... And Justice For Some

Take two intelligent women (who each blog) - combine them in convivial surroundings - wait for them to discuss how to put the world to rights - and for one of them to mention (in a comment on a third woman's blog) part of their discussion. Result? Sheer genius (in my humble opinion).

Denise (who blogs at "Life, Law and Gender") and Jami Ward (who blogs at "Not THAT Different") recently met for dinner, not having seen each other for a couple of years. Denise recounts the meeting here - while Jami let slip part of their conversation in this comment to this post on Jen Burke's "Transcending Gender":

Denise and I discussed something very similar to this when we had dinner recently. I'm going to steal her thunder and summarize our conversation: At one point in our country's history, one's race was a valid identity marker for all sorts of things like the right to vote, own property, etc. I'm not sure, but I think driver's licenses in some places even had a "Race" category until not long ago. Today, gender is a similar identity marker. Should it be? Not really, and neither should things like eye color or hair color. All of those things can be altered and really serve no purpose with respect to identity. There are too many other ways to identify someone today, e.g. fingerprints, retinal scans, etc. IMHO, the race category, as well as the current gender category, serves not as an identity marker but as a control category. ("You're not white - you can't marry a white woman." "You're not really a woman - you can't marry a man.")

I read that comment a few days ago, and it is still rocking my world. As a UK citizen, I was unaware that "Race" was (at some point) designated on driving licenses in parts of the US - but, if that was the case, I guess I'm not too surprised. And I'm certainly not naive - as soon as an individual can be categorised in some way, then someone can use that categorisation to discriminate or oppress, if they're inclined to.

What really made me think, though, were the gender markers on my own driving license, passport and birth certificate. The driver number on the first indicates female - the sex indicator on the second is F - and the third document states that I was born a girl. For me, seeing those is hugely significant - and yet, as Jami's comment states, they provide the perfect mechanism to enforce oppression on gender lines. I think I always knew that - and just accepted it as "part of the deal" - when, arguably, I shouldn't accept it at all.

Would removing such indicators from identity documents be a blessing or a curse? Should we be embracing biometric identifiers over all others - and what then is the scope for abuse, for infringing personal liberty and privacy? As Jami states at the end of her comment:

So, why should anyone care about gender civil rights? Because civil rights are civil rights, and really shouldn't be subdivided into gender civil rights, race civil rights, sexuality civil rights, national origin civil rights, religion civil rights, etc. Then, it's very easy to start down the slippery slope of deciding who merits the protection and entitlement of the law and who doesn't. Either it's good enough for all of us or it's not good enough for any of us. (Like, maybe, the right to marry?)

I seem to recall that "And Justice For All" was not just the title of a Metallica CD, but also appears in some reasonably significant document - but if civil rights *are* subdivided along racial, gender, sexual, national or religious lines - then *is* there "Justice For All"?


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