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October 11, 2008

Joe Biden Feminism Watch: Origins of VAWA

Joe Biden Feminism Watch #5


Senator Biden has said that he considers the Violence Against Women Act to be "the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 35 year tenure in the Senate" and the thing that he is "most proud of" in his whole career. Today we want to feature this great piece from Fred Strebeigh in The New Republic on the origins of VAWA and how it helped to shape Senator Biden's views on women's issues. As Strebeigh put it, "In fighting for the legislation, Biden showed he was willing to trust the guidance of women activists and women judges, and then to contend against fierce and mostly male resistance in Washington, particularly from the Supreme Court."

We encourage everyone to check out the whole piece, but here are some highlights:


~In 1981, as he recalls in his 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep, Biden had pushed for a provision opposing laws that treat rape within marriage as a lesser crime than other rapes. Biden's effort led to a rebuff by Senator Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, who replied, "Damn it, when you get married, you kind of expect you're going to get a little sex."


~Biden, in the meantime, held a second Senate hearing on violence against women in August 1990. As he listened to a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (where his son Beau was still a senior) talk about efforts to help victims of acquaintance rape, Biden became energized. After hearing the woman say that some male students had harassed her with "nightly phone threats," Biden launched into what Goldfarb believed was an unplanned but revealing narrative. He told of trying to convince his wife Jill, who drove to night school for her graduate degree classes, to park in a place that was safer but illegal. In response, he said he got "almost a punch in the nose." Trying to work out why, he spoke of his wife's "frustration and anger" that she should need to take precautions no man would take. He linked her anger to her sense of "lost control."

Goldfarb felt she was hearing a man grasp a fundamental understanding about "the lack of control that is experienced not only by women who are themselves victims, but by all the women who have to constrain their daily activities to avoid becoming a victim." Biden was expressing, she thought, the "basic insight of the civil rights provision--that violence against women deprives women of equality."

Biden, too, portrayed himself as a man surprised by new knowledge. In Delaware, he found that victims of rape were beginning to "literally stop me in the street" to tell their stories and give thanks for VAWA. More than half, he said, spoke of a "need to regain control," which Biden evidently understood. The loss of safety, home, and control that he had felt himself when he lost his first wife and daughter was something that these women had also been forced to grapple with in the wake of their rapes.



~Standing beneath an umbrella that carried the seal of the Senate, Biden made an argument for women's equality that VAWA's defenders could not make inside the Court because the Court did not wish to hear arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment. "Men don't choose not to take jobs" for fear of gender- motivated violence, Biden said, but "women do alter their life patterns." Then he returned to his own stake in the law--adopting a "personal is political" stance close to the heart of Biden's political values as well as much feminism. The effort to protect women against gender-based violence, he argued, "empowers my daughter and granddaughters."


To catch up on previous installments of the Joe Biden Feminism Watch:

1 comment:

The Bush Democrat said...

That article left me chills, the good kind - thanks for sharing!