Equal but Different

My academic interests have taken an unexpected turn: into the realm of law and history that deals specifically with women. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. I am, after all, a woman. But more importantly, over the last two and a half years I have really been seeking God’s guidance in what that means. After reading Genesis 1:27 in a new light, I couldn’t keep saying that the differences between men and women were minimal and insignificant. I embarked on understanding what unique way God may have for me, as a woman, to reflect His image.

But I didn’t think this spiritual, and even social, pursuit would bleed into my intellectual sphere. This semester, it did. For my masters degree (and my law degree, I guess), I took two different constitutional history classes, one on the history of the constitution during the 20th century, and the other specifically on the first forty years of the 20th century. And in both classes, the cases and readings that were most interesting to me were those that had to do with women. (Granted, we didn’t do very much reading on religion and the constitution. I suppose that will have to wait for another semester or independent study.)

Illustrative story: To kill some time before one of these classes, I started doing reading for the other one for the next day. As I read an account of women’s struggle to gain the right to vote in the early part of the past century, when I reached the part where the last state needed finally approved the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, I teared up. I quickly cleared my eyes before the rest of my classmates entered the room, seeing as I was only one of two women in the whole class and such displays of emotion are not looked upon well in the legal academy.

Now, all though my exams are over, I still have a paper to write. And I’m writing it on the way that the law regulated women between 1924 and 1937. I won’t get into the details (no one wants to read about them on a blog, trust me). But as I am pouring through the secondary sources, searching for evidence to support my thesis, I’m finding myself utterly confused.

As I read about these laws that were “protective” in nature, some women academics are complaining that these laws were sneaky ways for men to keep women down. Other women authors acknowledge that they ended up having a discriminatory effect, but that it was accidental. The latter tends to be the view I side with. But what gets me is that the former gets so bent out of shape about these laws forgetting one thing: it was women who lobbied for them to be passed! Men (business owners and the like) were actually opposed to the protective legislation because it was too expensive to implement.

Dealing with how the law treats women in different circumstances is still a controversial question in society and constitutional law. There are many who are in support of a doctrine that would say that men and women must be treated equally. Some don’t want formal equality because they think that women will lose their privileged status in society.

Where I stand, I’m still not quite sure. But it brings me back to that day God revealed to me something I’d never seen before in Genesis 1:27. Yes, men and women were created equal, created in the image of God. But, we were created different. The differences are important. How secular law should reflect this fundamental reality, I still don’t know. But I have a feeling that figuring that out might be one reason that I’m in law school.


  1. Nice thought. You’re totally right. It often hits me how much the first principles of secular jurisprudence need to constantly be reassessed. For, we are now in the midst of what is usually referred to as ‘third-wave’ feminism, mostly because the differences between women and men have yet to be seriously addressed (although, there is an outright rejection of difference). They aren’t addressed philosophically and so they aren’t addressed in jurisprudence, consequently they don’t show up in the law, or when laws are enacted they are often poorly devised. Anyhow, nice to see someone is thinking about these things.

  2. great post…thanks! 🙂

  3. Wondering where you found personal background info on Radice vs NY. I’m a playwright (related to Joe Radice) considering it as a topic for the stage.

Leave a Reply