State Interest

I would be interested in a greater discussion of what the writers of the abortion cases we have studied, particularly Roe v Wade, intended by the term compelling state interest. I have done a search through the text on my computer, and cannot seem to find an outline of what the compelling state interest in proscribing abortion might be or how compelling state interest in abortion regulation is justified.

The phrase seems to keep popping up regarding the compelling state interest in potential life. Combined with the "potential life" bit, I find this phrase rather concerning. Why does the state have a compelling interest in potential life? What, exactly, is defined as potential life? Is it simply early pregnancies? I wonder this because the term potential life can be, and has been, employed in discussions of birth control such as oral contraceptives or the IUD.

What is the basis on which the state can claim an interest on behalf of people who do not exist yet? It seems a strange interest for the state to me, and a potentially dangerous one. The problem with crafting decisions on the basis of pre-people is that those individuals have no ability as constituents to voice an opinion - so it is difficult to find evidence for claims made on their behalf. I suppose children are in a similar situation in that legislation is crafted with their interest in mind, even though they do not have certain civic rights of expression such as voting, however even children are possible to some degree of expressing opinions.

I don't even know if these considerations make sense in light of the way in which "compelling state interest in potential life" is referred to in abortion opinions and law, but it seems curious that a greater explanation is so difficult to find. If it would be possible to explain this further in class I would be greatly appreciative.


Since there seem to be many variables to the question at hand and because I'm sure that there are some that fail to come to mind, I hesitate to place any conclusion as to whether officials or constitutional scholars would serve women's interests better. But if I had to, I would put more faith in constitutional scholars for serving women's interests. I believe that the power of discretion is underestimated for both elected officials and constitutional scholars, so that the specific person or persons would play a bigger role in enacting change rather than the system of protocols they have to adhere (or appear to adhere) to. It all rests on the fortune of the official or scholar having interests that coincide with women's. I place more faith on the constitutional scholars to serve women's interests better because they seem to go into more abstract detail on the cases with more voices, resulting in hopefully more sound legislature, presuming that issues in the interest of women are also reasonable.

In setting an agenda, I would focus on local and I would focus on the use of courts. I believe consciousness raising would have a more profound impact this way. I also hope that this would help to do away with societal pressures to keep such matters private especially if they're harmful. Drawing from Roberts, I also believe that this method would take into account social justice more.

Blog 12

I am not really sure how to answer this question. For the first part of the question, I do not think that women's interests are better protected by constitutional scholars. On the hand, I am not sure if they are best protected by elected officials either. Although using the Constitution can be helpful, I don't think it should be used all the time when looking women's issues. Many of the legal issues that come up today do not appear in the Constitution. The courts must then interpret the Constitution and apply it to present day situations. Finding a part of the Constitution that applies to the subject at hand can be difficult. This is evident in the Griswold v. Connecticut case where the justices look in different places of the Constitution in reference to the use of contraception. I am unsure about elected officials. It would depend on whether they had the best interests of women in mind or not. As for the advantages and disadvantages of having the Supreme Court determine reproductive rights, I can only come up with disadvantages. A disadvantage of having the Supreme Court determine the reproductive rights of women in this country is the question of interest. Who's interest does the Supreme Court have at mind when deciding these things? Are they concerned with women's interests or the interests of the nation and/or state? Are they more concerned with upholding the institution of marriage? For example, in the case Griswold v. Connecticut, there was no mention of women. The court made the case more about marriage. Also, with Roe v. Wade, we talked about protecting the interest of the state of Texas instead of the interest of the woman. This is evident in the trimester framework that explains the decision in the first trimester is left to the physician, not the woman. If I were to set an agenda for a reproductive rights organization, I do not think I would use the courts. I would probably try to focus on state legislation before making my way to national legislation.

Determining the Scope of Reproductive Rights

In the course of this weeks readings, I had a scary moment. It occurred in the course of reading Casey v Planned Parenthood, in particular the section of dissent written by Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Thomas. The scary moment was this: I agreed with many of their arguments (though not their conclusion). I thought such a day would never come.

In their view of the case, the right to abort a fetus as a fundamental right was poorly based on the right to privacy and a complex trimester system. I concur, because I found the sort of logic used in Griswold v CT and Roe v Wade extremely shaky and derived. This concerns me, because unlike Scalia et al, I think that the right to terminate a pregnancy is vital to a woman's pursuit of liberty.

I also agreed with their assessment that the standard of "undue burden" is an unclear one for the practice of law. "To evaluate abortion decisions under that standard, judges will have to make the subjective, unguided determination whether the regulations place "substantial obstacles" in the path of a woman seeking an abortion, undoubtedly engendering a variety of conflicting views."

This passage in particular resonated with me, because it frames the questions and protests I experienced in the course of reading the Webster case. So requiring husbands to be notified is an undue burden because for many women it would prevent their access to abortion services, yet regulations that require parental notification or ban state facilities and medical funding to be utilized for a woman's legal right to the medical procedure of abortion (which also make abortion impossible for many women) are not an undue burden? Why not?

Yes, I understand the argument that not using federal or state funds, or public state facilities, for abortion procedures is justified because it doesn't involve state interference in the private option, whereas husband notification does. However I do not find this distinction a compelling one. The differentiation is acknowledged by the court to have the same effect of preventing womens access to abortion which is considered unconstitutional in one case and not in the other (in fact, it is often acknowledged that it may make obtaining abortion "impossible" for some). And I feel certain that the same sort of arguments would not be considered logical if ever applied to other sorts of medical procedures.

This fits into Dorothy Roberts discussion of positive versus negative liberty. The right to abortion is strictly upheld as one of negative liberty. The state can't interfere to deprive individuals of that procedure which is tied to a woman's liberty, but they also are seen as having no duty to make that liberty accessible for the pursuit of all. So what you end up with is liberty and justice for some, but not others. Too bad the Pledge of Allegiance has no legal bearing...

The problem with all of this seems to me to go back to the fact that none of these issues are explicitly dealt with in the constitution. I remember reading an account that many feminist activists of the '70s, in retrospect wish that the right to abortion had been accomplished through legislation rather than at the Supreme Court (I believe this was in Susan Faludi's Backlash, although I'm not certain of that). Yet this seemed incorrect to me to, because while it may have established greater popular support, legislation is more changeable than court decision.

I really, vehemently believe that the option to terminate a pregnancy ought to be a protected right of women. And it occurred to me more than once over the course of reading these cases that such a right ought to be expressed explicitly. In considering this, I was struck anew by the fact that women had no voice and were not especially considered in the drafting of our Bill of Rights - it is a document without us in mind. Although American government is deeply opposed to change, the best option I believe would be to work to see that womens reproductive rights were legislated into a constitutional amendment - because that is where, to me, this issue seems to properly belong. Yet without that explicit statement the issue of abortion regulation becomes sunk in a quagmire of vague terms (like "compelling state interest in potential life" - did anyone else find that creepy?) and is not adequately protected.

So that is what my long-term goal would be, as a leader of a reproductive rights organization. However, in the present political climate I recognize that this would be difficult and would likely focus more on protecting the current structure which allows women access to legal abortion.

Week 12: Reproductive Rights

I don't know if I would leave much in the hands of constitutional scholars. If one problem of law makers is already abstracting too much, I think that it would be more problematic letting academics have their say. Not to say that what academia has to say is invalid, but I think that there is more of a problem with abstraction and disassociation by necessity in scholarly pursuits.

I'd like to think then that elected officials would be the best alternative, however that is clearly not the case. There is simply too much fear of taking a "radical stance" for elected officials to be effective. However, it is always possible to put enough spin on a topic to make it seem like it is maintaining the status quo. For this (admittedly very cynical reason) I think that elected officials are probably the best bet for ensuring reproductive rights.

Continuing on that train of thought, it would be ideal to make this a national campaign so that there is no confusion, and a baseline of rights among all states. I do believe that the best way to go about it would be pulling an Obama, and setting up strong grassroots efforts in every state and mobilizing a large volunteer force. Consciousness raising seems to be the most effective method of raising not only awareness, but support.

week 12 // reproductive rights

So far, I can't put faith in constitutional scholars to represent women's rights. Though, that isn't to say that I find elected officials satisfactory. The constant focus on real-life situations through the lens of constitutional framework is frustrating, because it seems to disconnect women's lives in order to fit it into a document that, really, wasn't written to represent them in the first place. In some ways, even just through reading the concurring or dissenting opinions, I think that elected officials can bring in valuable points that cannot happen through a constitutional argument. But at the same time, the bias of elected officials is a terrible thing to base women's rights on.

I don't necessarily have faith in a court to really stand up for women's rights, and clearly the legal system has demonstrated the WORK that goes into granting women's basic rights. While the law has demonstrated that it CAN, for example, grant abortion rights to women through constitutional routes, and that is great, I don't think it's enough. With that I am much more pessimistic - of course these rights should have been granted by the courts, and it shouldn't have been so much time or work!

With the Supreme Court, you know that decisions made will set a sort of widespread precedent. This is one huge advantage, but at the same time can have a negative impact. The big-picture nature of the Supreme Court, and focus on the Constitution, will likely not represent the margins. The law is essentialist, and that cannot necessarily be avoided with the Supreme Court.

In these ways, I identify with dominance theory's stance that the system won't be a vessel of change because it is an integral part of patriarchy. So, while I am very interested in the means to which these court decisions are made, I don't think that the real solutions can be found in the law, in the system we have now. This is, of course, taking things out of the context we are talking about.

If I were to actually work with an organization, I would prefer to make local campaigns for reproductive justice. That way, I imagine, you could more realistically facilitate comprehensive campaigns - not just sweeping legislation - that would benefit everyone. Community programs and access are a vital part of reproductive justice, and is something that the Supreme Court, for example, has no interest in. To be clear, though, I understand that local campaigns can't happen unless legislation has been a focus at some point.


I think that in the discussion, one must be careful in treating women's interests as a single unit. As evidenced by the wide variety of theories the class has encountered during the course of our readings, 'women's interests' are multifarious, and just as varied.

Having said that, within the framework of the current hierarchical system, there are some routes of recourse that serve to more effectively promote change in the issue of women's reproductive rights. Whether or not those routes are constitutional is in question. Without arguing whether the constitution establishes a desirable system, one can still determine what the document intends or states.

If I were to approach this from the position of a lobbyist for women's reproductive rights, I too would seek change through the Supreme Court. While I might not believe it is within the scope of the court's constitutionally appointed powers to effect such change, I would recognize that it would be most efficient way in which to promote my agenda. It would be difficult to convince state legislatures to enact policies that may be unfavorable in certain geographical regions of the country, and local legislatures pandering to the white male hierarchy would have even less incentive to enact change.

Having admitted that change through state legislatures is ineffective in the matter of reproductive rights, I would maintain the argument that courts do not have the authority to legislate from the bench. Although they may claim to be sensitive to the whims of the people, they cannot effectively represent the populace with the same accuracy that elected officials can. Elected officials are more accountable to the masses, and the changing perceptions of society. Because the whims of the masses can be dangerous however, the Supreme Court exists to ensure that those whims do not violate constitutional rights. They are not gifted with the authority to provide an alternative. While the decision to broaden women's reproductive rights was desirable from a feminist perspective, (in the changes subsequently wrought in state legislation, not necessarily the wording of the decision), the constitutionality of the Supreme Court's currently extended powers is questionable.

blog 12

Personally, I do not feel that neither, are best to protect the interest for women. I say this because who better to protect the interest of a women than herself.
When elected officials and constitutional officials get involved things get seen in a bias way based upon the point of view of who is speaking. It is like getting into the problem of speaking for others.

The advantages of having supreme court determine the reproductive rights for women is that women can have a limit to how many children they want without having a debate with their husbands about having more children because it is a right approved by the courts. The disadvantage is that women are being forced or controlled to not have as many children as they want, it is like the state\court is controlling the women instead of the husband.

I would focus on local legislation because you need to start small when organizing something new to get peoples attention and support then work your way up to the state and eventually up to the state.

Women and the Law Conference This Week

Hello all,

I just wanted to post some information about a conference being held later this week on Women and the Law which I learned about through my Arabic conversation group. It looks like it should be an interesting panel discussion and will likely deal with some of the same issues we have covered in class. I will definitely be attending. The details:

Women's Rights and the Law Conference
Thursday, April 15th, 2010- 5:30 p.m.
William Mitchell College of Law Auditorium
Come learn about current developments and challenges to women's rights in the United States and on an international level.
Keynote speaker: Humphrey fellow Suaad Allami- Iraqi attorney and human rights activist & winner of the State Department's "International Women of Courage" award
Panelists: Professor Sarah Deer (William Mitchell College of Law), Professor Karen Vogel (Hamline University), Professor Marsha Freeman (University of Minnesota Law School)

CLE & diversity PLP credits will be available to attendees. The event is free of charge and open to the public. The event will be followed by a reception.

Please contact Tracy at tracy.grundman@gmail.com for questions regarding the conference.
This event is brought to you by: The Young Professionals for International Cooperation of MN, The Advocates for Human Rights, and The Minnesota International Center

Week 12: Reproductive Rights and the Courts

After reading through these Supreme Court cases and hearing the background information regarding reproductive rights last week, I am convinced that constitutional scholars would be best at interpreting the law in regards to reproductive rights. The court's job is to interpret the law, while an elected official listens to their voters and their own personal bias. For example, in the case of Planned Parenthood versus Governor Casey, bias on Casey's part is impeding the information presented to the court. It is understandable that an individual's personal opinion be present, such as Governor Casey's against abortion, but if women are to have the same liberties and equal opportunities as men, the law should interpret it to mean that women have access to all reproductive rights (including abortion) if they choose to do so. A governor, a senator, and a president should not step in the way of this, no elected official should. It is the court's job to protect a woman's personal liberties.

One of the main disadvantages of having the Supreme Court determine the scope of reproductive rights for all women is that it gives them huge power for an issue that affects all women in America. Obviously they already have immense power, but with an issue like reproductive rights where it plays a role in all women's lives, including men's as well, the stakes are much higher. A major advantage, however, is that the Supreme Court is made up of a diverse group of judges whose own interpretations present a wide array of dealing with this issue. This diverse background offers an opportunity for all voices to be present in this debate (i.e. the voices of all Americans). The Supreme Court saw the right to choose to abort a fetus in Roe v. Wade as a right to all women of legal age in America, therefore it would be difficult for the court to say that this is not a right anymore, especially if it was the Supreme Court that interpreted it as one.

I would focus on both national legislation and the use of the courts. It is important for all women to understand that they do have a voice in reproductive rights. It would be beneficial to hear from voices that we have not heard before, and view an even wider consensus of this issue. This national legislation would look at the sex education offered to girls in the schools, the options given in each state to a pregnant woman, etc. In terms of the use of courts, it would be an effort to reestablish the court's responsibility to interpret the law, not to block rights and liberties based on opinions. Governor Casey has a right to an opinion in this case, but a stage judge does not. The courts should be reexamined in how they handle reproductive rights, making sure that judges handle the procedures without their own bias or the others around them.

The supposed purpose of the Constitution is to provide guidelines and rules of precedent that serve to further establish people's freedom. If this was the way things worked, if there really was no room for the implementation of "moral code" (Planned Parenthood of southeastern PA v. Casey pp 850) then I would have to lean towards the Supreme Court's use of Constitutional analysis. However, Constitutional scholars, and the Constitution in general, leave room for interpretation which can be made with "reasoned judgment". Although it is said that liberty is a fundamental right, somehow it falls to the Supreme Court to give "substance" to women's liberty. I am quite torn between a preference of legislative bodies, courts, or reliance on Constitutional guidelines. The focus of liberty in these cases is interesting because it accurately represents Roberts' concerns of negative liberty. The most obtrusive argument I see, is within Planned Parenthood. The manipulation of the definition of "undue burden" through each of these cases is troubling but especially here. The Supreme Court has, for the most part, made rulings that incorporate negative liberty. Therefore, as long as state laws do not hinder a women's ability to make a choice to terminate a pregnancy, there is not a legal, substantial obstacle. Within this interpretation then, it is legal to make it near impossible for a woman to have an abortion by means of increased rates or availability of care as neither of these impede on the right of choice (Webster, Attorney General of Missouri, et al. v. Reproductive Health Services et al.). In Planned Parenthood, the heart of liberty is said to be an individuals right to define their own existence, which one would not be able to do if certain things are enforced by the state. By staying out of it, so to speak, the state reinforces one's inability to define their own existence. This sentiment is reflected in Planned Parenthood when Constitutional inquiry is said to be for those who are restricted from a right, not for those who it is irrelevant. It is this usage of irrelevant that I believe is the crux of the problem. Using no analysis, the decision of who is irrelevant, points to the conclusion that the Constitution has just enough holes to be interpreted in any which way. This could be a great tool if the Supreme Court, or people in general, were able to take what the Constitution has to offer and then apply it to the situation at hand. In order for this to work, there would need to be adequate social context applied. Also, a balance between positive and negative liberty would need to be both understood and applied in such a way that the goal is not to hold true to technicalities of the Constitution necessarily, but to do what it proposes; grant liberty to everyone

Week 12 Blog Assignment

This week, we conclude our examination of reproductive rights with several Supreme Court cases. In our discussion on Griswold and Roe, we briefly addressed whether the power to limit the scope of reproductive rights should belong to the courts or to elected government. In your blog post, I would like you to consider this issue further. Keeping in mind the feminist theoretical frameworks that we have used throughout the semester and in particular Dorothy Roberts' discussion of liberty, do you think that women's interests are better protected by elected officials or by constitutional scholars? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the Supreme Court determine the scope of reproductive rights for women throughout the country? If you were setting the agenda for a reproductive rights organization, would you focus on local, state, or national legislation, or would you focus on the use of courts?

Government Hypocrisy

The ideas outlined by Siegel and Hasday on the justifications for government non-involvement in marriage (that it is a private issue, and it's sanctity must not be broken) and birth control (that the government must control the birth habits of women to protect the children) expose a contradictory set of behaviors on the part of the United States Government; respecting privacy part of the time, and disrespecting it at other times. Obviously, there are problems with this approach; it is hypocritical, and establishes a disturbing precedent for governmental behavior. How can the contradictory behavior be justified?

The easiest and simplest answer is hypocrisy on the part of the government; it would not be the first contradictory series of actions the United States has taken, and it will not be the last. A more complex one, however, would be that involuntary birth control is a extension of a already existing system of the government, Child Services. After all, unfit parents have children taken away from them; why not go a further step and prevent the unfit from having children at all? Simply put, involuntary birth control is the logical and dystopian next step along the path of more efficient government.

Week 11: Reproductive Liberty

The contradictory state attitudes exist because the notion of liberty can be construed in different ways. Roberts emphasizes that the idea of liberty as understood by government as a negative rights rather than social justice (295). By adhering to negative liberty, "the government need not be concerned with social practices that create such vague injuries as the devaluation of Black mothers" according to Roberts (295). She then argues that the existing systems of power privileges more affluent classes of society. For instance, government can justify placing conditions on welfare regarding birth control because it still allows welfare mothers to make a choice; they don't have to take welfare. This still takes a negative liberty stance, of not hindering an individual's freedom. This ignoring of social justice in the name of negative liberty gives the impression that government is leaving women alone because it gives them a choice, like the nonintervention of cases of domestic violence.

The seemingly contradictory attitudes exist because liberty is such a complex idea. Liberty can be a way to quantify the amount of privacy one has, especially when looking at it in terms of negative liberty. It can be argued by some, like John Locke, as a negative right, that liberty is quantified by how little constraint is imposed on a person. Liberty as a positive is argued as giving beings rights and benefits so that they can reach their full potential. Marx argued that practically, one can't have one without the other, and that any distinction is specious. Giving one class liberty can take away liberty from another class. Liberty has come to be a very broad buzzword. It's hard for someone to argue that they're against liberty. This makes it easy for liberty to be used in apparently contradictory ways.

Blog 11

At first, these readings do seem to reveal an inherent contradiction within the rhetoric surrounding birth control. Discussions about marriage law frequently utilized the idea of the "private sphere" of the family as a place sacred and outside the realm of government interference. I've read a lot about the way this argument has been used and find it distinctly sexist. The "private sphere", defined as the home and family life, is historically overwhelmingly the place where women labor. By designating it outside the realm of legal interference, law leaves women largely unprotected. Yet this same idea, when applied to birth control, was useful rhetoric in the fight for decriminalizing birth control. The idea of privacy was central in making legal access to both contraceptives and abortion possible.

However, this "privacy" so lauded in rhetoric immediately disappears when the subject of black and impoverished women is considered. I have to think that the reason for the private sphere being held forth as outside interference, and ignored when interference is encouraged, is one and the same. Privacy is only utilized as an effective argument when it serves the interests of the ruling class - generally white, middle and upper class men. Thus privacy is held to be of importance when it shields such men from prosecution for beating or raping their wives, or allows them to seek higher class status by deciding to limit the number of children they have. However, when privacy does not serve the dominant class, it is quickly discarded in the name of important public policy with great social effects.

I think that Robert's distinction is important. She notes in her discussion on liberty that privacy in the discussion of birth control argues that reproductive choice is important enough that people should have the right to make it free from negative government intervention. She extends this idea by commenting that if a choice has such importance, it deserves positive interference allowing it to be accessible by all people.

Blog 11

Like I mentioned in my blog nine post, something becomes public when it begins to harm society. While birth control and the reproductive choices of women are usually considered private, they become public when eugenics is brought into the mix. Margaret Sanger was the first to create and promote birth control for women. At the beginning of her movement for birth control, Sanger focused on women's right to their own bodies and the freedom they should have to decide when to and when not to have children. Later, after World War I, Sanger joins her birth control movement with the eugenics movement. She claimed that birth control could be used for public health, and that it could help serve the nation's interests of "racial betterment" (Roberts 72). Sanger gets more support for her birth control movement once she makes it a public concern. When the "health" of society is at risk, the public becomes more aware of and interested in Sanger's ideas on birth control. She writes that, "as a matter of fact, birth control has been accepted by the most clear thinking and far seeing of the eugenicists themselves as the most constructive and necessary of the means to racial health" (Roberts 75). Eugenicists want to improve society by curtailing the reproduction of groups of people who were thought to have tainted society. These groups included black women and the poor. Since these groups were though to harm society and threaten public health, birth control becomes a public concern instead of a private one.

blog 11 // sanger and roberts

There's a direct conflict approaching birth control, and I don't think there's any value in "choosing" a side. Margaret Sanger appealed to eugenics studies in order to launch birth control into reality. Without that sort of relationship with the eugenics movement, could it have happened? And when? While I'm definitely not saying that it's okay or excusable, it's entirely valid that the progress made was absolutely in part to her connection with eugenics. And, on that note, who was taking advantage of whom? Who directly benefited from Margaret Sanger's work and who was harmed? Can the answer to both questions be African American women?

And when the birth control/abortion movements translate into state regulation, the "benefit" of state intervention is that the state can maintain its power over marriage. As we can see from this and last week's readings, the state fluctuates between boasting privacy and boasting public institution. So we ask, how can the state be so contradictory in it's fundamental approach to marriage? I think that in these cases, the contradictions aren't a concern of the state. That, when it comes down to it, is apart of a feminist analysis. We can, firstly, acknowledge the contradictions, but then move past them into what's really at stake. One of the most important ways that the state deals with or values regulation, is the protection of marriage in it's historicized institution. Meaning, marriages are private so long as they operate the way that the state allows - procreation. So, the punishment of sex within marriage goes against the very foundation of marriage itself. And, just the same, women taking the procreation of marriage in their own control would be a threat to state power. Privacy is only a detail.

Week 11

The state's views on public v private in relation to marital violence and reproductive rights are contradictory only in effect; when in fact they operate on the same belief system. I will use an example from Catharine MacKinnon again to explain this. Her view is that men are concerned with laws that protect against harm; that is harm to men (MacKinnon, Women's Lives, Men's Laws, 2005). So, in fact, the early days of the fight for birth control, which resulted in a eugenics movement, was easily justified by the state for interfering in private affairs. Birth control, which turned into eugenics, initially was aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies and therefore poverty of families who were being pulled down by more children. However, it soon became the plan to save the race. As scientific support grew for this plan, it was easy for the state to involve itself in the interest of enhancing the human population and dissolving those who were degenerate. The loss of good, white people became a threat to the state, who of course were white males, and so had perfect reason to interfere with the private sphere. As Robert discusses the differences between liberty and equality; where liberty is the right to autonomy and equality is the opportunity to have that right. When the government finally intervened in Skinner v. Oklahoma, it was based on the human right to bear children. However, since the government controlled welfare benefits, even though the liberty to voluntarily have children was given, the social inequality did not allow all women to have that liberty. In this situation, the state could interfere because there was a threat of real harm. Also, as the eugenics movement gained more scientific backing, the church lessened their argument that birth control was interfering with god's will. The idea of god's will is also prevalent in marital abuse theories where the concept of man ruling over his wife is justified because of it being god's will (Hasday pp 1405, 2000.). In the end, the state will interfere in private affairs if there is risk of 'tangible' harm (295). Similar to MacKinnon's idea of 'real' harm, this includes things that could impede on men's well-being. Since birth control could decrease more births, specifically unwanted racial births, it could control the outcome of the population. Also, since men abusing their wives does not create any 'tangible' harm, harm to men that is, it remains a private domain where the state must not interfere.

Birth Control: Sanger and Roberts

The history of birth control does have a contradictory past. In the Siegel and Hasday articles we read last week, we saw a history outlined in their articles dating back to the early nineteenth century. Women were claimed, under law, as being a part of a man therefore his property. Even when women were given the right to vote in 1920 and society appeared to be growing from it's traditional roots, women were still encouraged to stay with their abusers. The government urged the continuation and insulation of the family unit, to keep it as one cohesive piece to ensure the American ideal of a family unit. This was done by the loose legal repercussions for perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other sexually violent crimes. In terms of birth control, the government took a great interest and regulatory measures to ensure that a woman's uterus was in their hands and not in her own. These two contradictory state attitudes co-exist because of the government's obsession with the American ideal of a family unit. Not all women should be having children, Dorothy Roberts argues, only white women of certain socioeconomic classes. African American women up until 1989, referenced in her article, were urged to go on birth control and many endured arrests, sterilization, and other violent acts by government officials. Roberts argues that African American women having children does not 'mesh' with the American ideal of a white family. In terms of marital rape and domestic violence, the government will not interfere in order to blatantly ignore it. If a crime is not acknowledged by the government, Siegel discusses, then a perpetrator cannot be held accountable, therefore ensuring the continued belief marriage life is in the private sector and controlled by the patriarchal figure in the household.

In Roberts article, she discusses Sanger's relationship with the eugenics movement and the great contradiction and racism felt by African American women. Sanger believed that birth control was the only way that women could have true freedom (freedom from unwanted pregnancies.) If this was going to be achieved, believed in, and distributed at the rise of Eugenics, then Sanger must make the argument that birth control could better the Eugenics movement if distributed to the races that weigh America down. This helped in the widespread of birth control in America, but left a harsh mark on the African American population as being "unfit" to breed. This relationship that Sanger built, as argued by Roberts, is seen as a triumph for the white birth control movement, but the cause of much racial controversy surrounding birth control today.

Week 11 Blog Assignment

This week, we begin looking at reproductive rights through readings by Margaret Sanger, a pivotal figure in the campaign for developing effective birth control, and Dorothy Roberts, whose book Killing the Black Body describes in detail the racist foundations of the birth control movement and subsequent US government campaigns to control black women's reproduction.
In this week's blog post, I would like to consider connections between last week's readings on marital abuse and this week's readings on reproduction. Siegel and Hasday identify a number of strains of thought that have been used to justify governmental noninterference in marital relationships, and they outline the arguments that 19th and 20th-century feminists used to establish legal recourse for victims of domestic abuse. Yet the history of birth control is a history of government interference in intimate decision-making. So how can these two contradictory state attitudes co-exist? What evidence do Sanger and Roberts provide that might help to explain these simultaneous and apparently contradictory attitudes? It may be helpful to review our readings and discussions from the unit on marriage law.
Suggested Length: 200 words