Every March, we use Women’s History Month to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of American women and their priceless contributions to science, politics, history, arts, and beyond. We also use the occasion to observe how far women have come in the fight for gender equality, and mark how much further we have left to go. The year may be 2018, but in many states across the country, women are still expected to follow the outdated, sexist laws of another century.
When America was founded, there was only one kind of person in the room making the decisions: white men. For over two centuries, our government has been run by a patriarchy that, even in the 21st century, continues to devalue women and deny basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every day in modern America, women are forced to fight back against sexist and old-fashioned laws that limit everything from our body autonomy and our financial freedom to our fashion choices and healthcare options. Isn’t it time we cleared the books already?
From the silly and outdated, to the dangerous and misogynistic, you won’t believe that these seven sexist laws still exist in the United States.
1Rapists have parental rights in seven states.
In most places in the U.S., there are some basic laws in place to protect rape victims from a legal battle with their attackers over parental rights (that is, if their attacker is convicted). In seven states — Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico — however, women who chose to keep a baby conceived from rape are required to obtain consent from their attacker before putting their baby up for adoption. In those same states, the rapists are granted the right to fight their victims for custody over their baby. That means that, all over the country, women are being forced to face their rapists over custody rights for a child conceived during an assault.
2Sexual consent cannot be withdrawn in North Carolina.
A 1979 Supreme Court ruling in North Carolina declared that sex must be consensual to be legal, but specified that consent could not be withdrawn during intercourse. In other words, a woman (or a man) cannot be raped if they initially engage in a sex act that they later change their mind about and want to stop. Although court cases as recently as 2010 have failed to change this sexist law, Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte is once again putting forward a bill he hopes will change his state’s loophole in their rape law.
3A woman needs a permit to wear high heels in California.
In the small California village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, women cannot wear heels more than two inches in height, per municipal code. According to the city’s website, it’s an outdated law meant to protect the city from lawsuits when tourists trip or fall on their irregular streets. Police do not actively cite violations of this strange ordinance, but Carmel’s City Hall *actually* has permits available for people who want to wear heels around town.
4Unmarried women cannot cohabitate with the opposite sex.
Believe it or not, marital status discrimination in housing is still legal in many states, including Florida, Mississippi, and West Virginia. In places that still have anti-cohabitation laws, it is illegal for unmarried individuals of the opposite sex to live together — meaning landlords, communities, or entire towns can refuse a couple or family’s right to live there. It’s just another example of an outdated, morally-based law designed to maintain a woman’s status as property.
5A woman can be fired for a period leak in Georgia.
Okay, so this one isn’t actually a law, but rather, a lack of one. After a woman in Fort Benning, Georgia, was fired for a heavy period leak caused by pre-menopause, she attempted to sue her employer for sex-based discrimination; the court dismissed the case. According to the ruling, pre-menopause symptoms and related issues, like heavy periods, are not protected by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that forbids employers to discriminate based on sex. Currently, the ACLU is appealing the decision.
6Child marriage is legal with parental consent, or in the case of pregnancy.
In most parts of the country, a person must be 18 years old to get married. But in 25 states, a minor can legally get hitched at any age with parental consent, an emancipation ruling, or in the case of pregnancy. In Alabama, the minimum age for marriage is only 16, and in New Hampshire, a girl as young as 13 can be legally wed with parental consent. In the last 15 years alone, over 207,000 minors have gotten married, and the majority of those minors are young women. That means hundreds of thousands of girls have been stripped of their childhood and robbed of the chance to grow and find independence outside of their familial lives.
7It is illegal for women to bare their breasts in at least 10 states.
They may be able to show bare breasts in every episode of Game of Thrones, but in at least 10 states, it is explicitly illegal for women to go topless in public, including Utah, Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia. Despite the ongoing debate around the sexualization of women’s bodies and the movement to #FreeTheNipple both online and off, showing bare breasts is largely legally considered “lewd and obscene” behavior. It can result in fines, arrest, and even jail time in some places. Men, on the other hand, can walk around without their shirt consequence free.
The year may be 2018, but it many places, women are stuck living in the past. Here’s to hoping that, this year, outrageously sexist laws will be replaced with the equality women deserve.