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No Constitutional Right to be Ladies by…

No Constitutional Right to be Ladies

by Linda K. Kerber

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A really fascinating look at women's history in the United States from the late eighteenth century through to the nineties, framed not in terms of the struggle to gain equal rights, but in terms of the struggle to gain equal obligations under the law--whether to vote, to serve on juries, to fight on the front lines in combat situations, etc.

Meticulously researched and cogently argued, Kerber looks at how the refusal to legislate for women's obligations within these spheres had a negative impact on their ability to exercise what rights they did have, and on the movement to gain equal rights. It gave me a number of tools with which to re-evaluate the fields of women's history I've already studied, and gave me a basic education in American women's history, which I was only vaguely acquainted with before; not to mention that it made my jaw drop a number of times in sheer disbelief. I found the comparisons between the civil rights movement and the feminist movement to be especially interesting; how advocates from the two separate movements (or both) learned to identify with one another, their points of commonality and their differences with one another.

Highly, highly recommended if you have any interest at all in this area of history. Don't let the fact that it focuses on constitutional law put you off; normally, legal history ranks only slightly above economic history with me for topics to switch me off, and I still sped through this and wished for more ( )
  siriaeve | Apr 26, 2008 |
Kerber is the May Brodbeck Professor of History at the University of Iowa. In this book, she discusses how the history of the struggle for women's rights has been just as much a history of the struggle for the obligations of citizenship. By denying that women had such obligations as jury service, paying taxes, etc., men succeeded for a long time in treating women as second-class citizens.

An interesting, and not sufficiently considered, view.
  lilithcat | Oct 19, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0809073846, Paperback)

In the second half of the 20th century, "rights talk," characteristic of political and legal discourse in the United States, has been forcefully invoked by minorities and women in their respective quests for equal treatment under the law. In No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies, University of Iowa history professor Linda K. Kerber looks at the other side of the rights equation: the issue of obligations. Kerber argues that while men's rights have been bought by their obligations to public service, for women the obligations were to family. Absolution from public service--the constitutional right to be "ladies"--has clear roots in the principle of coverture, by which a woman's legal identity is absorbed by a man's, be it her father, husband, or other protector. This, Kerber writes, is not a boon for women. Women have always had obligations, she notes, it is merely "the forms and objects of demand" that have differed, and disparities between the obligations of men and women have affected women's qualitative ability to exercise rights, such as trial by a jury of one's peers. Kerber presents a series of narratives focusing on particular women whose situations became catalysts for political and legal change and the women, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped effect those transformations. No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies is engrossing reading for layperson and scholar alike. --Julia Riches

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:11 -0400)

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