Mid-late 1800’s Gender Roles

            The cases of Joyner v. Joyner, State v. Black, and State v. Rhodesas explained by Karl Llewellyn helps show how the law depicted gender roles in the south during the mid-late 1800’s.  All of these cases set precedence of a husband’s authority over his wife within the home.  The claims that a wife’s actions are the responsibility of her husband giving him the right to “correct” her actions if he feels necessary.  The decisions in these cases help to reveal the social gender roles of the time.

            In the case of Joyner v. Joyner where a wife unsuccessfully attempts to divorce her husband, the courts find that domestic violence of the nature found in this case is not reasonable grounds for divorce.  Furthermore, it was the perception given from the case is that the husband merely living up to his marital responsibilities by “correcting” his wife’s disrespectful behavior towards him so long as it was not done in a mellitus manner.  At the time men were responsible for the actions of their wives, much like parents are responsible for the actions of their children today.   In the mid-late 1800’s women were seen as below their husbands in the hierarchy of the household, therefore giving the husband both great power and responsibility over everyone in the home.  The husband in the case of Joyner v. Joyner not only has the right but the duty to strike his wife with a horse-whip and switch.

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            The courts took the idea of a man’s duty to govern his home a step further in the case of State v. Black, when they decided that even though the couple in this case was separated (but not divorced) the husband could not and should not be punished for taking violent action against his wife.  This decision made it clear that a husband’s authority is over his wife and is not limited to his household.  As long as the marriage is still legally standing the husband has the right to “correct” his wife and force her to act as he sees fit.  At this time there was really no way for a woman to escape the jurisdiction of her husband.

            The social inferiority of women was once again furthered in State v. Rhodes where despite admission that without matrimony battery clearly took place without provocation, the courts ruled in favor of the husband.  It seems as though the court was looking for any way possible to avoid setting a precedent in favor of women, using the reasoning that it is worse to make the private matters of the bedroom public than to be beaten without justification.  They went on to compare the acts of the husband in this case to a fight between two teenage boys, claiming that it is an inevitability that is not worth the courts time and needs to be resolved solely between the two parties involved.  This case made it clear that no southern court would rule against the social order and favor a wife over her husband.

            The cases of Joyner v. Joyner, State v. Black, and State v. Rhodes help to depict the social status of southern men and women in the mid-late 1800’s.  They clearly show a man’s superiority of his wife giving him the power to control her actions as he sees fit, despite the manner of the relationship or the reasonability of the “correction.”  The power given to husbands essentially gives them then role of King of the household, having no one to answer to for any violent acts on his wife.  On the other side women were seen as a tool to be used by her husband however he saw fit.  Since she is considered more of a resource than a person, it is very easy for society to accept this mistreatment at the hands of her husband.  These court cases serve as a great example of the male dominance over there female companions found in the south during this time period.

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