by Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government, American University School of Public Affairs
For much of American history, legal rules and cultural norms have deemed women unworthy of trust or responsibility. The law often treated women as children, incapable of carrying out adult duties. Women did not have the right to vote until 1920. It took until 1961 for the Supreme Court to strike down laws automatically excluding women from jury duty. Until 1979, state laws made it legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife. In the early 19th century, the doctrine of “coverture” provided that a married woman did not have legal status separate from her husband. In the eyes of the law, married women were not their own person. Women were barred—by law or by practice—from professions like law, medicine, and politics.
We like to think those days are long behind us, that women are no longer second-class citizens relegated to a separate, lesser sphere. But it may be difficult, especially for men, to recognize the ways in which significant problems linger.