Substance Over Style: Institutional Activism and Amending State Constitutions to be Gender-Neutral in Maine, New York, and New Hampshire
Balderston, Elizabeth McKinney
Gender inequality is a persistent issue in the United States with material consequences for women in almost every aspect of their lives, from their self-perception to the wages they earn (Heilman, 2012). A facet of gender inequality is gendered language as well as the discrimination and stereotypes about women that gendered language reproduces. Gendered language can be found in governing documents at every level of US government, including state constitutions. In the same way that “dog whistle” politics elicit racist sentiments in white voters (Mendelberg, 2001), gendered language functions to perpetuate patriarchal power structures. While some states, like New Hampshire, have tried and failed to amend their constitutions to contain gender-neutral language, others, like Maine and New York have been successful. This study examines how institutional activists in Maine, New York, and New Hampshire’s state legislatures successfully or unsuccessfully framed the gender-neutral constitutional amendment change in response to political opportunities, and events that dictated broader social context, or discursive opportunities.