Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Historical Persecution of Women and the Birth of Female Criminality

Amy Gainford,  Mad, Bad or Sad? The Historical Persecution of Women and the Birth of Female Criminality

Throughout history the notion of the ‘female criminal’ has been something of a taboo, an almost morbid curiosity to male dominated societies. As such through misogynist crusades they have attempted to eradicate the world of any women who did not meet the criteria that society dictates. Women who were outspoken and passionate were condemned. Numerous methods were employed to keep women in their place. From the early persecution of witch-hunts in the 15th-17th century to the medicalization of their melancholy in the Victorian era, women were suppressed. Early criminologists ‘discovered’ the biological elements of female criminality and contemporary Criminal Justice System and the mainstream media perpetuated this image. In doing so the disdain from the general public towards criminal women has grown. Often the combination of public hatred and the media’s macabre portrayal creates something of a modern day witch-hunt against these women. Perhaps this is because events of the past ‘demonstrate’ women behaving badly or because of misogyny so deeply ingrained within out society that we cannot escape it. These beliefs that women are fundamentally, biologically evil have seeped into mainstream societal systems that aim to serve the people but instead persecute an entire sub-section of society.

February 9, 2018 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Examining Feminist Legal Briefs to SCOTUS for Their Use of Race–Gender Analogical Legal Framing

Holly McCammon, Brittany N. Hearne, Allison R. McGrath, Minyoung Moon,  Legal Mobilization and Analogical Framing: Feminist Litigators' Use of Race-Gender Analogies, 40 Law & Policy 57 (2018).

From the Introduction:

In an effort to contribute to our understanding of social movement judicial legal mobilization, our paper explores legal briefs submitted to the US Supreme Court in gender-equality cases since 1970. We focus particularly on the use of a specific type of legal framing in these briefs: analogical legal framing. As Sunstein (1993) points out, this is a commonly used form of reasoning in litigation, and some (Mayeri 2001; Rush 1997) argue that it is a dominant form, particularly in civil rights litigation. In analogical legal framing, a litigant argues that similarities exist, for instance, between two groups, and developments in law regarding one group should be considered in adjudication concerning the other group (Mayeri 2001; Sunstein 1993).2 Here we specifically investigate feminist litigators' use of race–gender analogies in their cause lawyering. Feminist cause lawyers have pursued a substantial number of cases before the high court over the last several decades in an effort to achieve greater gender equality under the law. In such cases, with some frequency, the feminist party to the case (that is, the party seeking greater gender equality) draws an analogy between racial and gender discrimination as they argue in favor of broadening gender equality. In fact, MacKinnon (1991, 1281) goes so far as to state that “the judicial interpretation of sex equality … has been built on the racial analogy.” Mayeri (2011, 3), who examines in rich detail “reasoning from race,” states that “‘second-wave’ feminists conscripted legal strategies developed to combat race discrimination into the service of women's rights.”

 

Various scholars explore whether and how movement activists invoke the law generally (e.g., Pedriana 2006; Andersen 2005; McCann 1994), yet few examine how cause lawyers articulate their demands in court. Our investigation contributes to the larger literature on legal mobilization by taking a number of steps. First, we explore the use of analogical legal framing by activists, a type of litigation reasoning commonly used but not yet investigated as a form of movement framing. We examine the frequency and trends in the use of such arguments in feminist briefs presented to the Supreme Court in gender-equality cases from 1970 to the present. In addition, we provide insight into the various forms the race–gender analogy takes. Second, we consider how social movement framing concepts, such as frame bridging and transformation (Snow et al. 1986), can be understood in combination with analogical legal framing.

 

Finally, our research also contributes to the understanding of why activists choose to deploy particular types of frames. A handful of scholars have investigated the circumstances shaping why movements articulate certain types of frames (e.g., McCammon 2012; Coe 2011; Maney, Woehrle, and Coy 2005), but few have considered the circumstances leading to the use of specific frames in movement litigation (for exceptions, see Goldberg 2014; Fuchs 2013; Ziegler 2011). Our investigation of analogic framing by feminist legal activists will enrich our understanding not only of movement framing but also (in particular) of framing as practiced by activists engaged in legal mobilization. By examining why shifts in the overall use and in the varying types of the analogic frame occur, our research furthers understanding of this particular form of legal mobilization strategy.

February 8, 2018 in Courts, Legal History, Race, SCOTUS | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Misunderstanding Second Wave Feminism

Who are You Calling a "Second-Wave Feminist?"

Our times have been blessed in one limited way: After decades of refusing and shrugging and avoiding, women want to be called feminists.. . . . And it's nice to feel we're making history. It'd be even nicer . . .if we all knew a little more about the history of feminism.

 

Jezebel, a site that helped kick open the door to the wave now washing over us, recently published a piece by Stassa Edwards titled, "The Backlash to #MeToo Is Second-Wave Feminism."***

 

So let's talk about the second wave.

 

Lesson the first: 1960s feminists came up with the term "second wave" to distinguish themselves from the "first wave" — the suffragettes, more or less. It wasn't exactly a disowning, but second-wave feminists thought of themselves as liberating women personally as well as politically. They also thought of themselves as more sexually free than their predecessors, though historians might disagree.

 

Lesson the second: The second wave wasn't a monolith. No one could claim full ownership of it. Sure, some locate its origins in the work of Betty Friedan, who published "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963Others point to a collective called New York Radical Women. It didn't have formal leadership, but its most famous figureheads were Shulamith Firestone and Robin Morgan. Still others are interested in the strain of literary-intellectual feminism that flourished among writers such as Adrienne Rich and Kate Millett. And, in the popular imagination, Gloria Steinem gets the second-wave feminist crown, standing astride Ms., bringing radical thought to the masses.*

 

Lesson the third: Although second-wave feminism was racist in the sense that its public faces were predominantly white — as contemporary feminists often mention — it was not unaware of this fact.... 

 

This shortcoming in particular, I suspect, is what's behind the common dismissal of the second wave. It is honorable to want to keep holding feminism to a higher standard of anti-racism....But it's simply not the case that the importance of inclusivity only occurred to feminists recently.

 

Which leads to the fourth and final lesson: Although many of them are dead now, I bet quite a lot of second-wave feminists would have loved #MeToo. After all, we have the second wave to thank for sexual harassment laws.

 

Young feminists tend to dislike Catharine MacKinnon, the law professor who took on pornography, for perceived offenses against the 1st Amendment. They may not realize that it was also MacKinnon who, in the 1970s, wrote the legal theory later adopted by the Supreme Court when Mechelle Vinson sued her employer because her boss demanded that she sleep with him. Vinson and MacKinnon opened the door to countless women who would henceforth claim that their bosses' actions created a "hostile work environment."

Where Do you Think They Got These Ideas? Katha Pollitt on Second-Wave Feminism, Harassment, and Progress

In a recent article for Jezebel, Stassa Edwards wrote that “[t]he backlash to #MeToo is indeed here and it is liberal second-wave feminism.” Her piece followed a number of stories from female writers in their 40s and older—such as Daphne Merkin—taking issue with some aspects of the #MeToo movement. In Merkin’s words, there has been a “reflexive and unnuanced sense of outrage that has accompanied this cause from its inception, turning a bona fide moment of moral accountability into a series of ad hoc and sometimes unproven accusations.

Isaac Chotiner: What have you made of the generational tensions or differences between different waves of feminism that have arisen lately?

Katha Pollitt: I’m a little bewildered by it, for several reasons. One is that second-wave feministis being used as a synonym for woman writer of a certain age. I mean, Katie Roiphe is not a second-waver. Daphne Merkin, Andrea Peyser—these women are not feminists at all, in my view. And they are not old enough to be second-wavers. I mean Katie Roiphe was minus 5 years old when The Feminine Mystique was published. So I think I would wish that the young women who are making this claim would read a little bit of history.

he second point is that the very concepts that these young women are relying on—consent, date rape, acquaintance rape, sexual harassment, believing women, intimate questions of power relations between the sexes—where do they think they got these ideas? They got them from the second wave, those old harridans who are now, in fact, 75 and 80 years old. So that does bother me—the lack of history and the ageism

January 25, 2018 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Remedying Sex Discrimination in the Sale of Goods and Services through Federal Law

Whitney Brown, The Illegality of Sex Discrimination in Contracting, 32 Berkeley J. Gender, Law & Justice 137 (2017) 

Sex discrimination in contracting is rampant and is largely tolerated in a variety of economic markets. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex only in certain circumscribed markets, including employment, housing, and education. Sex is not a protected class under federal public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin by business establishments offering goods, services, or facilities to the general public. And no federal law is currently understood to prohibit sex discrimination in the sale of goods or services. Merchants may, for instance, lawfully refuse to sell a car—or a paperclip or any other good—to a woman because of her sex, or may charge a woman twice as much as a man for the same item.

 

This gap in our civil rights regime is not merely academic. Without the enforcement of a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in contracting, women suffer manifold and measurable consequences in the marketplace. Women are charged more than men for clothing and personal care products, from deodorant and razor blades to canes and other supports. Studies in multiple states have found that women consistently pay more for haircuts and for dry cleaning, even where the services or products purchased are essentially the same as those purchased by men. The federal tariff schedule, which imposes different rates of duty on goods imported into the United States, contains over one hundred sex-classified tariff rates. Research also suggests that women, despite having better credit scores than men on average, are more likely to receive subprime mortgages. Taken together, the cumulative cost to women of such price inequities in goods and services—a product of unequal contracting rights—is substantial. Indeed, prior to passing a state law that prohibited sex-based price discrimination in retail service establishments (leaving sex discrimination in the price of goods still unregulated), the state of California found that women paid an average “gender tax” of $1351 per year in added costs for similar goods and services as compared to men. Attempts to solve the problem of sex discrimination in contracting through new legislation have failed, in part because of the lobbying efforts of manufacturers and retailers that charge women more for their products and services.

 

This Article argues that while practices that discriminate on the basis of sex in the sale of goods and services are widespread, and are largely regarded as lawful, such forms of sex discrimination in contracting were prohibited over one hundred fifty years ago by the passage of the first civil rights statute in our nation’s history—the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

January 19, 2018 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Books: 100 Years of the 19th Amendment

Holly J. McCammon & Lee Ann Banaszak, eds., 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women's Political Activism (Oxford 2018)

The year 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment giving many women in the United States the right to vote. ***

Looking forward to the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, this collection of original essays takes a long view of the past century of women's political engagement to gauge how much women have achieved in the political arena. The volume looks back at the decades since women won the right to vote to analyze the changes, developments, and even continuities in women's roles in the broad political sphere. Ultimately, the book asks two important questions about the last 100 years of women's suffrage: 1) How did the Nineteenth Amendment alter the American political system? and 2) How has women's engagement in politics changed over the last 100 years? 

As the chapters reveal, while women have made substantial strides in the political realm--voting at higher rates than men and gaining prominent leadership roles--barriers to gender equality remain. Women continue to be underrepresented in political office and to confront gender bias in a myriad of political settings. The contributors also remind us of the important understanding to be gained from an intersectional perspective to women's political engagement. In particular, several chapters discuss the failure of the Nineteenth Amendment to provide full political rights and representation to African American, Latina, and poorer women. The work also considers women's extra-institutional activism in a wide variety of settings, including in the feminist, civil rights, environmental, and far-right movements. As the volume traces women's forceful presence and limitations in politics over the past century, it also helps us look forward to consider the next 100 years: what additional victories might be won and what new defeats will need women's response?

Including my chapter with TJ Boisseau, After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step

January 16, 2018 in Books, Constitutional, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law

Thanks to Prof. Mary Block for this review of my book:

Civil War Book Review, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a woman far ahead of her time with regard to her advocacy for women’s rights within the family. Tracy A. Thomas, Professor of family law and a feminist legal historian, argues that Stanton believed a radical challenge to family law was vital to the woman’s rights agenda. Stanton asserted that four institutions: government, church, family, and industry acted symbiotically to keep women in a subordinate status. The public and private spheres were not separate, but intertwined and they operated in myriad ways to discriminate and hinder women and stifle equality. Thomas states that Stanton and many other nineteenth-century women’s rights advocates had a fluid notion of feminism, one that embraced both the sameness and differences between men and women. Women were equal not inferior to men, but women were different because they could procreate while men could not so in addition to the vote, Stanton also promoted rights that extended to women as mothers. The greatest hurdle to achieving equal rights for women was that too many people confounded differences with inferiority. The rest of the populace was apathetic. The solution to the problem of women’s inequality was complete formal legal equality. The question was how best to achieve it.

***

Stanton’s feminist attack on the oppressive structures of marriage was radical in that she framed women’s inequality as systemic victimization. Marriage laws sexualized women and created a sanctuary for male lust through protection of the husband’s marital right, a vestige of coverture that shielded men who raped their wives. At the Tenth Annual Convention, Stanton said marriage was legalized prostitution, a claim intended to shock her audience. Women give up everything when they wed while men gave up nothing. Marriage was analogous to slavery in many ways. Man was the master and woman had to obey him. Upon marriage woman’s identity became submerged into that of her husband and she literally no longer existed in the eyes of the law. Stanton lauded Lucy Stone who kept her maiden name after she wed Henry Blackwell. Stanton herself demanded she be called Elizabeth Cady Stanton rather than Mrs. Henry Stanton to express her independent identity. This was less radical than Stone, but still radical for her time.

 

By the end of Stanton’s life, family law had changed, but not as radically as Stanton had desired. It would not be until the last quarter of the twentieth century and the second women’s rights movement that nearly all of her recommendations came to fruition. She truly was a woman far ahead of her time. Tracy Thomas has thoroughly documented Stanton’s radicalism on matters of marriage and the family and has shown just how significantly one woman’s feminism affected family law for the betterment of women.

December 7, 2017 in Books, Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book: Biography of Claire L'Heureux-Dube, the Second Woman Appointed to Canada's Supreme Court

 Claire L’Heureux-Dubé

 

Claire L'Heureux-Dubé: A Life by Constance Backhouse  

From the publisher:

Both lionized and vilified, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé has shaped the Canadian legal landscape – and in particular its highest court. The second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and the first Québécoise, she was known as “the great dissenter,” making judgments that were applauded and criticized in turn.

Who was this energetic, risk-taking woman? L’Heureux-Dubé stands out as one of the most dynamic and controversial judges on a controversial court. Did she consciously position herself for success in a discriminatory milieu, or was she oblivious to power?

L’Heureux-Dubé anchored her innovative legal approach to cases in their social, economic, and political context. Constance Backhouse employs a similar tactic. Rather than focusing exclusively on jurisprudential legacy, she explores the rich sociopolitical and cultural setting in which L’Heureux-Dubé’s career unfolded, while also considering her personal life.

This compelling biography covers aspects of legal history that have never been so fully investigated. Changing gender norms are traced through the experience of a francophone woman within the male-dominated Quebec legal profession – and within the primarily anglophone world of the Supreme Court. Claire L’Heureux-Dubé enhances our understanding of the Canadian judiciary, the creation of law, the Quebec socio-legal environment, and the nation’s top court.

November 3, 2017 in Books, International, Judges, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Reinvigorating Class Actions for Gender Discrimination

Brooke Coleman & Elizabeth Porter, Reinvigorating Commonality: Gender & Class Actions

The modern class action, the modern feminist movement, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were all products of the creativity and turmoil of the 1960s. As late as 1961—one year after Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected new law school graduate Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a law clerk because she was a woman—the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a Florida statute that required men, but not women, to serve on juries, on the ground that women’s primary role was in the home. As Betty Friedan put it in 1963’s The Feminine Mystique, “In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens.” But change was imminent. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the founding of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and a rising social and intellectual feminist movement brought women’s equality into the national conversation. Simultaneously—at least in part in response to the civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act —an (all-male) Judicial Conference and Supreme Court in 1966 ushered in the modern era of collective litigation by promulgating Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and more specifically, Rule 23(b)(2), which provided a formal structure for civil rights plaintiffs to seek aggregate relief for violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Together, these phenomena gave impetus to communities of women to combat legal and cultural injustices through the courts. The result has been widespread improvement in the lives of working women—and men—across many industries. 

In this Article, we examine the interplay of Rule 23(b)(2) class actions, feminism, and Title VII sex discrimination doctrine over the past fifty years to show that the theoretical concept of commonality—cohesion, unity—in the women’s movement has had a significant impact on the ability of women to seek collective redress for workplace discrimination through class actions. We describe how the four “waves” of feminism since the 1960s find corresponding analogues in the development of Title VII class action law. 

This is not an empirical study, nor is it comprehensive. Rather, our aim is to generate thought as to ways in which class action doctrine simultaneously reflects and reinforces evolving views of feminism and gender equality. We acknowledge that class actions are not the sole standard bearers for impact litigation, and that individual suits—whether brought by individuals of any gender or by physicians—have been vital to the establishment of anti-discrimination legal norms in the area of gender equality. Even so, we argue that Rule 23(b)(2) suits continue to serve a vital function by allowing women to enforce those established norms, overcoming classic barriers to judicial justice such as lack of resources, lack of access to lawyers, and retaliation by employers against individuals who file suit. As Anita Hill recently argued in a critique of the technology sector, “Class action lawsuits can force industry-wide change, even in the most entrenched, male-dominated industries.”

November 2, 2017 in Courts, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reading List for Law & Gender on Halloween

It's Halloween... which for law and gender means time to remember the Salem Witch Trials. 

Most of the victims of the trials were women.  And most of the accusers.  Scholars have talked about the trials as misogyny and at the same time as women's assertion of agency and power.  They also suggested the lax evidentiary standards allowed social judgments about women to be determinative of legal guilt.

Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (2015)

Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1998)

Jane Moriarty, Wonders of the Invisible World: Prosecutorial Syndrome and Profile Evidence in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, 26 Vermont L. Rev. 43 (2001)

Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2003)

Peter Hoffer, The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (1997)

October 31, 2017 in Books, Courts, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Most Women in Prison are Victims of Domestic Violence. That's Nothing New.

Most Women in Prison are Victims of Domestic Violence. That's Nothing New.

While the mass incarceration of men has dominated the discussion of policing and prisons over the past few years—and rightly so—there’s been a recent shift in thinking about incarcerated women, and not a moment too soon. According to a report by the Vera Institute, women’s incarceration has increased a startling 14-fold since 1970. Like their male counterparts, these women are also overwhelmingly women of color.

 

Despite the shocking increase in their numbers, however, the specific issues and needs of female prisoners have largely gone ignored. In particular, as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins in the U.S., it’s worth noting that the vast majority of women in prison are single mothers who have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence.

 

These concerns have rarely been part of prison-reform discussions, and yet this fact is typical of the history of women’s incarceration in our country.

 

Criminal justice in the American South for decades following the Civil War was meted out unjustly, disproportionately affecting African Americans, regardless of gender. And, thanks to a unique historical record created by women in a Mississippi prison in the 1930s, it’s possible to see that the similarities between women’s incarceration then and now is significant. In both periods, women were more likely to be incarcerated for nonviolent crimes than for violent ones. Likewise, many of the incarcerated women in both cases were victims of domestic and sexual violence whose income was vital to their family household.

This report matches my own experience.  In practice, I handled a pro bono class action on behalf of the women prisoners in D.C.  See Women Prisoners of DC v. District of Columbia.

October 4, 2017 in Courts, Legal History, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

An Originalist Defense of the Privileges or Immunities Clause for Gender Nondiscrimination in Bradwell v. Illinois

M. Frances Rooney, Note, The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and an Originalist Defense of Gender Nondiscrimination, Geo. J. Law & Public Policy (forthcoming).

The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a constitutional right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender. Original public meaning originalism provides the structure to find that the clause includes a right to practice a lawful profession that extends to all citizens, irrespective of gender. The clause is a guarantee of rights to every “citizen of the United States,” not every male citizen; because of that, the clause is a positive grant of rights to all citizens in the United States. 

The central thesis of this Note is that women who are citizens of the United States have rights guaranteed by the Privileges or Immunities Clause, specifically the right to practice a profession. This right cannot be denied on the basis of gender, because adult women have the same capacity as men to practice law. Had this been recognized in 1873, the time The Slaughter-House Cases and Bradwell v. Illinois were decided, and had the erroneous interpretation of the clause in Slaughter-House not prevailed, Bradwell would have recognized this right. Given the contemporary knowledge of the capacities of women and an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation and construction, the decision in Bradwell should be overruled. Taking this step would lead to the development of an originalist gender equality jurisprudence.

Feminist pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton made a similar argument against Bradwell (and Minor v. Happersettat the time using the P&I Clause.  Although her arguments were more textualist than originalist per se.  I discuss these early equality interpretations of the Privileges or Immunities Clause in my recent book Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law.  A blog post summarizing the relevant part, chapter 2, is here, at  What do You Women Want?: The 19th Century Demand for Reform of Marital Property.

October 3, 2017 in Constitutional, Legal History, SCOTUS | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Book Review: Divided We Stand and the National Women's Conference of 1977

This book is sitting near the top of my pile of books-to-read

Linda Greenhouse, Who Killed the ERA?, NYT Book Review, reviewing:

Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics, by Marjorie J. Spruill

Marjorie J. Spruill’s Divided We Stand is the most recent effort to probe the feminist/antifeminist struggle of the 1970s for what it might tell us about today’s polarized America. It’s an ambitious book, built around a close study of an event that Self treats in only a few pages and Mansbridge in a single passing reference: the congressionally mandated, federally funded National Women’s Conference that took place in Houston in November 1977. The conference was organized by the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year, set up by the Ford administration in 1975 to coordinate American participation in the United Nations–sponsored Decade for Women. From May to July 1977, some 130,000 people—all but a few hundred of them women—took part in state-level meetings to select delegates and debate the conference’s agenda. The idea was to come up with a “plan of action” for the national delegates to adopt and present to the White House and Congress.

The path to this goal was intensely contested, with a number of the state conventions becoming ideological battlegrounds over issues like federally funded child care, gay rights, and abortion. Two thousand delegates and nearly 20,000 observers eventually attended the official conference in Houston, while a similar number gathered across town in a conservative counter-convention organized by Schlafly. Both sides emerged highly mobilized and ready for continued battle.

The events of 1977 are often portrayed merely as one episode in a decade of feminist conflicts, gains, and setbacks. Spruill, a historian of southern and women’s history at the University of South Carolina, makes the rather stronger claim that the competing conferences “ushered in a new era in American politics—the beginning rather than the end of a protracted struggle over women’s rights and family values.” Whereas in the early 1970s Democrats and Republicans had, in Spruill’s view, “both…supported feminist goals,” the events of 1977 created two polarized and increasingly partisan camps. The plan of action that emerged from the official convention in the end included support for the ERA, abortion rights, and gay rights. It called for equal access to credit, which banks routinely denied to married women on the premise that the husband was in control of the family finances. One plank called for reform “based on the principle that marriage is a partnership in which the contribution of each spouse is of equal importance and value.” The counter-conference was dominated by Christian and anti-abortion delegates united under a “pro-family” banner. Spruill notes that the official delegates were so “caught up in their own conference experience” that they had “little sense” of how equally empowering the Houston weekend had proved to be to the other side.

Nonetheless, Spruill’s project of historical reclamation is an important one. While the National Women’s Conference and the competing Pro-Life, Pro-Family Rally did not quite amount to “Four Days That Changed the World” (as it was described in a Ms.magazine headline the following March), they were signal events that drew thousands of women into political engagement and offered clearly defined—if opposing—arguments in which these new activists could discover sympathies. Gloria Steinem may well have been right in a recent interview to call the National Women’s Conference “the most important event nobody knows about.”

There is another book review of the book by Gillian Thomas posted here.

October 2, 2017 in Books, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rethinking the Legislative History of Title VII and Sex Discrimination

Arianne Renan Barzilay, Parenting Title VII: Rethinking the History of the Sex Discrimination Prohibition, 28 Yale J.L. & Feminism 55 (2016)

It is a pillar of employment discrimination law that Title VII’s prohibition of “sex” discrimination lacks prior legislative history. When interpreting the meaning of sex discrimination protection under Title VII, courts have stated that it is impossible to fathom what Congress intended when it included “sex” in the Act. After all, the sex provision was added at the last minute by the Southern arch conservative congressman Howard “Judge” Smith in an attempt to frustrate the Civil Rights Act’s passage. Courts have often interpreted the sex provision’s passage as a “fluke” that has left us bereft of prior legislative history that might guide judicial interpretation. It is not surprising, then, that Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition has been rather narrowly construed. 

This Article rethinks this received narrative and emphasizes its implausibility in light of the pre-Civil Rights Act contributions feminists made to the national discourse on sex discrimination. It considers not only scholarship on Equal Rights Feminists’ role in passing Title VII’s sex provision, but also scholarship on the often-overlooked Working-Class Social and Labor Feminists. The Article also explores the contestations between these two groups over the meaning of sex discrimination. It provides a more complex narrative of the provision’s parentage than the one previously recognized. 

The Article reframes the narrative by broadening the scope of inquiry in two ways: first, by focusing on Working-Class Social and Labor Feminists’ agitation for equality in the workplace, and second, by looking further back in time in order to reconceptualize debates over workplace equality as formative of the discourse on sex discrimination. The Article begins with early twentieth century contestations over protective labor legislation and argues that Working-Class Social Feminists supported labor regulation based not merely on sex stereotypes, but on their understanding of labor regulation as a means to combat sex discrimination. It continues through the New Deal, when an early sex anti-classification provision was inscribed in federal law by Social Feminists to provide equal pay for men and women. It examines the debates over workplace sex discrimination that reverberated in the decades following World War II and persisted through the early 1960s—when Congress passed the Equal Pay Act and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women issued its report. The Article considers these developments as part of feminists’ sustained efforts to combat sex discrimination, and as stage-setters for the sex provision’s passage. It claims that Working-Class Social and Labor Feminists’ long agitation for women’s equality de-facto constitutes decades’ worth of legislative history for the sex provision. When Congress voted to include “sex” discrimination in Title VII, it was already well aware of its robust meanings, thanks in large part to these feminists’ efforts to ameliorate systemic disadvantages facing women in the workforce. 

Working-Class Social and Labor Feminists’ actions and ideology should be considered important influences on the context of the sex provision’s birth. As law is the dynamic and indeterminate product of human interaction, its interpretation must account for the complexity of the legacies that infuse it with meaning. To this end, after re-conceiving the history of the sex provision’s birth, the Article suggests this history may provide a richer notion of Title VII sex discrimination, one that emphasizes structural features of the market and requires employers to take affirmative measures to offset the features that often result in discrimination.

September 25, 2017 in Equal Employment, Legal History, Legislation, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Book Podcast on Gender, Criminal Justice, and Jim Crow

Sarah Haley, "No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity"

Recent popular and scholarly interest has highlighted the complex and brutal system of mass incarceration in the United States. Much of this interest has focused on recent developments while other scholars have revealed the connections between the development of the prison system after Reconstruction and the legacies of slavery. In her new book, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), Sarah Haley points to an often under recognized part of this history. Haley, an associate professor of gender studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, focuses on the Southern criminal justice system’s treatment and exploitation of black women during the Jim Crow era. Though black women were caught up in the criminal justice system in smaller numbers than men were, Haley shows their treatment was very important to the development of Jim Crow modernity. The brutal and violent treatment, the ideological narratives surrounding black women, and the exploitation of their labor were all key in creating the ideologies of racial capitalism and patriarchy. Haley also discusses the ways black women resisted this treatment and contented the related ideologies.

 

In this episode of New Books in History, Haley discusses No Mercy Here and this history of gender, criminal justice, and race. 

September 22, 2017 in Books, Gender, Legal History, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Black Women in the Law: A History and Current Assessment

by Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke who represents New York’s Ninth Congressional District in Congress. She has served in Congress since 2007 and is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls.

September 14th marks what would have been Constance Baker Motley’s 96th birthday. In 1966, Judge Motley became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. Yet, fifty years later, Black women are still heavily underrepresented at nearly all levels of the legal profession. While Black women are also underrepresented in the arts, sciences, media, and numerous other industries, our underrepresentation in the legal profession is particularly troubling, given its unique role in protecting the rights of those who lack the knowledge or resources to protect their constitutional rights.

The history of Black female attorneys in the United States really begins with Charlotte E. Ray. On March 2nd, 1872 Ms. Ray became the first Black woman to serve as a licensed attorney in the United States. Charlotte E. Ray was born in my home state of New York in 1850 at a time when slavery still existed and even freed Black women were taught that the measure of their success was their ability to care for the men in their lives. Not willing to accept this narrow definition of purpose, Ms. Ray hid her gender in order to gain acceptance to Howard Law School. She worked twice as hard as her male colleagues to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year. This made Ms. Ray only the third licensed female attorney in the United States. Ms. Ray was also a dedicated social advocate and served as a delegate to the 1876 Conference of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association.

While Charlotte E. Ray laid the foundation for Black women to serve as attorneys in the United States, it took nearly fifty years until a Black woman gained admission to the highest bar in the nation. This occurred on January 29, 1926 with the admission of Violette Neatley Anderson to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ms. Anderson had served as a court reporter for fifteen years before attending the Chicago Law School. Like Charlotte E. Ray, Violette Neatley Anderson was deeply involved in her community and recognized the need for women of color to help each other overcome the unique barriers that stood in their way.

Yet, the tide of progress remained slow for Black women in the law. It took until January 25, 1966 until Constance Baker Motley was nominated to serve as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. By this point, Ms. Motley was already a towering figure in the law. Born in New York to parents from the Caribbean, Ms. Motley joined the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund soon after graduating from Columbia Law School. At LDF, Ms. Motley helped draft the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education and became the first Black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, ultimately winning nine of the ten cases that she argued before that body.

More than fifty years after Constance Baker Motley became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, Black women are still grossly underrepresented at nearly all levels of the legal profession. Despite comprising more than 6.6 percent of the US population, Black women accounted for less than 5 percent of full time law school graduates for the 2014 and 2015 academic years. A January 2017 NALP report similarly found that Black women only accounted for 2.32 percent of associates at major law firms and a paltry 0.64 percent of partners.

Of the 578 active district court judges in the United States, 6.4 percent (37) are Black women. While this is roughly proportionate to our share of the U.S. population, 65 percent (24) of these district court judges were nominated within the past few years by President Obama. Unsurprisingly, Black female representation drops precipitously on the circuit courts. Of the 160 active circuit court judges, only 4.4 percent(7) are Black women. Two of those judges, representing 29 percent of the total figure, were appointed by President Obama. We need not even proceed to the highest court in the land, since it is well known that no Black woman has ever served on the Supreme Court

September 15, 2017 in Courts, Legal History, Race, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Gender and Law Talks at Legal History Conference

Here are the presentations on gender and law and the upcoming annual conference of the American Society of Legal History.  The full preliminary program is here.

Lauren Thompson, Kennesaw State University, “Not for Physicians to Decide”: Medicine, Law, and Mary Ware Dennett in the Early Birth Control Movement

Cookie Woolner, University of Memphis, “Framing Women in Harlem”: Regulating Black Women’s Sexuality in the Prohibition Underworld

Katherine Luongo, Northeastern University, Mens Rea as a Cultural Matter: Adjudicating Witch-Killings in Nigeria and Tanzania

Stephanie Jones-Rogers, University of California, Berkeley, Women, American Slavery, and the Law

Luisa Stella de Oliveira Coutinho Silva, Universidade de Lisboa, Women in Colonial Paraíba: A Feminist Postcolonial Study of Brazilian Legal History, 1580s–1822

Hannah Francis, Rice University, The Impact of American Law on Free Women of Color in Nineteenth Century New Orleans

Jeffrey Gonda, Syracuse University, “All the Feeling of Being a Lady Had Been Crushed”: Black Women and Jim Crow Transportation in the 1940s

 

Roundtable: Making Reproductive Rights Law from Griswold to Whole Woman’s Health 

Chair: Kate Shaw, Cardozo Law School

Reva Siegel & Linda Greenhouse, Yale Law School, The Story of Roe v. Wade

Serena Mayeri, University of Pennsylvania, The Story of Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Cary Franklin, Yale Law School, The Story of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

Khiara Bridges, Boston University School of Law, The Story of Harris v. McRae

 

September 8, 2017 in Conferences, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New Book Podcast: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law

Friday, August 25, 2017

The History of Abortion Law in Victoria

Bronwyn Taylor, Judge-Made Law: The "Menhennit Ruling" and Abortion Law Reform in Victoria, 88 Victorian Historical J. (June 2017)

Women’s right to access abortion has historically been seen as controversial by lawmakers, secular and religious. Th is article examines the sources of change in Victoria’s abortion laws, and in particular the role of judicial law making. Th e late 1960s was a time of challenges to class, gender and political inequalities, locally and internationally. In Victoria during this period, with politicians unwilling to introduce abortion law reforms despite substantial community support, a conventional — even conservative — judicial ruling in 1969 changed the law in Victoria at one stroke and provided a model of legal access to abortion for other jurisdictions for the next 40 years. Th e article examines the context for, and consequences of, the decision of Mr Justice Menhennit in R v Davidson, the ‘Menhennit ruling’.

August 25, 2017 in Abortion, International, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Response: The Multiple Feminisms of a 19th Century Women's Rights Thinker

Paula Monopoli’s point in her recent review of my book Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law,  is well taken.  She notes that “[t]he only arguable weakness in this book is that after the trenchant introduction, Thomas does not do much to connect back to the different strands of feminist theory per se.”

This actually was one of the earliest ideas I had for the book, and one that interested the editor the most in the original proposal.  But in looking back at it now, it seems that this part of the manuscript ended up on the cutting room floor. (Along with a background discussion of Protestant ideas of no-fault divorce which I still miss as it placed Stanton’s idea in greater historical and religious context).

The generality of the point of multiple feminisms survived in the book, challenging the characterization of Stanton as a simplistic thinker, a mere “first generation” advocate seeking to treat women the same as men.  (And Sue Davis makes a similar point in her book The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton about the multiple feminisms seen in Stanton’s political theory).

However, the specifics of contexts illustrating each type of feminism must be pieced together by the reader herself through the book. So let me try and explain better here.

Liberal feminism. This is the most known about Stanton, that she support a formal equality approach to treating women the same as men.  This meant reversing laws of coverture which denied women equal rights to property, inheritance, and child custody.  It meant giving women the same right to vote, hold public office, and enter the professions by college and work.  Women should be lawyers, reverends, and medical doctors.  Women should be able to own their own bank accounts.  She would have eliminated all instances where law created a separate rule based on gender, much like Ruth Bader Ginsburg advocated during her years of women’s rights work with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

Difference feminism.  However, Stanton did not only advocated formal equality between genders.  She also advocated specific legal and social rules for women only, for situations where women were differently situated.  Stanton advocated a maternal custody rule, giving child custody to women only.  She supported a widow’s exception for dower, tax and bankruptcy due to women’s different need.  And she advocated a women-only right to control sexual relations and procreation through abstinence, challenging the existing standard of male sexual prerogative. 

Her justification for these was an understanding that it was women who biologically bore children, and socially raised them.  She considered women’s role in raising children to be a powerful one.  Indeed, she argued that women should use this power to raise the next generation of children up with equal virtues and coeducation, so that women could transform society by their feminist parenting. 

While society used the maternal role to “protect” and restrict women’s rights, Stanton used maternity as a basis for power and a justification for right.  It’s not that men could not share in parenting, which she also advocated, but that they simply did not.  As such, women were differently situated and needed rights that corresponded to that reality.

Radical feminism.  Stanton also appreciated that the structures of law, society, and the family themselves were barriers to women’s full autonomy.  Like modern legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon, she attacked the sexualization of women -- in romantic Victorian notions and revealing décolletages -- and advocated dress reform and coeducation.  Stanton endorsed an equal moral sexual standard, that idea of men as needing to indulge their sexual passions by affairs, adultery, and command of marital relations was wrong, and that men should be restrained and liable for consequences, and that women also entitled to sexual express and sexual control.  And she would also restructure marriage from hierarchy to joint partnership.  Not just that women would retain their own separate property earned or inherited, but that marriage would have joint property belonging to both partners regardless of where obtained. 

Finally, Stanton quite radically took on the structure of the church.  After fifty years of work for women’s rights, Stanton learned that the foundational sticking point was that the basis of social and legal gender norms of women’s subordination were based in religious teachings.  She took on the Christian church’s doctrines and teachings, reinterpreting biblical passages and deconstructing the male bias in those rules. 

Overall, Stanton’s use of feminist methodology of deconstruction, critical suspicion of seemingly objective rules, and understanding of male privilege allowed her to approach legal and social critique with an all-encompassing feminist theory that shows her to be an advance and radical legal thinker.

Monopoli concludes in her review, that “the main strength of the book lies in Thomas as legal historian pulling together the arguments out of Stanton’s own writings, making them available to us and linking them to Stanton’s surprisingly modern legal theories. This book should be included on reading lists for upper-level seminars in jurisprudence, family law, and legal history, in addition to gender and the law. Reading it will introduce students to a significant legal mind, albeit an informally trained one, not traditionally included in the canon of prominent American legal thinkers.”

August 18, 2017 in Books, Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Book Review: The Feminist Legacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Thanks to Paula Monopoli for her great (and thorough) review of my book Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law in the Journal of Legal Education.

 

Mother. Author. Orator. Woman Suffrage Leader: The Feminist Legacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

Tracy Thomas’s new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law, provides extensive support for the claim that Stanton was “the intellectual giant of the [women’s rights] movement.” In this eminently readable yet deeply substantive work, Professor Thomas argues that Stanton was a foundational theorist for modern feminism. Until recently, Stanton’s intellectual contributions have not been widely explored, and Thomas aims to rectify that oversight. She situates Stanton in her rightful place by focusing on Stanton’s writings and advocacy in the area of family law. Thomas does a persuasive job, using Stanton’s views on marital property law, divorce, voluntary and involuntary maternity, and the custody of children as a lens through which to examine broader themes about women’s status as equal citizens in our republic. She also documents Stanton’s intellectual contributions in a way that informs current debates about gender equality.


While Stanton’s writings ranged broadly on the subordination and emancipation of women, Thomas narrows in on Stanton’s views on the subjugation of women within marriage. She also reveals Stanton’s extensive, if de facto, training in law through her father’s practice, law library and clerks. “As a young woman, Stanton had read widely in her father’s law library and discussed cases with him . . . . [H]er legal training allowed Stanton to bring to the early women’s rights movement a keen sense of the role of law in creating inequality between the sexes.” Thomas argues that this understanding of the common law itself and her understanding of how to construct legal arguments were central to Stanton’s efficacy as a theorist and an advocate.

 

Thomas begins by examining Stanton’s personal story. Stanton was a harried mother of three children under the age of ten when she convened the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. In the decade that followed, she went on to have four more children and to advocate tirelessly for women’s equality. Thomas points out how much the adage “the personal is the political” applied to Stanton, as she wrote to her partner in advocacy, Susan B. Anthony, for help:


Can you get any acute lawyer . . . sufficiently interested in our movement
to look up just eight laws concerning us—the very worst in all the code? I
can generalize and philosophize easily enough myself; but the details of the
particular law I need, I have not time to look up. You see, while I am about
the house, surrounded by my children, washing dishes, baking, sewing, etc.,
I can think up many points, but I cannot search books, for my hands as well
as my brains would be necessary for that work . . . . Men who can, when they
wish to write a document, shut themselves up for days with their thoughts
and their books, know little of what difficulties a woman must surmount.

 

These words would resonate with many female scholars today. After this first letter, Stanton again wrote to Anthony to tell her that the legislative testimony she was trying to finish was not nearly done and that her deadline was rapidly approaching. Anthony responded by coming to babysit while Stanton finished the address. Having a public voice requires time and energy. But bearing a disproportionate share of family caregiving makes such public participation difficult and remains a structural barrier to gender equality today.

 

Thomas integrates these and similar examples of the connection between the nineteenth-century Stanton and modern-day feminists. She begins her book with an introduction that gives the reader a thumbnail sketch of modern feminist theory. Thomas outlines the distinctions among liberal feminism, with its focus on formal equality; difference feminism, with its focus on resolving subordination by recognizing women’s biological, relational, and cultural differences; and radical or dominance feminism, which situates subordination in the victimization of women as sexual objects and emphasizes the need for structural reforms. Thomas argues that Stanton’s views on family law reform informed modern feminist theory. 

 

***

 

As Thomas notes, many of the reforms that Stanton wrote about and advocated for in terms of property, marriage, divorce, and custody have become the legal status quo. But in these turbulent times, Thomas’s book reminds us how fragile those gains are and how radical they still seem to many in our society. As Stanton lamented, after “years of untiring effort” to obtain guarantees of property and custody, those statutes were “repealed in States where we supposed all was safe.”Her cautionary note to be vigilant rings as loudly in 2017 as it did in 1876, and we would do well to heed it. Professor Thomas’s excellent new book has given us additional intellectual tools to do just that.

August 18, 2017 in Books, Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)