civil rights

On Indian Land, Criminals Can Get Away With Almost Anything

One of the sticking points on the Violence Against Women Act over the last few months has been the extension of jurisdiction for Native American tribal governments to crimes committed on reservations by non-Indians. This article by Sierra Crane-Murdoch for The Atlantic illustrates some of the challenges officials face when confronting crime on tribal land.

In 1978, the Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish stripped tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian land. If both victim and perpetrator are non-Indian, a county or state officer must make the arrest. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim an enrolled member, only a federally certified agent has that right. If the opposite is true, a tribal officer can make the arrest, but the case still goes to federal court.

Even if both parties are tribal members, a U.S. attorney often assumes the case, since tribal courts lack the authority to sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. The harshest enforcement tool a tribal officer can legally wield over a non-Indian is a traffic ticket.

Trigger warning for rape on the full article, but it’s worth reading up on the complexities of this problem, which the U.S. government has essentially constructed for itself.

Radical Woman of the Day: Hannah Mitchell

On this day in 1872 was born Hannah Webster Mitchell, English suffragist and later, Manchester City Council member and magistrate. Born into a poor family and unable to be formally educated, Mitchell left home at the age of 14 to work as a dressmaker in Bolton, Lancashire, where she got involved in the socialist movement.

Having already grown disillusioned as a child about the role of women in domestic married life, Hanna Webster reluctantly married Gibbon Mitchell when he agreed they would divide the domestic duties equally between them. Gibbon failed to completely live up to this ideal, so Mitchell found herself caring for their son and an orphaned niece while also performing household chores and continuing to work as a seamstress. On top of this, she soon began speaking across the country on behalf of the Women’s Social and Political Union, although she later joined the Women’s Freedom League instead.

Mitchell remained active in the socialist Independent Labour Party throughout this time and participated in the pacifist movement during World War I by volunteering for the Party’s No Conscription Fellowship. In 1924, a few years after women had gained limited enfranchisement, the ILP nominated her to the Manchester City Council. She won the election and served on the council until 1935. Beginning in 1926 she also spent 11 years serving as a magistrate. In 1928, The Representation of the People Act granted voting rights to all women over the age of 21.

Happy 100th Birthday, Revolutionary Rosa Parks

There’s a lot I didn’t know about Rosa Parks. For example:

Throughout the 1940s, Parks and her husband, Raymond hosted Alabama Voter League meetings at which they urged members of their community to spurn intimidation and register to vote. Parks herself successfully registered to vote on her third attempt in 1945. Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943 and, as secretary, took advantage of her activist networks to continue to fight for gender and racial equality.

Certainly debunks that whole “She was just tired” nonsense.

"The Best Interests of Prostitutes"

This profile of a Polk County, Florida Sheriff at The Daily Beast bothers me. It paints the man, Grady Judd, as an unorthodox but well-intentioned demi-hero because he rigorously enforces prostitution laws and frequently posts pictures of the arrested johns online. Witness this glowing excerpt:

Now, despite criticism that his stings wrongly target consensual adults, Judd is happy that his operation has become a national model. More and more communities have been conducting such sweeps, often publicizing the names of johns and prostitutes on the Web, as Judd does. (See here, for example.)

“People say you shouldn’t mess with prostitutes, but they don’t know about some of the mean, nasty folks who try to procure them,” Judd says in his own defense. “We save girls’ lives because they were arrested by us and there wasn’t some weirdo who killed them.”

If you click through to the example, you’ll see that Judd does indeed post pictures not only of johns but of prostitutes. How does that help those women? By exposing them as sex workers, a group many already despise? By shaming them for engaging in sex for money? Or, alternatively, if the Sheriff believes these women engage in prostitution against their will, does posting their mug shots help them break free of forced labor? I just can’t think of any benefit to be gained for prostitutes by posting their images online.

Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that even posting the johns’ mug shots online constitutes a violation of their civil rights, but I suppose that varies from county to county and state to state. I can, though, at least make a devil’s argument for the social good this might do. I can’t say the same thing about posting the prostitute’s pictures.

Also, I do not submit to this idea that prostitutes are better off being outed publicly by the Sheriff’s department because this definitely prevents them from returning to sex work and ultimately being murdered by a “weirdo”. Let’s see some data, Judd.

Iowa Court: Your Boss Can Fire You For Being Hot

Yesterday the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of James Knight, a dentist who fired Melissa Nelson, his dental assistant, because he found her so sexually attractive that it was causing problems with his wife. Katy Waldman of XX Factor wishes she could disagree:

On a legal level, though, Knight’s defense appears pretty airtight. His lawyers bat away the charge of gender discrimination by claiming that their client let Nelson go not because she was a woman, but because her ineffable attractiveness threatened his marriage. This is lame, but valid in the eyes of the law: Bosses are allowed to fire workers for stupid emotional/family reasons, such as to mollify one’s wife or eliminate nest-wrecking temptations. In his decision, Justice Edward Mansfield observes that Knight replaced Nelson with another female staff member, which would imply his motives were not purely sexist.

Waldman speculates that Nelson could have grounds for a harassment suit against Knight, and that would certainly be more satisfying. She’s quite right, though: as much as blaming a hot girl for your troubled marriage stinks of privilege and slut-shaming, being hot is not a protected status.

♀ The Passionate Journey

Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone

This is the fourth post in my chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Feminine Mystique, as I read the book for the first time in an effort to educate myself about the roots of modern feminism. You can read the other posts here.

I peeked ahead at this chapter while I was reviewing the previous chapter, so I knew in advance that Betty Friedan was not yet ready to begin directly addressing the problems of her day. In “The Passionate Journey” she re-tells in brief some of the stories of the first-wave feminists.

Easily the most entrancing chapter of the book for me (so far), chapter 4 gives me a history lesson during my history lesson, beginning in 1848 at the first Woman’s Rights Convention. The list of woman’s grievances against man, formulated at the convention, reads long and takes deliberate cues from the Declaration of Independence. Its claims amount to not a repression or diminishing but a dehumanizing of women. (Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique. Norton & Company, 1997, pp. 84–85)

He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of which she has no voice… He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right to property, even to the wages she earns… He closes against her all the avenues of wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself… He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account to man. He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God. He has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

No wonder relatively ordinary women felt compelled to rise up and demand redress, with no property rights, no right to education, no right to vote, and a double standard of morality that condemned as heinous in women that which was tolerated in men. (84) Friedan easily dispels the notion that the early feminists were man-eaters or man-haters; the majority of the movement’s leaders loved and married, and they fought to achieve personhood for woman, not the overthrow of man. (82) In rejecting the model of femininity dictated to them by society, though, they reshaped themselves in such a way as to be unrecognizable to the patriarchy of the day, which vilified and mischaracterized them to a degree that in hindsight seems laughable: “red harlot of infidelity”, “woman a thousand times below a prostitute”, “unnatual monsters”. (86–87)

Their actual character reads differently. Lucy Stone, whom opponents described as “a big, masculine woman, wearing boots, smoking a cigar, swearing like a troooper”, was actually small, soft-spoken, and conventionally-dressed. Although she resisted marriage for a long time, it was not through bitterness or even lack of opportunity, but from fear of losing herself as a person. Pursued across the country by Henry Blackwell (whose name she never took), she refused at first to marry him even while admitting she loved him, but at their wedding, the minister said, “The heroic Lucy cried like any village bride.” (89)

Stone put herself through Oberlin College by saving up the $1.00 a week she earned over the course of nine years by teaching. Even there she was not permitted to speak in public, so she practiced on her own out in the woods. (88) Likewise, Elizabeth Blackwell fought an uphill battle to become a woman doctor, pushing to participate in dissection of the human reproductive system despite her gender—although she then, rather paradoxically, elected not to walk in the procession at commencement “because it would not be ladylike”. (96) Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton received their education courtesy of benevolent fathers. Mary Wollstonecraft and Ernestine Rose sought out prominent philosophers of their day. (93) The education denied to them became—once they had forced their way into it—a tool used to liberate themselves and others.

This advantage highlights the most important lesson I took away from this chapter: the importance of privilege in obtaining equality. Although many of these women bootstrapped their way into their education and all faced cultural barriers to its completion, some had money that assisted them. And nearly all the pioneers of feminism Friedan mentions were white women; in fact, many of the earliest to join the movement had also worked as abolitionists. (89, 92)

The call to that first Woman’s Rights Convention came about because an educated woman, who had already participated in shaping society as an abolitionist, came face to face with the realities of a housewife’s drudgery and isolation in a small town. Like the college graduate with six children in the suburb of today, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, moved by her husband to the small town of Seneca Falls, was restless in a life of baking, cooking, sewing, washing and caring for baby. (92–93)

Of course, the early feminists would have achieved nothing without hard work and perseverance, but many started with the privileges that accompanied being white, educated, and comparatively wealthy. Without these privileges, the movement may have taken decades longer to achieve its goals, as no more privileged group came to their aid the way they came to the aid of the slaves.

Furthermore, women ultimately depended on men to enact the legislation that would give them the rights they so fiercely sought, just as the slaves depended on the whites in power to emancipate them from their owners. Short of bloodshed, every oppressed people group must persuade their oppressors to stop oppressing them. They can hold rallies, preach sermons, sign petitions, even engage in civil disobedience—effectively, annoying those in power until they give in (or at least listen with an open mind). But the privileged group have the final word, until they voluntarily give up their privilege and proactively enact equality for those they formerly dominated.

As a person born with the privileges of being male, cisgendered, straight, white, educated, comparatively wealthy, and a member of the dominant religion of our culture, I need to always remember this.

Syracuse Passes Transgender Nondiscrimination Legislation

According to [the New York Civil Liberties Union], with the passage of this legislation in Syracuse, every major city in New York State has now passed similar nondiscrimination legislation protecting the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Maybe the tide is ever-so-gradually turning.

Russian PM Calls for Pussy Riot to Be Freed

(Potentially) good news. I don’t think this demonstrates belated concern for civil rights, though, and neither does the AP:

By being the one to call for the women’s release, Medvedev, who has cultivated the image of a more liberal leader, could allow Putin to put the uncomfortable case behind him while not appearing weak.

Via The Mary Sue.