Are Women Equal or Frail Creatures Who Must Be Sheltered?

Article excerpt

After having sex with her husband, who then fell asleep, the Denver woman, who was having an extramarital affair at the time and had recently taken out a large life insurance policy on her husband, shot him. She then disordered the house to suggest that the killer had been a burglar, and went to a disco with her sister.

Her conviction was a setback for Lenore Walker, who testified as an expert witness that the woman's behavior was consistent with the "battered woman syndrome." Walker says a battered woman is one "repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights" (emphasis added). Concerning another case, in which the woman initiated the assault, throwing a glass at the husband's head and hitting him with a chair, Walker says the husband "had been battering her by ignoring her and by working late."

Such troubling cases are cited by Michael Weiss and Cathy Young in their study "Feminist Jurisprudence: Equal Rights or Neo-Paternalism?" published by the Cato Institute, Washington's libertarian think tank. Weiss, a law professor associated with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Young, vice president of the Women's Freedom Network, argue that feminist jurisprudence is portraying women as perpetual victims in need of dispensations that seem to ratify some unflattering stereotypes. These include the neo-Victorian notion that women are frail, easily unhinged and perhaps having a single sensibility.

The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman can sue an employer for sexual harassment if she experienced a "hostile work environment." Although Weiss and Young are uneasy about intrusive government "regulating the comfort level of the workplace," obviously hostile environments exist and should be actionable. But some feminists insist that harassment be defined as any behavior or "environment" that causes any woman "discomfort. …