Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Quote of the Day: On Benevolently Sexist Laws

"Amici are historians of the United States, whose research focuses on the lives of women. This brief, based on decades of study and research by amici, aims to provide accurate historical perspective on laws claiming to protect women. From their vantage point as historians, amici wish to point out the constraints on women’s liberty and equality in laws that purport to protect women, by sketching the long history of such laws and showing that intentions to protect had the effect of restricting women’s choices and undermining their dignity as full citizens."
- via the Brief (PDF) submitted by historians in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, contesting a Texas law designed to shut down most health clinics that provide abortion services in the state. 

If you have time to read it all, it's a worthwhile account of the US legal system's history of paternalistic "benevolent sexism" toward women. Examples cited include coverture, by which a woman's legal identity was incorporated into her husband's, and women's exclusion from political and occupational spheres.... for their own benefit.

Such laws often relied on arguments that stated, in various ways, that women (weak, dependent, intellectually incompetent) were as a class "opposite" of men (strong, autonomous, intellectually competent). This framing of the genders was taken, as it is still often is, as a commonsense truth that barely required proof.

Similarly, the Texas law at issue in the above case purports to protect the health and welfare of women seeking abortions in the state, and recounting the history of such paternalism, the brief ultimately argues that such laws ought to be carefully scrutinized "to assess whether its ostensibly protective function actually serves to deny liberty and equal citizenship to women."

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