Authority and Resistance

Even though the framers gave the states the right (power) to protect slavery, and even though forced integration did diminish the scope, breadth, substance, and importance of the First Amendment right to freedom of association (for whites, of course), a time came when these tenets of constitutional law had to be reinterpreted. The authority of law could be maintained only if law sanctioned the equality that had been anathema to it.

The courts never said they had been wrong; and to this day it is a dicey business to impugn the more perfect Constitution of the framers. But law had to bend or break. The authority of the law always appears to be absolute but in fact it is never absolute or immutable. Resistance can force it to change its ground.

The authority of the law had been used to impose inequality. This inequality gave whites authority. The resistance to inequality had to confront, resist, and repudiate both the authority of the law and the authority of whites. To maintain itself, law changed. The authority of whites was pretty much destroyed. It had to be, because white authority carried the contagion of white supremacy beyond where law could go.

Male authority over women permeates every social institution and most intimate exchanges and practices. The state is one agent of male authority. The rapist is another. The husband is another. The pimp is another. The priest is another. The publisher is another. And so on. Resistance to male authority requires far more than resistance to the state or to the authority of the state. For women, the authority of the man extends into intimacy and privacy, inside the body in sex and in reproduction. In worshipping a male God, in conforming to social codes of dress and demeanor, even in using language, women defer to the authority of men.

The means of resistance to this ubiquitous and invasive authority have never been adequate. Sometimes they hardly seem serious. Even when women resist inequality and the authority of the state that imposes inequality, women continue to capitulate to the authority of men, an authority premised on women's inequality. In a fight for freedom, such a capitulation is suicidal. Accepting male authority means accepting important elements of one's own social and sexual inferiority. Deference to male authority means deference to second-class status.

The authority of the law must be-and can be-forced to change its ground: to sanction equality. The authority of men has to be pretty much destroyed. It is probably impossible to repudiate women's inequality while accepting male authority.

So far, hostility to the authority of men appears to be a serious no-no, even though each act or attitude of deference further entrenches male dominance. It is likely that women's inequality-the habits and patterns of discrimination, prejudice, and debasement that injure women-can survive any political resistance so long as the authority of men remains, as it is now, both sacrosanct and intact.


  1. The authority of law, which has sanctioned inequality, can be forced to sanction equality if resistance is intense enough and if the stakes are high enough, for example, the viability of the law itself.
  2. The authority of those who dominate must also be resisted and destroyed.
  3. Deference to male authority means deference to second-class status.
  4. Resisting the authority of men is necessary.