TIME politics

The Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Patriarchy, Not Democracy

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The Hobby Lobby decision displays the profound depth of religious and male norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to women in the United States when it ruled that “closely-held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control based on owners’ religious beliefs. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor partially joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 35-page dissent against the majority decision of the five conservative, male justices.

That the Court ruled this way should surprise no one. What should surprise, however, is the continued expectation that we overlook patriarchal religious fundamentalism, its collusion with constitutional “originalism” and its discriminatory expression in our political system.

Most analyses of this case will parse the law and, in doing so, make no challenges to two fundamental assumptions: 1) that the law and the Court are both “neutral” to begin with and 2) that we should not question the closely held religious beliefs of judges and politicians, even when those beliefs discriminate openly against women. This is a judgment. And judgments come from norms. And norms are based on people’s preferences. The Court is made up of people who have beliefs, implicitly or explicitly expressed.

In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments. Women’s behavior, especially sexual, is policed in ways that consolidate male power. It is impossible to be, in this particular case, a conservative Christian, without accepting and perpetuating the subordination of women to male rule. It is also blatant in “official” Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The fundamental psychology of these ideas, of religious male governance, does not exist in a silo, isolated from family structures, public life or political organization. It certainly does not exist separately from our Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, for example, makes no bones about his conscientious commitment to conservative Catholic ideals in his personal life and the seriousness of their impact on his work as a judge. There are many Catholics who reject these views, but he is not among them. These beliefs include those having to do with non-procreational sex, women’s roles, reproduction, sexuality, birth control and abortion. The fact that Scalia may be brilliant, and may have convinced himself that his opinions are a matter of reason and not faith, is irrelevant.

What is not irrelevant is that we are supposed to hold in abeyance any substantive concerns about the role that these beliefs, and their expression in our law, play in the distribution of justice and rights. They are centrally and critically important to women’s freedom, and we ignore this fact at our continued peril.

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction—norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. What this court just did was, once again, make women’s bodies, needs and experiences “exceptions” to normatively male ones. This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.

While there are hundreds of bills and laws regulating women’s rights to control their own reproduction, I’m not aware, after much looking, of any that similarly constrain men or tax them unduly for their decisions. As a matter of fact, we live in a country where more than half of our states give rapists the right to sue for custody of children born of their raping and forcible insemination of women. Insurance coverage continues to include medical services and products that help men control their reproduction and enhance their sexual lives.

As Ginsburg outlined in her dissent, the costs that this decision will accrue to women are substantive. The argument that employers shouldn’t pay for things they don’t believe in is vacuous. Insurance benefits are part of compensation. Even if you reject that notion, it is clear that we all pay for things we don’t like or believe in through our taxes and, for employers, through insurance. That’s how insurance and taxes work—except when it comes to women and their bodies. That’s sexism.

That we live with patriarchy is evident. That this dominance is and always has been the opposite of democracy is not to most people. SCOTUS’ decision is shameful for its segregation of women’s health issues and its denial that what should be valued as “closely held” in our society is a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. American women’s equality continues to be undermined by the privileging of religion in public discourse.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and feminist writer whose work focuses on the role of gender and sexualized violence in culture, politics, religion and free speech. You can find her at @schemaly.

TIME The Good Mother Myth

School Volunteering and Parental Pressure: One Mom’s Unapologetic No

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Learning to resist the unhealthy pressure to volunteer for every possible activity in a child's school

For me, having children was like being run over by a small, fast locomotive. I had, to my enduring surprise, three babies under the age of three. From the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep (note that I did not say, go to bed) I was doing something, and someone was an expert in why I was doing it wrong. Bottles or breast. Co-sleep or no sleep. Mozart on. Mozart off. Clean floor. Dirty floor. Pets. No pets. Shots or no shots. Too much holding. Not enough holding. Being was an exercise in inadequacy. And that was just the mothering bit. I was also working. Outside of the home, which means for money. Deadlines, conference calls in bathrooms, meetings, overdue reports.

When my children all began school, I foolishly thought that I would have more time. Instead, it introduced a new pressure: parental volunteering. I’d never had children in school, so when it came to anything related to this experience, I, mom-in-headlights, did it. Book fair? Yes! Fieldtrip? Yes! Bake sale? Yes! I felt like a skirted flip-book stick figure that someone else was maniacally flipping. I said ‘Yes” because saying “No” filled me with maternal guilt. And, I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked women were frantic, engaged in contrived activity, exhausted by work, vigilance and maternal frenzy. What I saw around me in schools were women, talented, energetic and smart, often creating inefficient systems to pass the day in an effort to make up for workplace systems that made it as hard as possible and financially irrational for them to work once they’d become mothers.

One day, I woke up and my hands were numb. Then my arms. It took six weeks and a slew of medical tests for doctors to tell me what I already knew – I did not have brain cancer. I had children and was tired.

Then came the Incident of the Corn Husk Dolls. Are you familiar with cornhusk dolls? They were a toy that Colonial children played with. One year, I volunteered to staff the cornhusk doll station at a school event where children and parents (read mothers, 95% of the volunteers), dressed in colonial garb, pretended to spend a day in Plymouth. I did not know that prior to the event I was supposed to buy an obscene amount of corn, husk it, and lay the husks out to dry on my nonexistent lawn so that the children could have an “authentic experience.” I suggested that we should, children and adults alike, drink the colonial equivalent of beer all day, but this idea, sadly, met with failure. After many panic-stricken phone calls and emails about cornhusks from frantic mothers, I ordered, for the ridiculously low cost of $30, 3,000 husks and delivered them to the school, with a note that no other woman should have to think about this for several years.

Of course the scenarios I’m describing are reflexively associated with affluent, mainly white upper middle class women, and, it may be that this school is more gender imbalanced then most. However, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study revealed that, regardless of age, education or race, women volunteer more than their male demographic peers. (Volunteer rates for women and men are 23.2% and 29.5% respectively.) Schools benefit hugely from the unpaid labor of mothers – most of whom, today, don’t have the luxury of not needing jobs. The pressure to donate unpaid labor at schools is inextricably entwined with ideas about mothering and work. Every time volunteer cultures are gender imbalanced it is almost certainly a symptom of women’s work being taken for granted, invisible and unpaid. The “maternal labor” credit that gets applied to school budgets feeds into a lifetime of sex-based wealth and wage gaps and sex segregation in the workforce.

I know volunteerism is a kindness without which much that is necessary would not happen. It brings diverse people together for the common good and is vitally important. Communities, and individuals, benefit tremendously from this work. This is not to denigrate the real societal good of volunteering, which is not, per se, a problem. Additionally, value is calculated in many ways, not through financial compensation. I, for example, publish articles in the Huffington Post – and don’t get paid to do it. That may seem hypocritical, but to me, the compensation I receive is an audience, an asset that has value. And that is true regardless of whether or not I am a mother or a woman.

School volunteering is part of “good mother” mythologies that reinforce ideas about gender, sexuality, ideal workers and complementary roles for men and women. Additionally, because of our economic and social realities, volunteer demands also contribute to subtle race and class divides in school communities.

When I stopped volunteering at schools, I explained this to friends and to my children, who could not care less if I painted stage sets, or bought bake sale items instead of making them. I found other ways to contribute to communities that we belong to. Equally important, I learned to say no, politely, but unapologetically.

*Excerpted from The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.

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