Radical Feminist Law Professor Believes Girls Can Want To Be More Than Housewives

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, July 25, 2013 14:44 EDT
google plus icon
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

Ted Cruz via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Ted Cruz opposes those dangerous radicals who want women to have options other than “helpmeet”.

For anyone who wants proof that the conservative Republican tendency to accuse liberals and feminists of being “radical” or “militant” is pure projection, Wednesday’s confirmation hearings for Nina Pillard, Obama’s pick to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, served nicely. Pillard is a Georgetown law professor and yes, openly feminist (though not as aggressively feminist as, say, Justice Samuel Alito is anti-feminist), which was enough to put the Republican Senators who showed up at the hearing into a full-blown paranoid lather. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, accused Pillard of arguing that abstinence-only programs were inherently unconstitutional. In the angry-condescending tone that Cruz probably uses to ask someone to pass the salt, he said:

I’d like to first ask about an article you wrote in the Emory Law Journal in 2007, where you argued, and this is a quote, “the equal protection critique of abstinence-only curricula is strengthened and rendered more amenable to judicial resolution by the fact that sex education classes are designed not only to expose students to ideas, but also to shape  behavior.” In that article, if I understand correctly, you were arguing that if a state decides to teach abstinence-only, that that decision, by state and local officials, in your judgment, may well be unconstitutional. And it is an appropriate role for a federal court to strike down a state or local government’s decision to teach abstinence-only.


Cruz did not understand correctly the document in front of him, which happens to be available for anyone who wants to compare their reading comprehension to that of a Harvard-educated attorney like Cruz. Pillard argues in this document not that it’s unconstitutional to scold kids to keep it in their pants to your heart’s content, but that the specific gender roles taught in many abstinence-only courses violate the students’ right to equal protection. Her actual argument:

Double standards about sex drive and chastity in abstinence-only curricula are embedded in a larger picture of women and men playing traditional roles in the family and the public sphere. A decision to practice abstinence until marriage assumes early, heterosexual marriage and early childbearing. The expectation is not that marriage will be delayed until a person’s late twenties or early thirties so that both parents can complete higher education and establish themselves at work, but that couples will marry young and the woman will become a family caretaker, principally supported by her husband, who remains relatively free of care-giving duties to pursue his career. Women, one abstinence-only curriculum teaches, need “financial support,” whereas men need “domestic support” and “admiration.  Another maintains that “[ w ]omen gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments. Young women, according to a leading abstinence-only curriculum, “care less about achievement and their futures” than do their male peers.  These curricula suggest that there are two tracks in sex and two tracks in life, one male, and one female?

In other words, she objected to teaching students that ambition and desire for work outside of the home are male-only desires while women are meant to be housewives whose main duty is exchanging husband-worship for financial support. The quote that Cruz read, in context, extends the argument by pointing out that sex education is supposed to be prescriptive, so basically teachers are telling girl students that they ought not want jobs but instead to be housewives. As Pillard said in the hearing, she has no objection to teaching kids to say no to sex, but she did object to teaching kids these unequal gender roles.

Cruz didn’t back down when she clarified, instead angrily denouncing the idea that the federal courts should interfere with a state or local government’s decision to teach these particular texts. So those were the battle lines. On one side, you have a law professor arguing that because women should be considered equal human beings under the Fourteenth Amendment. On the other side, you have a Senator arguing that if a public school should be allowed to teach your daughter that her highest aspiration should be to be the next Michelle Duggar. There’s definitely a radical trying to shove their militant ideas on the public in this situation, but it’s not the feminist law professor.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.