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  • Donald V. Watkins

America’s Ugly Treatment of Women

Updated: Sep 28, 2018


By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on September 23, 2018


Next week, eleven male Republicans members of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee will decide the fate of Brett Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge who has been nominated by President Donald J. Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation has become obsessed with whether these Republican Senators, who control the Committee, will treat Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor at the center of a decades-old sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh, with the dignity and respect Dr. Ford deserves when testifying before the Committee about this matter.


Based upon the history of how men in power have mistreated women in America for hundreds of years, the answer is clearly and loudly, “No”. Any doubt about this matter must factor in the current political environment in Washington that rewards chauvinistic behavior in a profound way.


Trump, who calls women “dogs” and “pigs” and who was captured on an audiotape describing how he grabs women by the “pussy”, was elected as President even though he has no respect for women. Now, Trump is leading the charge for Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation. 


Remember, Trump also actively supported former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a reputed pedophile, in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat last year. Moore was accused of molesting young girls while he was serving as a local prosecutor, but this did not deter Trump from supporting him.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has promised to “plow right through” Dr. Ford’s sexual assault claims in order to get Kavanaugh confirmed. McConnell does not care if Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, or whether Kavanaugh has lied about his version of the incident.


Republican Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), John Cornyn (Texas), Michael S. Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Mike Crapo (Indiana), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), and John Kennedy (Louisiana) will supposedly weigh the credibility of Kavanaugh and Ford in a "rigged" hearing that is clearly stacked against Dr. Ford. They will then decide Kavanaugh’s fate.


Mitch McConnell’s statement strongly suggests that the Committee's hearing will be a farce and that Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a done deal. Additionally, McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, works as Trump’s Secretary of Transportation. McConnell must deliver the Supreme Court judgeship to Kavanaugh, by any means necessary, in order for Chao to stay in good standing with Trump.


Senator Ted Cruz is the last person American women should depend on to champion their right to fair treatment in the era of Donald Trump. When Trump attacked Cruz’ wife and her physical appearance during the 2016 presidential election, Cruz refused to defend her honor. Cruz never made Trump apologize for his unnecessary personal attack on Heidi Cruz. Instead, Ted Cruz folded like a spineless coward and reminded America that “a man who will not fight for his family will not fight for anybody else.”


The Republican Attitude Toward Women is a Present-Day Vestige of Centuries of Legally Sanctioned Abuse


The treatment of women in the United States is best gauged by tracking the status of their rights in the United States Constitution, its 27 Amendments, and centuries of case law.


The Constitution was written on September 17, 1787, presented on September 28, 1787, and ratified on June 21, 1788 by white men for the benefit of white men. Women and slaves in America were regarded as the “property” of white men. Neither group had any rights that were protected in the Constitution.


The first ten amendments to the Constitution (known as the Bill of Rights) were intended to recognize and protect the individual rights of white men. Women and blacks were excluded from the basic protections afforded in the Bill of Rights.


It was well recognized that there was a "race exception" to the Constitution. For the first 78 years after it was ratified, the Constitution actually protected slavery and legalized racial subordination. Instead of Constitutional rights, slaves were governed by "slave codes" that controlled every aspect of their lives. They had no access to the rule of law. They could not go to court, make contracts, or own any property. They could be whipped, branded, imprisoned without trial, and hanged. In the 1857 Dred Scott case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "[Blacks] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."


It took a civil war from April 12, 1861 to May 13, 1865 before additional amendments to the Constitution would give slaves and their descendants the full rights of citizenship -- at least on paper. In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. In 1868, the 14th Amendment guaranteed to African-Americans the right of due process and equal protection of the law. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave blacks the right to vote. It would take a century of social activism before any of these rights would be effectively enforced. In 1964, the 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax requirement for blacks voting in federal elections.


Like blacks, women in America were subjugated to second-class citizenship, or worse, for centuries. For example, a married man had the right to beat his wife as long as the stick he used was a “switch about the size of one of his fingers (but not as large as his thumb) and it did not leave permanent injuries on her.” This right was protected in Alabama until October 6, 1871 when the Alabama Supreme Court declared such wife-beating conduct unlawful in the case of Fulgham v. the State of Alabama.


Prior to Fulgham, a husband enjoyed the right to: (a) beat his wife with a stick, (b) pull her hair, (c) choke her, (d) spit in her face, (d) kick her about the floor, and (e) inflict upon her like indignities that were sanctioned in the old English common law (which served as the foundation for American laws). In addition to his ability to physically abuse his wife, a husband also acquired the rights to his wife's person, the value of both her paid and unpaid labor, and any property that accompanied their nuptials.


Women did not get the right to vote in America until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Furthermore, women only acquired the right to equal pay for performing the same jobs held by men in 1963.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Fair Housing Act of 1968, were passed for the benefit of male and female African-Americans. Other women of color benefitted from these Acts of Congress, as well.


Sexual Assaults Were Authorized in Law


For centuries, English common law held that it was not legally possible for a man to rape his wife. In 1736, Sir Matthew Hale -- the prominent jurist who established the legal principle that it was hard to prove a rape accusation involving a woman whose personal life wasn’t entirely “innocent” (i.e., a woman’s past sexual experiences could be used by the defense in a rape case) -- explained that the state of marriage constituted permanent consent to a man's sexual desires that could not be retracted.


From 1736 to 1979, this sexist legal principle allowed married men in America to rape their wives with impunity and without legal consequences.


The vestiges of this male sexual privilege in American history still linger today. Rape and sexual assault victims are routinely demeaned, trashed, and re-victimized through mean-spirited attacks on their character. Many law enforcement agencies routinely disrespect these victims when they are reporting sexual assaults (as was the case involving University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini in 2015). These victims are often marginalized in the political arena when their sexual assault incidents get in the way of regressive chauvinistic agendas, as is the case with the Kavanaugh-Ford Senate Committee hearing.


In the end, the men who trample the rights of American women in the blind pursuit of political power and partisan tribalism will stain the lives of their female progeny. Whether they realize it or not, these men will make the women in their bloodline carry a badge of shame for generations.


PHOTO: Professor Christine Blasey Ford (left) and Brett Kavanaugh (right) are at the center of a high-stakes sexual assault accusation that has clouded Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.