The Women’s Amendment

I’ve been thinking a lot about the third amendment lately. In case you don’t have a stainless-steel, Electronic Frontier Foundation-issued Bill of Rights on your desk, here’s the text:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

I love this amendment because it is the only one in the U.S. Constitution which explicitly protects the traditionally female sphere of the the home.

Now, the last time I learned about the public/private sphere dichotomy as a lens for understanding historical gender roles was 9 years about in Dr Cavanaugh’s English class. We were reading The Odysseyand trying to figure out why Penelope’s weaving and cooking and household management were treated in the same way as the poet at Odysseus’s sword fighting and governing and wartime diplomacy. (Short answer: because women have always been valuable and important.)

The public/private sphere dichotomy isn’t just useful for interpreting ancient Greek epics: it can be a key to a lot of coded misogyny. When someone belittles of private sphere activities like weaving and cooking and household management (what a charmingly-over-educated friend calls “restorative household maintenance”), that person is belittling women. When a person argues only those jobs which are traditionally public sphere–having to do with sword fighting and governing and wartime diplomacy–are valuable and respectable  that person is arguing women’s work is unimportant work.

Looking through the Bill of Rights, I find strong protections against public rights violations: worship, speech, the press, assembly and petitioning are all public acts. Militias may be organized around a kitchen table, but they rarely do maneuvers between the couch and the cupboard  The fourth amendment gives us some hope, talking about “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” but then we find only from “unreasonable” searches and seizures, as determined by (historically) that most public sphere of a character: the judge.

For Amendments 5 – 8, while women would statistically have an equal chance as men to be the perpetrators of crimes and the victims of such in equal number, this is not true today nor, I expect, was it true when the Bill of Rights was drafted. Men are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes with the exception of rape. Even so, women are 1 in 10 murderers but 1 in 4 murder victims. (Amendments 9 and 10, while vital, are about the distribution of those other, public sphere, rights and so are default male.)

As anyone who works on domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking prevention knows by heart: most victims never get justice. Some don’t seek it because when they do they’re often treated terribly and some seek it but don’t get it and are treated terriblyby judges, but quick take-away is: crimes against women are wildly under-reported. Crimes against women are often private sphere crimes which the public sphere crime-focused criminal justice system is ill-designed to handle. What witness to a beating? What evidence of a rape? What claim for forced domestic work? The ways we define crimes are well-suited for bank robberies, bar brawls, car accidents but leave many female crime victims with a narrow justice if any.

What the 3rd Amendment does, which I love, is lay the foundation for a jurisprudence which does not fail women as spectacularly as our current legal system does. To prove another symbol of the public sphere–a soldier–engaged in a 3rd Amendment violation, a woman does not need to show his behavior was “unreasonable” but only needs to declare that the soldier is present in her home “without […] consent.”

True, far fewer women were true “Owners” of their homes in the 18th century as are today, and also true, quartering may be permitted “manner to be prescribed by law.” But the 3rd Amendment is the spiritual seed of  FDR’s freedom from fear and Griswold v. Connecticut’s right to privacy both of which have always been inalienable but have only been expressed well in the past century. But that the founders thought that denial of “consent” was sufficient to prove violation of a right gives me hope.

Inspirational Quote:

“Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”–President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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