On Policing the Womb and how COVID-19 is exacerbating inequalitiesFeatured
I spoke with Professor Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine and founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy. She is also faculty in the Stem Cell Research Center, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, Program in Public Health, and Department of Criminology, Law, and Society. Professor Goodwin and I discussed her recent book, Policing the Womb , the history of legally enabled women’s oppression, and how COVID-19 is not an equalizer and instead furthers the gender opportunity divide. In Policing the Womb , Professor Goodwin shares more about the history of reproductive health rights, injustices, and challenges facing women in using independent power and authority. She discusses the evolution of society in these respects starting from times when men quite literally legally owned their wives. Much has of course changed since then, but women nonetheless continue to face fundamental and legally binding discriminations and challenges. The law has, for example, been used to prevent women from their right to vote. During the eugenics movement, the law tried to stop women who were thought of as socially or morally unfit (as defined by male lawmakers and leaders) from reproducing. Today, through antiabortion and other reproduction laws in place, women still are not able to control their own destinies. These laws, Professor Goodwin notes, are not merely rules but truly shape life, liberty, and health for women across society. For example, on the liberty front, women have been arrested for refusing C-section or for having a miscarriage, or for falling down the stairs when pregnant. On the health and life fronts, states across the United States limit access to sex education in schools and consequently, the U.S. maintains the highest STD rates in the developed world with lifelong implications for girls and women, including cancer and maternal and infant mortality (the United States has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world).Forthcoming in the Cornell Law Review next spring, Professor Goodwin further applies her research to the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically its disparate temporary and long term impacts on different gender and racial groups. Many mistakenly assume that the global nature of COVID-19 makes the pandemic an equalizer and a universally uniform experience, but in reality, the crisis actually further disadvantages vulnerable and at risk groups. For example, the majority of frontline healthcare workers are women. Even outside of the hospital, women make up the majority of essential workers, such as social workers and critical retail workers. Moreover, during COVID-19 quarantine, even outside of the working world, women face greater challenges in domestic violence and sexual abuse. For many women, neither work nor home is a safe place. Data like this is not sufficiently broadcast through mainstream media, but such information and awareness is essential to properly shape policy to respond to the challenges facing these marginalized groups. Beyond gender divides, there are also growing racial ones. There are rising reports of anti-Asian American attacks around the country, driven in part by the weaponizing of race through the labeling of COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus.” There are also growing misinterpretations of causal impacts as it relates to cultural diets and the assumed cause of the pandemic. Specifically, Asians are now facing backlash for consuming snake meat (even though snakes are considered a delicacy in many non-Asian diets in the United States), and more broadly, society has long blamed cultural diets for the financial and health outcomes of people of color. What is missed in these false assumptions is the distinction between correlation and causation. While there may be a correlation between particular cultural diets and life outcomes, there is little, if any, evidence of the former being a direct contributor to the latter. These assumptions are not only unfounded but are also harmful through further contributing to negative narratives around marginalized groups. These assumptions take away from the much needed focus on improving quality of medical and general opportunity access for these underrepresented groups, which are the true contributing factors to differentials in life outcomes. On advice for society in moving forward from COVID-19 stronger and more inclusive than before, Professor Goodwin underscores the importance of respecting and understanding the value of the constitution. It vests equality in everyone of us, including the right to speak, and the right to equal opportunity.