4 Yale J.L. & Feminism 207 (1991-1992)
Issue 2

handle is hein.journals/yjfem4 and id is 213 raw text is: Beyond Metaphor: Battered Women, Involuntary
Servitude and the Thirteenth Amendment
Joyce E. McConnellt
Hard is the fortune of all womankind
She is always controlled, always confined
Controlled by her parents until she is a wife
A slave to her husband the rest of her life
Traditional
When Congress debated the Thirteenth Amendment1 and its prohibitions
against slavery and involuntary servitude, anxious members inquired whether
it would alter the traditional relationship of husband and wife.2 Their concern
materialized out of a political context in which those who sought abolition of
African American chattel slavery and the establishment of women's rights were
applying the norm of individual freedom beyond the narrow scope of landed
white men.3 At that time, the metaphor women are slaves had rhetorical
currency and suggested that white women shared with African American men
and women a similar legal and social status of non-identity and disability.4
No matter how rhetorically useful this metaphor may have seemed then or may
t Associate Professor of Law at the City University of New York at Queens College. I thank the
research assistants who have committed themselves and their time to this project: Mary Hughes, Carolyn
Duffy, Pat Maniscalco, Ruth Boyer, Stephanie Early, and Roger Schrading. Special thanks are due my
colleagues, Sidney Harring, Sharon Horn, Ellen James, and Ruthann Robson for their unfailing support.
Vincent Trivelli believed in the idea for this article and was present for me throughout its writing. I cannot
thank him enough. This research was supported by grant number 669427 from the PSC-CUNY Research
Award Program of the City University of New York. I thank the program for its assistance.
1. U.S. CONST. amend. XIII, § I provides in pertinent part [nleither slavery nor involuntary
servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist
within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2 provides that Congress shall
have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
2. 1 suppose before the law a woman would be equal to a man, a woman would be as free as a man.
A wife would be equal to her husband before the law. CONG. GLOBE, 38th Cong., 1st Sess. 1488 (1864)
(statement of Sen. Howard). A husband has a right of property in the service of his wife; he has the right
to the management of his household affairs .... All these rights rest upon the same basis as a man's right
of property in the service of slaves. CONG. GLOBE, 38th Cong., 2d Sess. 215 (1865) (statement of Rep.
White).
3. See ELIZABETH SPELMAN, INESSENTIAL WOMAN: PROBLEMS OF EXCLUSION IN FEMINIST THOUGHT
(1988), in which she acknowledges the link between women's movements in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries and abolitionist and civil rights activity, but later argues that too much can be made of this
because of the role played by sexist and racist attitudes in both movements. Id. at 11, 115-26.
4. JOHN STUART MILL, THE SUBJECTION OF WOMEN 32 (1869) (IAI female slave has (in Christian
countries) an admitted right ... to refuse to her master the last familiarity. Not so the wife ... he can
claim her and enforce the lowest degradation of a human being .... she is held in this worst description
of slavery . .  ).
Copyright © 1992 by the Yale Joumal of Law and Feminism

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