The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique

By David Kairys | Go to book overview

NADINE TAUB AND ELIZABETH M. SCHNEIDER


15
WOMEN'S SUBORDINATION AND THE ROLE OF LAW

THE Anglo-American legal tradition purports to value equality, by which it means, at a minimum, equal application of the law to all persons. Nevertheless, throughout this country's history, women have been denied the most basic rights of citizenship, allowed only limited participation in the market place, and otherwise denied access to power, dignity, and respect. Women have instead been largely occupied with providing the personal and household services necessary to sustain family life.

The work women perform in the domestic sphere is barely acknowledged, let alone valued. Institutional arrangements that preclude women's economic and sexual autonomy ensure that this work will be done primarily by women. Often, though not always, these institutions are expressed in legal form.

This chapter explores two aspects of the law's role in maintaining women in an inferior status. It first considers the way the law has furthered male dominance by explicitly excluding women from the public sphere and by refusing to regulate the domestic sphere to which they are thus confined. It then examines the way the law has legitimized sex discrimination through the articulation of an ideology that justifies differential treatment on the basis of perceived differences between men and women.


THE LEGAL ORDER AND THE PUBLIC/PRIVATE SPLIT

Excluded in the past from the public sphere of marketplace and government, women have been consigned to a private realm to carry on their primary responsibilities, i.e., bearing and rearing children, and providing

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