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11 Ridiculous, Anti-Feminist Laws Still on the Books in the US in 2017

Tess Sohngen

By Tess Sohngen

Brought to you by: CHIME FOR CHANGE

Backbone Campaign/Flickr.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the sexist law banning Iranian women from attending men’s sporting events. Or even more likely, you know that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive.

Maybe you saw a headline about child marriage and asked yourself, “How could child marriage still be legal?”

It’s still allowed in 116 countries, according to the Pew Research Center.

Around the world laws continue to limit women’s opportunities and rights. These laws are not just relegated to developing countries.

The US also has some eyebrow-raising rules that show just how much gender inequality still persists.

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To highlight this point, Global Citizen has compiled a list of 17 sexist laws that still exist in the US:


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1. In Massachusetts, you can’t advertise birth control through the mail.

Regulations prohibiting the sale of birth control to any particular group (including unmarried women) were deemed illegal at a federal level in the 1972 case Eisenstadt v. Baird, but somehow, this law is still in place in Massachusetts. A state law says it is illegal to print and distribute information on any substance “preventing, or which is represented as intended to prevent, pregnancy.” Offenders can be fined $1,000 or face up to three years in prison.

2. Women cannot show ‘too much cleavage’ in Cleveland.

Although many shirts are designed for the very purpose of showing female cleavage, the city of Cleveland prohibits women from showing cleavage with a “less than fully opaque” covering.

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3. In North Carolina, a woman cannot withdraw consent and call subsequent actions rape.

By definition, this law allows a form of rape to be legal. Let that sink in a moment.

Other states have been put under the spotlight for laws that allow certain types of sexual assault to go unpunished. Some, like Oklahoma and Georgia, closed those loopholes. North Carolina has not.

4. Women cannot wear sleeveless tops or dresses to Congress.

Even Capitol Hill has its share of anti-feminist rules. Just this summer, a reporter was not permitted into a room adjacent to the House’s chambers because her shoulders were not covered.

Men are expected to wear suit jackets to Congress, and women are not allowed to wear sleeveless blouses or dresses, sneakers, or open-toed shoes.

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5. In this California town, a woman must have a permit to wear shoes with heels that are over two inches high and less than one square inch thick.  

In Carmel, California, wearing super tall heels is seen as illegal rather than impressive. The logic behind this law is that wearing the shoes is a “liability issue.”

“While the local police do not cite those in violation of the ordinance,” the city website reads, “this seemingly peculiar law was authored by the city attorney in the 1920's to defend the city from lawsuits resulting from wearers of high-heeled shoes tripping over irregular pavement distorted by tree roots. Permits are available without charge at City Hall.”

6. An unmarried woman in Florida cannot parachute on a Sunday, or else she will be fined or arrested.

The story behind this law better be good. But in reality, why should it matter what day of the week it is, and why should it matter if she is married or not? More importantly: why are unmarried men allowed to parachute on Sunday while unmarried women can’t?

Read More:These 7 Sexist Laws Prevent Women From ‘Dangerous’ Jobs

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7. Child marriage is still legal.

Not expecting to see this on the list? Over the past 15 years, 200,000 underage children were married in the US, some as young as 10 and 11. Although the nation legal age to marry in the US is 18, most states have legal exceptions for cases of parental consent or pregnancy.

Read More:Women Who Refuse to Disclose Their Salary Get Offered Less Money at Jobs

8. A man cannot seduce a corrupt, single woman in Michigan.

Even though it’s the man who could receive up to five years in prison for this or pay $2,500, it’s still a law targeting unfair gender inequalities and expectations.

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9. Rapists have parental rights in seven states.

Most states have laws that prevent rapists from claiming parental rights, but seven states do not: Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In some cases, this has resulting in sexual assault victims having to coparent with their perpetrator, meaning the rapist has visitation rights and stays in contact with the child and mother.

Read More:7 Feminist Laws Iceland Has That the World Needs

10. In Michigan, a wife must obtain her husband’s permission before she can cut her hair.

Some of the supposed laws around women’s hair have been debunked, including the belief that Arkansas teachers can be refused a pay raise if they have a bob haircut. However, this hair-related law in Michigan is still on the books.

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11. Women can’t wear pants in Tucson, Arizona.

Yes, you read that right. By law, women are not allowed to wear pants of any kind — no dress pants, jeans or leggings and definitely no sweatpants. This is just one of the many strange laws in Tucson that likely came from “Old Western” times and specifies that people are not to wear clothes meant for the opposite gender. Still, no pants?

Luckily, many silly laws (like the no-pants law) are now overlooked. But some of the more serious ones (such as no rescinding consent) are still upheld in practice and in court.

About Our Partner

CHIME FOR CHANGE is a global campaign founded by Gucci in 2013 to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world. The campaign uses innovative approaches to promote gender equality. Co-founded by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Salma Hayek Pinault, CHIME FOR CHANGE works with a coalition of partner organizations, including the Kering Foundation, Facebook, and Hearst Magazines.