What the Constitution Means to Me

Last night, Chris and I went to see the Broadway show What the Constitution Means to Me, which is a 2017 play by Heidi Shreck. It was first produced at a smaller theater downtown, and after gaining a lot of traction, opened in off-Broadway in 2018. And this year, the play made its Broadway premiere in the spring.

The general storyline of the play is a woman who reflects back on the speeches she gave as a teenager about the U.S. Constitution and then talks about how she feels about it now, both based on her own personal life experiences from her teen years to the present day, as well as regarding the experiences of women in her own family. She switches between her 15-year-old self and her current adult self several decades later.

The part that struck me the most was how she reflected that overall, the Constitution does not necessarily outline what is your right; it’s actually mostly there to outline what is not your right. And a large part of the Constitution is fully dedicated to the lack of legal protection for women, as she highlights the 2005 Supreme Court case of Castle Rock vs. Gonzalez. The Supreme Court, led by Antonin Scalia then, somehow incredulously ruled that “shall” does not mean “must,” as in, “law enforcement shall protect victims of domestic abuse. Jessica Gonzalez had gotten a restraining order from her then-husband, who then kidnapped their three daughters, shooting and killing all three of them to death. Gonzalez tried to sue the police for ignoring multiple reports of her husband’s abuse and kidnapping, but in the end, she was overruled.

This is the country we live in, huh? I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it was that awful, especially since this case just happened 14 years ago. That is in my lifetime.

The real cincher here was when she stated, “More American women have been killed by violent male partners in the last century than Americans have been killed in wars, including 9/11,” Schreck said in the show. “That is not the number of women who have been killed in this country; that is only the number of women who have been killed by the men who supposedly loved them.”

The entire theater went so silent that you probably could have heard someone drop a pin. I couldn’t even hear anyone breathing. The saddest thing about this statement was that I actually wondered a few years ago what the statistic was for the number of women who have died from domestic abuse, in light of learning about the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning series written about violence against women in South Carolina. In the series, which I read in full, we learn that in South Carolina, abuse against pet dogs has a harsher and lengthier penalty than abuse against one’s wife. In other words, pets have more rights than women, yet women are human beings. Pets… are just animals.

This is the reality we live in… here in the 21st century, in what is supposed to be one of the most developed nations in the world. And no one seems to care or want to do anything about it.

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