In early 2016, my then-7-year-old daughter approached me and asked, “Daddy, what sports are girls allowed to play?”
This question shook me to my very core. It was a question that never crossed my mind as a young boy and never could have. But not only had it crossed my daughter’s mind, she appeared to have already accepted that there would be restrictions placed on her participation in society only because of her sex.
Over the next few months, my wife and I watched in horror as a profoundly ignorant man who boasted of being able to sexually assault women with impunity was sewing up the GOP’s nomination for the presidency. The demeaning and marginalizing of women was a feature of the GOP’s primary and general election campaigns that year and the events of recent weeks have shown that as a country and as a state, we show few signs of having learned our lesson.
The controversy surrounding the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has only further exposed the systemic power asymmetries that our society has long fomented and is actively cultivating.
As just one example, attorney and Salt Lake County Council candidate Michelle Quist recently quipped on Facebook that these controversies could be avoided by nominating women, which unleashed a barrage of rhetoric rejecting the very notion that women have unique experiences and perspective, much less that they matter. One woman commented that we don’t need to put women on the Supreme Court because “our Constitution already protects us all equally.”
This, of course, is flatly false. The 19th Amendment is the only section of the Constitution that explicitly guarantees equal protection based on sex. The Constitution’s silence on sex has frequently been exploited precisely to facilitate the marginalization of women and their interests — thus the need for the 15th Amendment and the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
Even today, federal and state courts are inconsistent in their treatment of discrimination based on sex, and this has undermined our ability to respond to the needs and interests of women. As an example, in recent years our country has fallen to last place among wealthy and developed nations for maternal mortality rate, and we are the only wealthy and developed nation with a rate that is rising. Women’s health is simply not a priority for us.
Increased access to high-quality women’s health care is absolutely critical to our nation’s survival, but we have influential segments of our society that are so blinded by identity politics that they are fighting to shut down the only access to women’s health care many women have, and even criminalize legal procedures that are often life-saving. In a time when the needs and interests of women should be a top priority in our nation, we are shouting them down because they challenge the structuring of power that has for so long served only the interests of our population’s privileged and powerful men.
This all demonstrates that the recent demeaning and even vilifying of victims of sexual assault is only one symptom — albeit a particularly heinous and deep-rooted one — of a much broader pathology afflicting our nation. We must take quick, decisive, and corrective action. Girls and women around Utah and the U.S. who need — or who one day will need — loved ones who are believing and supportive, are watching as parents, friends and family members cruelly mock and demean survivors of sexual assault for speaking out.
For the sake of the girls and the women of this generation and of the generations that will come, we must be better men than this.
Dan McClellan is husband to Aleen and father to three precocious girls. He is a doctoral candidate in religion at the University of Exeter and he works as a scripture translation supervisor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as an adjunct instructor of ancient scripture for Brigham Young University. Dan is also currently running for the Utah State House of Representatives in House District 52.