Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gendered Judging and Benevolent Sexism

Jeffrey Rachlinski and Andrew Wistrich begin their article, Benevolent Sexism in Judges, with an epigraph that, in its pithiness, cannot be improved upon: “The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.” Perhaps the most infamous proof of this claim can be found in Justice Joseph Bradley’s concurring opinion in Bradwell v. Illinois, which points to “the natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex,” as well as her “paramount destiny . . . to fulfil the noble and benign offices of wife and mother,” as reasons to deny Myra Bradwell a license to practice law in Illinois. The stereotypes that women are natural caregivers, more nurturing and attentive to their children than men, persist to this day, undergirding unequal treatment in the workplace, burdening nonconforming individuals, and discounting efforts of men who are excellent parents.

In some instances, however, these same stereotypes may favor women. Rachlinski and Wistrich set out to test this phenomenon, which they term “benevolent sexism.” They study whether judges are affected by gender bias in two contexts where women regularly experience better outcomes than men: child custody disputes and criminal sentencing. Judges are supposed to be impartial in their decisions and are typically forbidden from relying on gender when determining outcomes. The confirmation of gender bias would therefore be an important (albeit unsurprising) finding.2

As the authors note, the mere fact that women experience systematically better outcomes in some contexts, like custody disputes, cannot prove the existence of gender bias among judges, as other factors unique to those individual cases might influence outcomes.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2022/04/gendered-judging-and-benevolent-sexism.html

Courts, Gender, Judges | Permalink

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