Women and the U.S. Constitution is about much more than the nineteenth amendment. This provocative volume incorporates law, history, political theory, and philosophy to analyze the U.S. Constitution as a whole in relation to the rights and fate of women. Divided into three parts—History, Interpretation, and Practice—this book views the Constitution as a living document, struggling to free itself from the weight of a two-hundred-year-old past and capable of evolving to include women and their concerns.
Feminism lacks both a constitutional theory as well as a clearly defined theory of political legitimacy within the framework of democracy. The scholars included here take significant and crucial steps toward these theories. In addition to constitutional issues such as federalism, gender discrimination, basic rights, privacy, and abortion, Women and the U.S. Constitution explores other issues of central concern to contemporary women—areas that, strictly speaking, are not yet considered a part of constitutional law. Women’s traditional labor and its unique character, and women and the welfare state, are two examples of topics treated here from the perspective of their potentially transformative role in the future development of constitutional law.
The usage of the term male chauvinist, commonly thought to have arisen in the late 1960s, is tracked in the New York Times from 1851 to 1999 using the Pro- Quest Historical Newspapers online archive, along with feminist, another revivified word, and the new coinages sexist and sexual harassment. Male chauvinist reveals the characteristic pattern of a vogue word in its relatively swift rise and slower decline, while the other words, once introduced or reintroduced, have a more sustained trajectory. A comparison through survey research of male chauvinist with sexist reveals greater cross-class and cross-race usage of male chauvinist.
The spread of the term “male chauvinist,” coined in the United States around 1934, reveals the crucial work done in a social movement — in this case the second wave of American feminism — by what we call “everyday activists.” Everyday activists may not interact with the world of formal politics, but they take actions in their own lives to redress injustices that a contemporary social movement has made salient. The interplay between organized and everyday activists creates an evolutionary dynamic of “organized activist variation” and “everyday activist selection.” Organized activists in tightly-knit and protected enclaves (such as those in the American Communist Party in the 1930s or the feminist movement in the late 1960s) produce a cornucopia of counter-hegemonic concepts. Everyday activists then select the concepts they will use, primarily for the purpose of persuasion, in everyday talk.
To understand backlash theoretically, we must first carve out an analytically useful term from the cluster of its common political associations. In colloquial usage, “backlash” denotes politically conservative reactions to progressive (or liberal) social or political change (Faludi 1991 is a classic in this vein). Here, however, we attempt a nonideological definition of backlash embedded in a more neutral approach to its study. In colloquial usage, backlash includes acts of genuine persuasion as well as of power. Here, however, we suggest that it may be analytically helpful to confine its meaning to acts of coercive power. We draw on the sociological literature on social movements and countermovements, as well as the political science literature on power, preferences, and interests. We focus mostly on examples drawn from the United States and relating to feminism and gender. We begin where the process of backlash itself begins, with power and a challenge to the status quo.
Increasing the number of women in positions of political power is top priority for women’s movements and for governments around the world. Activists, international institutions, and national governments have come to see gender quota laws as the best way to achieve this goal. In the past 15 years, more than 40 countries have adopted measures that require a certain number of those running for or holding legislative office to be women. Political science research on this topic has hewn closely to empirical questions about this phenomenon: Under what conditions do countries adopt gender quota laws? What impact do they have on the percentage of women elected to office? What difference do “quota women” make once elected? This debate, by contrast, focuses on normative questions about gender quota laws. Are quotas a good idea? Should more countries adopt them? Should the United States consider them? We have invited leading scholars to step back from the more cautious findings of their research to tell us what they really think
Feminist strategies that neglect or consistently deplore state action cannot accomplish what women need – because individuals need collectives such as states to solve collective action problems and to move toward more just social arrangements. Strategies that rely heavily on women's differences from men also cannot accomplish what women need – because women are like men in many ways relevant to individual and collective action. Despite these truths, social movements also need some strategies of action that work separately from and sometimes against the state. Moreover, strategies that accentuate the differences between oppressed and oppressing bring needed energy to a movement. The best overall strategy is, therefore, to realize that both states and difference theories are dangerous weapons, and proceed with caution.