Friday, August 14, 2015

Equality Under the Law

Yesterday, I found something I thought I'd never find, thanks to a post at The Weekly Sift about same sex marriage. I found Kirchberg v. Feenstra, the 1981 U.S. Supreme Court case that established the unconstitutionality of a Louisiana Head and Master law which gave sole control of marital property to the husband. As a result of this Supreme Court ruling, men and women became legal equals.

REALLY?!  Legal equals? Then why hasn't the Equal Rights Amendment been passed and adopted? How many states still have marriage laws on the books that still make a woman her husband's property (the same for their kids)?  Louisiana eliminated its Head and Master law in 1980. One small step for humankind.

Each of us have numerous examples of marriage from our parents, grandparents, other relatives, and all their married friends. I grew up in a traditional patriarchal family in which the father was the ruler, males were valued higher than females, and the men believed that the women must be kept under their control and not allowed much freedom.  As I went through adolescence and attended college, I looked at this conception of marriage as being destructive to relationship -- bad for both the man and the woman, but especially for the woman because she had no rights except what the man granted her under his control. My mother was happy, though. She valued stability and security, and was content to have her husband think for her, make the big decisions, and control family life. I also watched my mother masterfully manipulate my father in order to get what she wanted at times. I listened to them bicker and argue daily. My father was right even when he was wrong, and he always got his way. It was rare indeed for him to acknowledge my mother's knowledge and wisdom from her own life experience.

My father, the Boss
To me, my parents' marriage was not at all what I wanted for myself. Men are just as fallible as women.  They don't know everything, and frankly they have no right to control others. I have met so many men over the years who continue to believe in the outdated patriarchal version of marriage and relationship who told me to my face that I was wrong if I believed that I had rights and was not a man's property to control and do with what he wished. Bulls**t. So, a long time ago, I decided two things: first, I did not want children; and second, since I didn't want children, I had no reason to get married, and I didn't want to get married anyway.  Marriage, to me, was a truly terrible thing for women.

These decisions did not mean that I was against relationship, dating, friendship and companionship. I think men have a lot to bring to a relationship, and working together, men and women could accomplish a great deal in sharing a life by accepting and respecting their differences and strengths and weaknesses. Rather than allowing differences to separate us, we need to allow them to bring us together, to use them.  While women have been working since the late 1960's for equality and acceptance as humans, not as a man's property, men have not been working nearly as much on their beliefs about women and about themselves.  So, again, how many states still have marriage laws on the books that still make a woman her husband's property (the same for their kids)? 

U.S. Supreme Court
We are clearly in the grips of social change regarding the institution of marriage. Making same sex marriage legal nationally is only one step in that process. Heterosexual marriage also needs to change in ways that I'm certain Conservatives and Evangelicals would be totally against.  So these groups of men need first to finally see the reality of women: they are multi-dimensional human beings, intelligent, curious, knowledgeable, experienced, capable, independent, and equal to men...legally and as human beings.

I believe that there are men who have changed their beliefs about women, and there are married couples who have forged their marriages based on equality.  They are still a minority.  They need to be more vocal, however, more of a presence in our society, so that men who have not changed their beliefs can see what life will be like for them. Women need to be a lot more patient with men, too, helpful rather than judgmental, but firm and determined in their work for equality. Clearly, a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is not yet enough to establish gender equality in this country....


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I didn't know that men and women were established as legal equals. I spent a lot of time promoting the Equal Rights Amendment and feeling disappointed when it didn't get ratified by enough states to take effect as the law of the land. If only I'd known!

My father respected my mother and her wisdom, so he set a good example for me and my siblings. But I am reminded often that not everyone was, or is, so fortunate.

Gina said...

We need to continue talking up the ERA, women as legal equals, and women as capable humans who have a lot to contribute to the world. We are truly in a transition period and I think men may be feeling threatened by the women's movement when they really don't need to. It's just they had it so great before! Of course they're not going to want to give up the power and control and all the benefits they had. I think it'd be a real growth moment for them, though.

Thanks for stopping buy and taking time to comment, Nancy. Hope you'll return often!