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Copyright 1992 University of Chicago.

University of Chicago Law Review

INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH: The Politics of Women's Wrongs and the Bill of "Rights": A Bicentennial Perspective.

WINTER, 1992

59 U. Chi. L. Rev. 453


Mary E. Becker +


The language of the Bill of Rights is almost entirely gender neutral and its provisions have always applied to some women. 1 But free white men of property designed the Bill of Rights in a political process from which they excluded most Americans and all women. Not surprisingly, the Bill of Rights served and serves the interests of such men better than the interests of others.

Legal constitutional literature, whether from the right or the left, tends to be celebratory rather than critical. 2 But in looking back on the Bill of Rights during this bicentennial year, women and many men outside the propertied white male class should be ambivalent. In this Article, I assess the Bill of Rights from the perspective of women and other outsiders, with special emphasis on its continuing impact on women's political participation. I offer three kinds of criticisms in discussing specific clauses.

First, and most important, I make a point that is not normative or prescriptive but merely critical: the Bill of Rights does less to solve the problems of women and nonpropertied men than to solve the problems of men of property, especially white men of property. Some clauses, such as the Fifth Amendment right to "property," originally did not help most women, or helped only trivially, or had vastly different meanings for women and men. Often this disparity continues. Some provisions overlook much more serious problems for women than the problems they address. Consider, for example, women's Fourth Amendment right "to be ...
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