When I was in law school one of our writing assignments was to analyze the legality of a statute allowing men to rape their wives. The statute didn’t encourage it, but it excluded non-consensual sexual intercourse between a husband and wife from the criminal code, presumably because wives — not spouses mind you — were chattel at common law with negligible rights. How can property own anything or seek any remedy or redress? Old case law exists that allowed them to provide physical correction to wives, like one would give to a child. More recently, in Kentucky, women couldn’t own credit in their own names before 1972.
While every state now has statutes that generally define non-consensual, forcible sex as rape and physical and sexual violence as punishable civilly and criminally as domestic violence, the perception of women as property, as a sub-class that requires male governance, survives intact.
Locally, House Bill 269, pending in the House Judiciary Committee, would extend the waiting period for people with minor children to divorce to one year from 60 days. It would require counseling, in addition to the already mandatory attendance of the families in a transition program. The bill’s similarity to abortion waiting periods with counseling requirements cannot be denied. In each circumstance, a woman has made an extremely personal decision, presumably in her best interest, about the course of her future and her capacity for a family, and has spent sleepless nights agonizing over what to do. The legislature, under the guise of “pro-family” or “pro-life” doesn’t trust her ability to self-govern, and decides it will substitute its judgment about her body and her life and her finances for her, mostly because it can.
Until women refuse to recognize themselves as anything less than fully-realized people, laws may grant rights to them, but they face an uneven power structure. Husbands can’t legally beat their wives, but who needs a stick when women act against their own best interest to maintain paternalism as our dominant American structure of governance?
When news broke that Chief of Staff John Kelly praised the integrity and leadership of President Trump’s former Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned over allegations that he beat two ex-wives, I wasn’t surprised. I would like to believe Porter’s resignation shows the White House recognizes domestic violence as a scourge, but Trump’s tweets about whatever he believes due process is belie it.
We have seen the denial and apologist dynamic play out in our backyard over the last several months with the sexual harassment allegations against state Rep. Jeff Hoover and sex abuse allegations against now deceased state Rep. Dan Johnson and sexual harassment allegations against the other Dan Johnson, the council member. At least Porter resigned. We aren’t as lucky in Kentucky when abuse is revealed, sadly. The accused dig in, rather than bow out.
Sexual harassment, domestic violence and rape are illegal, but if the culture lauds the abuser’s redeeming qualities, does the domestic abuser label even matter? Apparently not to White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who is dating Porter. That some men still believe women are chattel is one thing. That some women perpetuate the belief remains the eighth wonder of the world.
Let’s not ignore people who think women are property, but focus instead on what a woman in her power looks like: A quick review of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi defending Dreamers, Wendy Davis defending Planned Parenthood on the Texas statehouse floor, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren taking Trump the Twit to task on Twitter, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters reclaiming her time and, of course, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enduring 11 hours of Benghazi testimony without so much as breaking a sweat.
Do they look like women who need protection or direction from anybody?
For the sake of systemic change, do us all a favor and resist the temptation to apologize for subjugation and paternalism in all its forms — and girl, don’t date it!
Refuse to compartmentalize evil acts because the actor “has integrity,” or is from a good family or graduated cum laude.
Don’t be complicit in a culture that strips autonomy from those perfectly suited to make decisions in their own interest. In this, the Age of Alt-Reason, hold everyone accountable for everything. It’s the only way we come out of this with our humanity intact.