Student Blogger - #13Amend Live Blog: How Much Is Marriage Like Slavery?
Christine Stansell comments: She is here to debate the past and will leave it to the lawyers to determine the utility of the arguments made. She was a student of David Brion Davis, who allowed encouraged students to express arguments and ideas while they are still inchoate in incomplete. In that spirit, these remarks should be seen as subject to revision. Stansell is uncomfortable with the arguments of Koppelman and Nussbaum, asserting the applicability of the 13th Amendment to women in the context of family. One worry is the historical impotence of the Amendment in women's rights litigation. And potentially more disturbing, the people who live closest to the link, black women, have not been drawn to the association of women's subjugation and slavery. We might worry that these arguments serve to alienate and exclude them from the discourse. It has been argued that the status of women exists in a separate context which is related to slavery, but is undeniably different. There are substantial cultural, ideological, political and legal links between marriage and slavery, but this linkage has been largely rhetorical and has always been so. At its passage, free women saw nothing for themselves in the 13th Amendment, because it did nothing for them; they needed the vote, not freedom. In many cases, the analogy of marriage to slavery was made without any real knowledge of slavery. However, the abolitionist feminist movement changed this. The political engagement in abolition brought forth the view that male mastery was something other than circumstantial and it highlighted the physical nature of both types of domination. As Sarah Grimké said, "All I ask of our bretheren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God intended us to occupy." But this way of arguing ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment, which highlighted that marriage was not slavery in the eyes of the public. Many of the women who lived at the site of the linkage, women who had been slaves and were now wives, saw family as a powerful and positive institution. For these reasons Stansell is both interested and skeptical of arguments that assert the connection of slavery to the status of women.