January 22, 2007

Finer Points of Feminist Theory: Maternity and the State

Did you know that the possibility of pregnancy was one of reasons why women originally weren't given the vote? It's true. Elizabeth Dillon talks about this in the introduction to her excellent book The Gender of Freedom. The possibility that women might at anytime have another person inside of them made them just too weird and slippery to be given the rights of a rational individual, like a vote.

I was thinking about this today, because today I am having another encounter with maternity and the limits of state-endorsed individuality: today I am not doing jury duty. I am not doing jury duty because I am the primary caregiver of my child, and thus am not obligated to perform this basic civic responsibility.


Some preliminary thoughts on this:

1: It's super nice that "the state" realizes that I just can't reasonably do jury duty right now. Because it's true that I just can't!

2: Still, it's true that you can't really have rights unless you also have responsibilities. Being relieved of the responsibility of jury duty is nice, but it's just the flip side of the fact that I would be judged harshly or not taken seriously if I wanted to exercise a right like running for public office or something.

3: The whole thing comments sort of interestingly on the "unpaid labor" of child-rearing, right? The state compensates you for doing jury duty because you will have to miss "work" to do it. But it cannot compensate you for the child-rearing time you would miss, because you are not compensated for it, anyway. Child rearing is sort of "invaluable:" it's outside the system of just compensation. Which is on the one hand an acknowledgement of the importance of child-raising, and on the other an indication of how mothers have thus far not made the case that child-raising is labor, and not just a "labor of love," and until mothers make the case that it is work it will not be treated as such within the system. Of course, if we made that case, we would probably have to do jury duty.

4: The system as it stands means, de facto, that a stay at home mother can never be tried by a jury of her peers.

5: I mean, would it really be that bad if I took my baby to jury duty? I could nurse while hearing evidence, right?

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