“Women are vulnerable and, therefore, are in need of men’s protection,” identify Rebecca J. Cook and Simone Cusack in Gender Stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives as one of the principle rationalization and justification of ‘patriarchal rights’ advocates within courts and societies around the world.
This belief (or state of affairs) begs the question of – ‘protection’ from what, and/or from whom? Do these women need ‘protection’ from pervasive physical violence in our homes and communities; widespread exploitation in our homes and communities; extensive oppression in our homes and communities – or all three?
Why after over 50 years of a global women’s rights movement, and ‘commitments’ from governments across the globe to eradicate discrimination and violence against women, are women still in need of ‘protection’ from violence, exploitation and oppression?
Governments across the globe have passed progressive legislation and allocated billions of dollars in funding; NGO’s promoting the status and socio-economic needs of women have popped up in every corner of the earth; and some of the world’s most powerful international organizations (U.N., World Bank, IMF, to name a few) are stridently advocating for equality of women within the private and public sphere.
However, when one starts scratching the surface of programs, policies, and rhetoric, positive results have been sporadic and piecemeal at best. Reproductive rights of women have gone two-steps forward/one-step backwards in the past decades, women still only earn 32-77¢ on the $1 compared to men, and rampant discrimination against women is still pervasive in professions and industries across the board.
Additionally, even when women work outside the home they still must, as Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Second Shift, says “juggle three spheres – job, children, and housework—while most men (of the only 20% who participate equally within the home) juggle two – job and children... [And,] since most parents prefer to tend to their children than clean house, men do more of what they’d rather do. More men than women take their children on “fun” outings to the park, the zoo, the movies. Women spend more time on maintenance, such as feeding and bathing children, enjoyable activities to be sure, but often less leisurely or “special” than going to the zoo. Men also do fewer of the “undesirable” household chores; fewer wash toilets and scrub bathrooms.”
And, in terms of combating domestic abuse and oppression of women within the home and marriage, the progress is just as bleak, if not bleaker. Media outlets around the world are filled with stories of ‘kamikaze/run-amuck’ ex-husband’s and fathers, killing women and children, and then themselves; with little, to no, accountability of judicial actors who have turned a blind-eye to the plight of these victims (often for years on end) – and even less accountability for the public authorities who are responsible for assuring that judicial actors do their jobs with a minimum of integrity and diligence.
As Anne Stevenson states in her article, Do high ticket divorce and custody fights attract Court corruption? “One might expect corrupt child-custody decisions to come from corrupt patriarchies like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, yet the American courts are also known to run illicit businesses, placing children into the hands of predators, pedophiles and murderers.” Stevenson and Lisa Y.S. West, Esq., go on to explain that “unethical family court professionals misuse their influence and inbred professional networks to collaboratively create problems for family court litigants that [only] they themselves can be paid to solve,” in their article Usher Raymond vs. Tameka Raymond: Divorce court favors money, power and influence.
Another well-known advocate for family court reform is Univ. of Maryland Carey Law School Professor Leigh Goodmark, and author of A Trouble Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System. In her book, Goodmark explains that “dominance feminists, led by law professor Catharine MacKinnon, contended that male domination of women in the sexual sphere was the primary vehicle for women’s continued subordination, [and these feminists] were surprisingly willing to rely on the law and on the men charged with enforcing the law – police, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges – to protect women from societal expressions of male dominance. Dominance feminists seemed to assume that state intervention on behalf of women would yield a net positive result, and, in keeping with that belief, turned to the state to fights women’s subordination… The belief that the legal system is best placed to respond to domestic violence has become a cultural norm. That norm, in turn, has created expectations that women will use the legal system and that the system will provide women with the protection and support that they need.”
Unfortunately, what dominance feminists saw as the ‘protectors’ were in reality ‘wolves in sheep clothing,’ and whose ‘collective mentality’ still see domestic violence as “a system of societal norms that grant men dominion over their homes and everything within them, including their families, norms that tacitly [give] men the ability, if not the right, to use physical violence to maintain control over their possessions. [Their] deeply held beliefs about the state’s powerlessness to intervene in private family matters [has] enabled men to abuse their wives with impunity.”
As long as this mentality is allowed to flourish and grow within the courts, and all the way up to the highest echelons of governments, women will indeed remain “vulnerable” and in need of “protection.” But, their need for protection comes as much from the ‘wolves’ within their home, as the ‘wolves in sheep clothes’ who are responsible for ‘guarding the hen house.’