On this episode of Scheer Intelligence, host Robert Scheer is joined by Professor Julie C. Suk, an eminent expert in constitutional law and a professor of law at Fordham University. Together, they delve into the challenges women face in society, which stem from the Constitutional framework despite the century old passage of the 19th amendment that belatedly granted women the right to vote.
Professor Suk’s latest book, “After Misogyny: How the Law Fails Women and What to Do About It,” explores the ways in which systems of patriarchy and oppression against women and people of color are not explicitly established by the Constitution, but the document allows those in power to perpetuate their authority.
“It’s not the Constitution that really excludes people from rights, but it establishes a set of institutions and the way they exercise power, which then makes it really easy for patriarchy to continue even after attempts to dismantle it,” Professor Suk said. A more precise definition of misogyny is warranted in this context where instead of focusing on a broader scope of the term that involves hatred and violence towards women, the more nuanced view establishes the value of women to the common good, as boiled down to reproductive labor and motherhood. Professor Suk explains that the misogyny inherent in the framework of the Constitution preserves “a patriarchal legal system in which women are expected to reproduce, essentially forced into motherhood, which is still happening when states ban abortion, and force women to do the reproductive labor for free and exclude them from equal economic and political participation.”
Professor Suk points to two important concepts as well: over-entitlement and over-empowerment. “[O]ver entitlement is when the society as a whole, controlled by men, is entitled, in an unfair way, to women’s forbearance and sacrifices…And that over entitlement stays in place, even though it’s deeply unfair and oppressive to half the population,” Suk explains. The Constitution, she argues, then allows for an over-empowerment, where those in power—originally white, property holding men—are allowed to sustain dominance by the legal order that existed, where married women were not allowed to own property nor allowed to keep their wages made outside the home.
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This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy.
Robert Scheer Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. And it sounds very egotistical, but it’s the intelligence of my guests that’s on display, not my own. And I must say today I’m talking to someone who I really did not know her work well, her all name crossed once in a while. But I’ve read her most recent book and again, I like to point this out, it’s not much longer than 200 pages. And even though it’s, you know, very structured by a law professor, Julie C Suk, who is at Fordham University, professor of law, expert in constitutional law, it’s really, it makes the issues accessible. This is not an off putting book. And for those who are watching on video, it’s call it, here, it’s After Misogyny. It’s a UC Berkeley press book. And the subtitle is How the Law Fails Women and What to Do About It.
I want to begin by talking about not only women, obviously Black people in America, lots of people, were failed by our original law. And it’s probably the most celebrated achievement of any society that claims to be democratic is the US Constitution. And yet I kept being reminded of in reading your book is really how biased and what a failure the US Constitution was on the most important question of, after all, we’re talking about democracy and the vote. Who gets to vote? Who gets to pick this new government? You can talk all you want about separation of powers and individual freedom and our Bill of Rights, corrections and so forth. But reading your book, I was on page after page, reminded that the founders of this country, whether out of some patriarchal notion or misogynist notion or just stupidity or ignorance and racism, which was clearly in evidence, did not actually tell us who should vote, and that even the corrections of the 14th and 15th Amendment, which gave male Black people the vote, did not address the question of gender. So I probably made a hash of this. Why don’t you put it out as clearly as your book does?
Julie C. Suk Well, thank you so much for having me on your show, Robert. I’m really thrilled to talk with you about these issues. So I wrote the book to really address why, even though we have constitutional equality in the law, in many respects, that is, we have a provision in the Constitution that dates to after the Civil War that guarantees equal protection of the law for all persons. And in more recent years, which is to say in the late 20th century, it’s been interpreted by the Supreme Court to also include women and then gender discrimination. So we have all of those things. But why does gender equality persist in our society? Why does this law fail in some way? That was the question to which I wanted an answer. And largely the book tries to approach that question by looking at the ways in which other bodies of law reinforce unequal power, even while proclaiming equality of rights or equal status between women and men, or without regard to categories of gender, race or other distinctions by which we might enforce inequality.
So that’s the puzzle. And when it comes back to the Constitution, I don’t take the view that it’s the Constitution that established and continues to perpetuate that inequality. The Constitution was very spare. The founding fathers didn’t say a lot in the Constitution, but what they did say was they designed a bunch of political institutions by which we would live, and those political institutions became easy to capture by those who already held power. And those who already held power tended to be white men. The Constitution doesn’t explicitly exclude women, even though it does say some things explicitly about the status of enslaved persons who belong to a particular race at the time of the founding. It’s not the Constitution that really excludes people from rights, but it establishes a set of institutions and the way they exercise power, which then makes it really easy for patriarchy to continue even after attempts to dismantle it. So that’s really what I’m interested in looking at.
And if you look around the world, constitutions that were written more recently, that is throughout the 20th century and even in the 21st century that made it a point of having women at the table at the time of drafting, or even in more recent years, in some more recent experiments across the world, where women have to be represented in equal numbers in political and legal institutions, including at the drafting table with new constitutions, that those situations are ones that are more likely to give rise to the equal sharing of power, which is necessary in order for men and women to be fully equal in modern society.
Scheer I think you’re being too kind to the framers, if I could suggest it. I think, first of all, correct me if I’m wrong, because you’re the expert on constitutional law. I am not. But I think basically they gave the definition of the voter up to the states primarily.
Suk That’s right.
Scheer Okay. So by design, right away there, we’re expecting or anticipating a lot of inequality, a lot of gender bias, racial bias and so forth, because they knew these states varied in their respect for women as well as obviously for minorities of one kind or another, and certainly free slaves as well as no respect for slaves. So the very decision, these were smart people. They spelled out a lot about commerce, about the role of the federal government, about obligations and so forth. And they ended up with a system that was primarily, the definition of voting practice was primarily a property owning white male, right?
Suk That’s right.
Scheer And you know…
Suk It didn’t have to be that way. And as early as the time of the founding, we had at least one state, New Jersey, that allowed women to vote. They stopped doing that in the early part of the 19th century. But theoretically, it was possible for the states. And even today, what’s super interesting is that half of the states have an Equal Rights Amendment that guarantees explicitly gender equality in the state constitutions. Whereas we’ve struggled in the United States. This is the subject of my earlier book, We, the Women. We’ve struggled in the United States at the federal level to get equality guarantee for women into the federal Constitution. But many of the states have done that. So it’s not always the case that leaving things to the states is going to lead to more misogyny and racism, although for a variety of reasons it did at certain historical moments.
Scheer Well, okay, But I mean, I’ve read a lot of Jefferson and Madison throughout my life. And and I said, look, it’s very clear.
Suk We all have.
Scheer I’m going to address this question because we humor ourselves with the notion that somehow we have this marvelous instrument of our U.S. Constitution. And it basically settled questions about individual freedom and so forth. And then we’ve refined it over the years. I have to point out to people, my own mother came to this country and she got here in 1920, 20 or 19, and she had fled the Russian Revolution. She fled the Bolsheviks. She was in a group called the Jewish Socialist Bund that had a lot of discussions with my mother. And, you know, and she thought the Bolsheviks were taking it in the wrong direction. But the fact of the matter is, the country she fled had already accepted women would have to be equal, at least theoretically and legally, and participants in governance if that revolution was to mean anything. She arrived in a country, let me remind people, where women still didn’t have the vote.
Suk Until 1920, yeah.
Scheer And everybody forgets that. I ask people, it’s not ancient history. This is after World War I. This is, you know, and now, of course, we still had deep segregation, but at least we had the acceptance that that a Black male… I still can’t get my head wrapped around that idea. If you were alive right in 1919, after Woodrow Wilson, after the war, the first big war for freedom. It was accepted as normal, that women could were not be allowed to vote. Now, that was the result of a mistake or something by the founders. I want to get to that mindset because your book and your earlier book is very much about mindset. And it seems to me and it’s suggested in your work, the mindset was that women were childish or immature or unstable.
There was a view of the female of the species, and whether it’s based in biblical literature or what it’s based on, or just convenience and chauvinism, but really set the stage as a constitution. This document did not come from the heavens. It came from a number of these people who wrote it with slave owners. They were certainly believed in a patriarchy. They were informed by religions and philosophies that endorsed patriarchy. So is it that the heart of the problem and that’s why there’s a need to, in your book, you’re basically calling for some serious changes in this constitution as necessary.
Suk Yes, absolutely. But I just want to backtrack, because often when political institutions are established, the way that our Constitution does, the exclusion of women from legal rights is actually not formally or explicitly written into the Constitution. The Constitution tells us what the court system is going to look like. The Constitution tells us that there are two senators from every state and the powers of the Senate relative to the powers of the House of Representatives. Right. It doesn’t speak to what largely the book is about, which is patriarchy. Patriarchy is a legal system, is not necessarily explicitly written into the Constitution, although I argue that it’s assumed by the set of political institutions that are written in to the document. And what I mean is that in addition to the legal institutions that are established by the Constitution itself, the Constitution, it sort of establishes the political system alongside a set of assumptions about the legal order that exists. And the legal order is, of course, one in which, if they’re married only, the man formally owns the property.
A married woman cannot own property. A married woman does not have, under the legal order of patriarchy, the right to control or exercise authority over their own children. If the married woman works in the market for pay outside the home and the husband owns her earnings. Right. These were all features of the legal system. They’re not necessarily required by the Constitution, but they’re not prohibited by the Constitution either. And there are ways in which, when we say in the Constitution, there is now equal protection of the laws. One thing that that could mean in the mid to late 19th century, one thing that it could mean but the courts say it doesn’t mean, is that women now have property rights. Women have all the same rights under every body of law enforced by any state in this country, the same rights as men. That is not what ends up becoming the meaning of equal protection of the laws. Until really relatively recently, just in the last 50 or so years since the Supreme Court starts to say equal protection of the laws means you can have sex discrimination. But another problem with the way that we have done gender equality in the country is that the Supreme Court says you have to treat men and women equally, meaning you have to treat them the same. And the Supreme Court has taken the same attitude towards race.
You have to always treat everybody the same, regardless of their race. And there’s a perverse way in which very recently now with the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court says treating everyone equally on the basis of race means you can’t have race based affirmative action to address historical disadvantages that have existed on the basis of race. And that has implications, implications that are found in some bodies of law in our sex equality doctrine that say that you can’t treat men and women differently either for the basis of erasing the disadvantages that women have inherited across generations because of a systematic failure in the law and in the politics and in all the ways in which we’ve organized our social relations to undervalue women’s contributions to the public good. And that undervaluing is at the heart of women’s exclusion from legal rights. It wasn’t, I mean, you mentioned, Robert, that part of the reason women weren’t included in rights of property, the right to vote, all those legal rights that men had, women weren’t included in part because they were thought to be incapable, intellectually or otherwise, of exercising those rights. That’s only in part true. It’s even when women’s capacity was assumed and accepted.
The real problem for many of our patriarchal legal orders was including women in those rights would completely dismantle and unsettle the system that of our social order for reproduction. That is, women were excluded. And we had judges writing opinions in the 19th century saying the reason women can’t have rights to own property, to enter into contracts, to do all those things is that they are responsible for the home. They have to raise the children and run the household. And that is repeatedly used by male judges as a justification for the unequal legal order. It’s not necessarily based on hatred of women or assumption of women’s inferiority. It’s based on the assumption that women must contribute their reproductive labor, both biological and social, to the benefit of society as a whole, and for that reason must be excluded from political and economic participation.
Scheer Well, right. And there were also people who are now trying to prevent any improvement of our textbooks who argue that there was a view of slavery, that it was actually at times good for the slaves and they got educated and taken care of. I mean, there’s lots of rationalizations for the oppression of people. And you are very good at unmasking those rationalizations. The reason I’m dwelling on the Constitution, which after all, that’s why I’m interviewing you, you’re a leading expert on the Constitution. And your book is really calling for amending this document. The people who resist amending it and who believe in a strict, original intent interpretation of the Constitution do not accept that it is a fundamentally flawed document in any way. And I must say I’m getting pretty old and I’ve had a lot of discussion about this going back to my own undergraduate days. And it just seemed to me from the beginning of my education, it was a fundamentally flawed document and why don’t we just admit it?
And people that I was raised to admire. And beginning with Jefferson, I think he’s the American I most admired my whole life, you know? And, you know, I’m not tearing him down any more than he’s been torn down. But the fact of the matter is, this was a, you know, a major intellectual, a world class and brilliant sensitivity on all sorts of issues of I don’t even want to say it individual freedom but you had to be white, you had to be male. But the fact of the matter is, your book says, not only our laws, but our Constitution needs change. And that then suggests and I’m not this is not looking for evil people or anything. I still admire Jefferson, by the way, for a lot of things. But the fact of the matter is that we don’t accept that, that this is a flawed document. We don’t then accept why it has to be amended in a profound way. And your book is calling for amending it.
Suk Yeah, I would not say that that’s the central argument of After Misogyny. It is true that in much of my body of scholarship, I think that we have a very old constitution that’s unworkable for the large, 21st century, diverse democracy that America has become. And there are many aspects of the US Constitution from the standpoint of having a fair and inclusive democracy that are not working well. And I’m happy to talk about that. But After Misogyny is about one piece of the problem, and it’s a piece of the problem that really emerges from trying to think about what misogyny actually is. And perhaps you’re right, one way of putting it is that the Founding Fathers were misogynists upon my definition, because by misogyny I say it’s actually not just violence and hatred against women. We often think that that’s what misogyny is, hatred of women, and I argue, broadening the lens on misogyny, that misogyny is much more. Misogyny is the systematic undervaluing of women’s contributions to the public good, the systematic expectation that women make sacrifices to themselves for the public good, particularly in the form of reproductive labor and motherhood. And that assumption that women’s sacrifices are to be taken for granted is what goes into, as we were saying earlier, a patriarchal legal system in which women are expected to reproduce, essentially forced into motherhood, which is still happening when states ban abortion and force women to do the reproductive labor for free and exclude them from equal economic and political participation. Right?
So I say that is misogyny and it stems from patriarchal legal systems, and patriarchal legal systems were assumed by although not explicitly established by the Constitution. But the Constitution becomes a problem because of a dynamic that I call in the book over entitlement and over empowerment. So over entitlement is when the society as a whole controlled by men is entitled, in an unfair way, to women’s forbearance and sacrifices. That’s what I call over entitlement. And that over entitlement stays in place, even though it’s deeply unfair and oppressive to half the population. It stays in place because the Constitution actually allows over empowerment. It allows those who have power, which from the beginning were property holding white men to stay in power. And it does so through some of the mechanisms we’ve already described. For example, just leaving it to the states to decide who votes and doesn’t vote by leaving it to state legislatures and not the people in the states to ratify constitutional amendments. One of the problems is that we have a constitution that’s incredibly difficult to change.
We also have two senators for every state, even though that doesn’t map out in terms of who lives, the numbers of people living in those states. So when I talk about over empowerment, there’s a problem with men retaining their power. But then there’s this larger problem in American democracy where we have many antiquated political institutions that allow people who hold power to keep holding it no matter how far removed they are from what most of the people in the country want and how far removed they are from what it would mean to have a fair and inclusive democracy. So in that more roundabout way, I would say that the book calls for new political and legal institutions by which that over empowerment and over entitlement can actually be overcome.
Scheer And you say it has to be overcome or we’re not going to make serious progress.
Suk That’s right. So I think one of the difficulties is that we’ve led ourselves to believe that the founding fathers flaws could simply be erased by proclaiming equality. We could say, sure, Madison and Jefferson were flawed because they were slaveholders and they didn’t believe in the full equality of women. But we could take the principles of freedom and equality and just apply them to all these people that they didn’t respect, like formerly enslaved Black people, immigrants of various races, indigenous people, women. And if we just take those principles, freedom and equality and just apply them to everyone, we’re going to be all right. It’s just like a minor tweak. And one of the things I try to do in After Misogyny is show how the way that we’ve done equality in the law has dismantled the exclusion without replacing it with something better, which is to say, if you have a law that discriminates against women and so let’s say you have a law that says women can’t attend certain elite schools, like, for example, the Virginia Military Institute, which was male only until the Supreme Court struck that down in 1996. Right.
Or if you have laws that say women can’t be lawyers, women can be in the most elite, high paying professions. And once you strike them down, striking down those laws doesn’t lead to equality the next day. And largely, the reason it doesn’t lead to equality is that we have a whole system of accumulated power and privilege that exists even prior to the moment of dismantling. So even if you say women can be lawyers, unless you actually provide child care and unless you actually make it possible for women to control their reproductive lives, the fact that the law formally says you can now be a lawyer or you can now get equal pay or you can now vote like all of these things are not particularly meaningful unless you start restructuring the basic infrastructure of society. That is based on the assumption that what women are supposed to be spending all their time doing is sacrificing themselves to reproduce the country.
Scheer And that is really the significance of After Misogyny. Again, some people watch this on video, and how the law fails women and what to do about it. The reason I think this is a really a very important book is we’re at a stage, as we are in racial relations where there’s a counter argument, we’ve done enough, we’ve changed enough, it’s fair enough. And if people aren’t making more progress, it’s their fault. That’s the heart of the what I think is a very unfair argument against affirmative action and extension of the rights of any group that’s been deprived these rights. The counterargument, how much do we have to do? We’re just imbalancing the system the other way. And I’m not doing your book justice because I thought that I’m sorry, I thought I would turn to you to do that and we could take a little more time. But and I say the book is mercifully short and well written. So, I mean, not really. This is not and I know this because I teach in college. This is not some dull tome that you, you know, will hate to read, but it will be on the final. But what it is, is it’s it’s detailed. And what you do offer is all these examples of what you just said, how the law works and where the blocks come. So could you kind of take, I don’t know what, five, 10 minutes and just give us the gist of the book not to discourage people from buying it, but to inspire them to read it.
Suk Absolutely. So one of the things I really try to do first, I try to map out what the problem of over empowerment is and what it would mean, including by a constitutional amendment to end the structures of over empowerment. Because the claim here is that misogyny is not just men hating women or men being violent against women, but existing in structures that reinforce men’s power over women and the over entitlement of society to everything that women contribute. So one of the things I look to, I like to be very concrete in my work. I know a lot of the things I’ve been saying sound very abstract. We’re talking about patriarchy and the dynamics of patriarchy. But one of the things that I like to do that’s very concrete is look at the movements by which women have tried to overcome patriarchy and the dynamics of over entitlement and over empowerment in other countries, and not just in other countries. I also dig back in the history of the United States and find some glimmers of hope in some surprising places. So specifically, I look at the Movement for Prohibition, the prohibition of alcohol. Most people regard that. That was the 18th Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol as the biggest constitutional mistake of our nation’s history.
I don’t see it that way because at a time when, as we were describing Robert, at a time in the 19th century when women really had no rights, they could, you know, even if they work, they couldn’t own their their earnings. They had no property rights. If they were married to an abusive alcoholic husband, they could be really ruined by that situation. And that’s why a lot of women, surprisingly, instead of or in addition to mobilizing for women’s right to vote and women’s property rights, they also mobilized for the regulation of alcohol, temperance, and eventually a constitutional amendment that would keep the liquor industry at bay or essentially by abolishing it. So what’s really interesting is that the logic of that movement is we can’t just in order to stop the scourge on women and their life situations, we actually need to restructure our institutions and create the conditions by which women can actually be liberated and so that’s one example. In a lot of other countries around the world in the late 20th century, there is a realization that in addition to simply having the right not to be discriminated against because you’re a woman, a lot of women in European countries like Germany and France and Italy, many European countries argue that they need gender balance in all the institutions that exercise power in a democracy. So whether it’s the legislatures or even municipal governments, so what they establish in the law is the possibility of requiring gender balance on political party lists for candidates, which then results in essentially gender balance in positions of power, both in the economic sector like corporate boards as well as in parliaments and legislatures. And so the idea that you need to have equal power, not just equal rights in order for women’s lives to get better is a very important part of feminist constitutionalism outside the United States and you see that mobilization continue.
This year in Ireland, it’s expected that they’ll have a referendum, adding explicitly a gender equality clause to the Irish Constitution and removing existing language that dates to almost a century ago in Ireland that says that woman’s place is in the home. And interestingly, the Irish are proposing not just to remove that, because what’s interesting is that that by saying women contribute something valuable to the public good through their work in the home, it’s a way of valuing those invisible and undervalued contributions that women have traditionally made by their reproductive and household work. It’s a way of valuing that. But they’re trying to remove it in the Irish Constitution now by declaring that the state values care both within and outside the home. And so value and care, even if they’re doing it in a broader universal way of valuing the care done by both men and women but by valuing it, it’s a way of overcoming the traditional and systematic undervaluing of what women were relegated to and expected to do in the past.
Scheer So keep going, tell us more about the points made in the book. The examples. Give us a couple more.
Suk Yeah. So I think a very important example is the establishment of the norm of gender parity, gender balance in all positions of decision making power. And many constitutional democracies, including France and Germany and Italy, they all had to have constitutional amendments in the 1990s and early aughts in order to make it possible to have gender parity in the law. And they had to have those amendments because there were conflicts similar to what the United States is going through now on the Supreme Court. That is, we’ve had long debates about whether or not affirmative action in favor of any disadvantaged groups is compatible with a constitutional guarantee of equality, because some people think that equality means you absolutely have to treat everyone the same all the time. And others, of course, believe that equality means you have to treat people differently in order to actually address historic disadvantages and societal discrimination.
And so because that fight, as it’s still going on here with the Supreme Court giving a particular answer in the Harvard case just a month ago, in many other countries, those debates with regard to gender were resolved in favor of amendments that explicitly said and I’ll give you the German example, in 1994, a constitutional amendment in Germany said that in adding to it an existing clause that said equal rights between women and men, it said that the law shall eradicate disadvantages that now exist and sort of obligated the government to take measures to actually implement equal rights between women and men. So that’s a clarification that occurs in the context of a constitutional amendment so that they could stop fighting about whether or not the government is allowed to do things to eradicate past disadvantages and take the next step towards progress in creating a truly inclusive democracy. And I think it’s really important for us to see, and I think with many projects, not just my book, you know, the 1619 Project, there have been many projects that have been going on in the last several years that draw attention to how non-inclusive and frankly, racist and sexist our founding was that we created a nation that was not intended to be the inclusive democracy that we imagined ourselves and aspire to be as Americans today. And so now the question is, can we get there? Can we get to a truly pluralistic and inclusive and fair democracy using the institutions that we’ve been given in 1787, in our Constitution, with the few tweaks that occurred after the Civil War? And I think that the experience of many constitutions around the world suggests that a greater project of modernization, that attacks over empowerment in a broader way is necessary to land in a place that we would call an inclusive democracy. And that’s important not just for women and for getting rid of misogyny in the law, but for just having the kind of modern democracy that’s appropriate to a nation that is large and respectful of all the people who live in it and call it home.
Scheer You know, I think I like the way you put this, but there’s one element that has to be addressed, I think, and that is to examine any of these programs. You can call it affirmative action, actually just to change representation and participation rates, for example. To my mind, a compelling argument is it adds to the stability, happiness, the economic well-being of the society. I mean, I can give you one example right now outside of our country, a lot of people want India to start producing stuff that China produces. I don’t favor that view. But I mean, I think they should both produce stuff. But the fact of the matter is the main disadvantage for India is that females in India have been deprived of an educational level that has been more readily available to females in China. They’ve been more active in the workplace and more efficient. That doesn’t mean they’re not exploited in China and so forth. But the fact of the matter is, you know, the same thing on the argument of affirmative action for media. We have better television, better movies when we have more representation. So, you know, there’s an argument. You know that we want this representation. This was sort of the main northern argument against slavery. It was an out of mode institution for a certain kind of agriculture, but it was holding back the larger development of the economy. And so then it’s no longer a question of helping people out, it’s a question of what makes the society whole.
And as I understand those European movements, that’s their main appeal and including extending it to, say, immigrants, which is the current battlefield, do immigrants in Germany and Italy and so forth, have rights? And instead of advancing the individual’s human rights, is really talking about, you know, going back to Confucius or so on, how do you get stability in a society? How do you get good policy? And the reason I want to get back to the Constitution in closing this thing, because I actually am not a big critic of Chief Justice Roberts, I, I think he’s contradictory. And on some issues like privacy and so forth, I think he’s pretty advanced in some decisions. But leaving that aside, the hang up with the intent of the original founders becomes a prison of thought. And what I found so refreshing about your book, really, I think a very, very important book, is you open up to basically what we should have known all along. This was written by people in a certain period of time with certain attitudes. I still don’t accept that Jefferson was evil or, you know, what have you. He was a man of his time. That doesn’t justify all of his behavior or anything. But really, it’s just and I keep getting back to this view of women, you know, and as childish or immature or we’re supposed to respect, and this is in every religion. I mean, the Jewish religion is a prayer in the morning. Thank God I’m not a woman. And now it’s been reinterpreted to mean, oh, that’s so hard how they live in their obligation. But you find it everywhere. And so it’s not surprising that it was there with the founders, even though they were searching for enlightenment. But I think having read your book, if one does not challenge the persistence of that view, which is so absurdly out of place with the modern economy, as China shows, women are actually, you know, they’re not primarily agriculture. Body strength is not the key. You know, they’re actually could be better at, you know, being scientists or doctors or assembling iPhones. So. All right. I’ll let you close it with where you think we are. I think I guess I was saying, I think history has caught up with your ideas in this book.
Suk I should hope so. I hope so. So you’ve said a lot in your last remarks. So one thing that does strike me about what you’ve said that I want to highlight is it is true that rather than this notion of a human right, maybe just shifting our frame to just understanding what people can contribute and why that’s in the public good. This is a very important insight in my account of misogyny that it’s not just women’s right to equality, but this notion that all along this society has been made possible, including transgenerational survival, because of the assumption that women become mothers and labor to create and raise the next generation, and that’s systematically undervalued and used as a justification for excluding them, it gets reframed as, oh, women are childish and are not capable of contributing in other ways. And so I think this is an important insight because in the countries that I’ve mentioned that come to women’s rights earlier than we do, that is women’s constitutional rights earlier than we do in countries like Germany, for example.
They put women’s equal rights in the Constitution after World War I, in part because they realize after World War I that all the men are dead. And so if they’re going to rebuild the country after World War I, they’re going to need women to work in the public sphere, they’re also going to need women to reproduce. So suddenly it becomes a modern conception of womanhood and that women do both. They contribute to public and economic life and raise children. And both of those things are valued. And I think that these are very modern understandings of how to properly value women’s contributions to both the economy and to the perpetuation of the society and these are things that just did either did not occur to or were thought of in a much more patriarchal lens at the time that we got the institutions that we’re trying to make work today. But I think these are really important insights where it’s not just the right to participate, but also the fact that the public becomes improved and grows and progresses because of the inclusion and contributions not only of women, but of immigrants and many other people who have been systematically undervalued or disregarded by the legal and political order.
Scheer Yeah, and the way people try to keep things in an unfair, primitive level is to demean the complexity and achievement of the other. And you have very good examples, not the subject of your book, gay rights. I mean, I deal with a lot of students from China where I teach and I always bring up the fact, look, you people have not really dealt with gay rights in China and it’s sort of an undertone or you do have people that… The fact of the matter is, Tim Cook, the leader of the most successful American company, is a gay man and very much admired in China. Well, how do you square that with, you know, denying the normalcy of someone being gay and clearly the need for women in the labor force, you know, and high tech and so forth. The point you made about the death of men, I mean, that was true in Russia. One reason they had to be more open to women is so many men were killed in their wars. You know, it’s a real problem. It’s a problem in China right now because of the attempt to hold back population. And you have a disparate or not disparate, disproportionate number of women now that I needed. So, okay, yes, we’ve done it. The book. Do you have anything more to add?
Suk I know it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Oh, thank you so much for the conversation.
Scheer So let me just say the book is called After Misogyny, and there’s a lot in this title, and you might think you know it all, but I certainly learned a great deal. And in fact, what do these words mean? Like the hatred and misogyny. So How the Law Fails Women and what to do with that. It’s very constructive, positive book that cuts through a lot of the rhetoric about all this stuff. So there it is. University of California, Berkeley Press. And let me just say, I want to thank and I we get this name correct for the first time in a couple of years, Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the excellent NPR station in Santa Monica for posting this podcast. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer who got me to read this book, which I didn’t know was out, and I want to thank him. Diego Ramos, who writes the intro. Max Jones, who produced the show here on video and the J.K.W. Foundation in memory of a very strong writer, Jean Stein, who addressed a lot of these questions for supplying some funding. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.