Gender and the Law Prof Blog

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

Surrogacy and the Politics of Pregnancy

Courtney Joslin, Surrogacy and the Politics of Pregnancy,  14 Harvard L. & Policy Rev. 365 (2020)

This Essay examines the regulation of pregnancy through a less commonly explored lens — surrogacy legislation. Initially, the dominant position of feminist advocates was to understand the practice of surrogacy as antithetical to women’s equality and reproductive autonomy. Due in part to their active and persuasive involvement, the early legislative trends tracked this position; most of the legislation enacted in the 1980s and early 1990s banned surrogacy. By the mid-1990s, however, the legislative tide turned. All of the comprehensive surrogacy statutes enacted since that time permit and regulate surrogacy. This shift was due in part to a growing sense among some feminists and others that permitting surrogacy can promote the goals of liberty and equality.

At times, however, too little attention was paid to the details of these permissive surrogacy schemes. As a result, permissive surrogacy statutes in some states may undermine these aims. This Essay focuses on one such type of statute: surrogacy provisions that authorize potentially sweeping control over the lives, bodily integrity, and decision making of people acting as surrogates. For example, a number of permissive surrogacy schemes expressly authorize contract clauses that require people acting as surrogates to undergo risky and invasive medical procedures over their clearly stated, contemporaneous objection. But such schemes are not inevitable. This Essay concludes by highlighting recent examples that illustrate how permissive surrogacy legislation can foster, rather than impede, the ability of people to control decisions about their own bodies

March 19, 2021 in Family, Legislation, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Effect of Constitutional Gender Equality Provisions Around the World

Adam Chilton & Mila Versteeg, The Effect of Constitutional Gender Equality Provisions, 

During the second-half of the twentieth century, provisions guaranteeing gender equality became a common feature of national constitutions. In that same period, de facto gender equality noticeably improved around the world. It is not clear, however, whether these trends are related. We explore the relationship between constitutional gender equality provisions and de facto gender equality using three different research methods: (1) cross-country regressions using data on national constitutions and gender equality; (2) a natural experiment made possible by the forced inclusion of a gender equality provision in Japan’s constitution; and (3) a survey experiment conducted in Japan on the effect of information on Japan’s legal obligations and support for reforms that would improve gender equality. Across all three methods, we find no evidence that constitutionalizing the right to gender equality translates into improved de facto gender equality. We conclude by offering some suggestive evidence that provisions guaranteeing maternity leave and protecting motherhood may be associated with improved gender equality, but these findings need further investigation.

March 5, 2021 in Constitutional, Family, Gender, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Surrogacy, Autonomy, and Equality

Douglas NeJaime, Reva Siegel, & D. Barak-Erez, Surrogacy, Autonomy, and Equality, 2020 Global Constitutionalism Seminar Volume, Yale Law School

This Chapter provides background material for conversations held at the 2020 Global Constitutionalism Seminar (a part of the Gruber Program on Global Justice and Women’s Rights) at Yale Law School.

As surrogacy becomes widespread, it may call for new forms of judicial response. This Chapter surveys the different ways that surrogacy is practiced across borders, and the different ways the practice has been criticized and valued. After considering some of these debates (does surrogacy exploit and commodify women or empower them to pursue their own autonomous life ends?), the Chapter then turns to critical issues surrounding surrogacy legislation. It examines the ability of individuals, including unmarried and LGBTQ individuals, to access surrogacy for family formation. And it addresses the interests of individuals serving as surrogates, including questions of compensation and decision-making during pregnancy. Finally, the Chapter examines questions of parental recognition, implicating the constitutional interests of the intended parents, the person serving as the surrogate, and the child. By exploring how courts, legislatures, and human rights tribunals have addressed surrogacy transnationally, the Chapter shows that the meanings and implications of surrogacy vary across contexts and depend on how the practice is structured and regulated.

February 22, 2021 in Family, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 19, 2021

12th Feminist Legal Theory Conference: Applied Feminism and Privacy

Conference 12th Feminist Legal Theory Conference: Applied Feminism & Privacy

We hope you will join the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law for this exciting conference on April 22-23, 2021. The theme is Applied Feminism and Privacy. As always, the conference focuses on the intersection of gender and race, class, gender identity, ability, and other personal identities. We are excited that Fatima Goss Graves , president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, has agreed to serve as our keynote speaker.

We are at a critical time for a broad range of privacy issues. State-level abortion bans have put a spotlight on the importance of decisional privacy to women’s equality. Across America, advocates are fighting for reproductive justice and strategizing to preserve long-settled rights.

At the same time, our informational privacy is increasingly precarious. Data brokers, app designers, and social media platforms are gathering and selling personal data in highly gendered ways. As a result, women have been targeted with predatory marketing, intentionally excluded from job opportunities, and subject to menstrual tracking by marketers and employers. In online spaces, women have been objectified, cyber-stalked, and subject to revenge porn.

With regard to physical privacy, the structural intersectionality of over-policing and mass incarceration impacts women of color and other women. And while a man’s home may be his castle, low-income women are expected to allow government agents into their homes – and to turn over reams of other personal information -- as a condition of receiving state support. In addition, families of all forms are navigating the space of constitutionally protected family privacy in relation to legal parentage, marriage and cohabitation, and child welfare systems.

In this conference, we will explore such questions as: Is privacy dead, as often claimed? If so, what does this mean for women? How can privacy reinforce or challenge existing inequalities? How has feminist legal theory wrestled with privacy and what lessons can we draw from past debates? What advocacy will best advance privacy protections that benefit women? How do emerging forms of surveillance impact women? Can intersectional perspectives on privacy lead to greater justice? Who defines the “right to privacy,” and what do those understandings mean for women? How is privacy related to other values, such as autonomy, anti-subordination, vulnerability, justice and equality?

Register for Thursday's sessions here.
Register for Friday's sessions here.

12th Annual Feminist Legal Theory Conference
Applied Feminism and Privacy
April 22 & 23, 2021 
via Zoom

Thursday, April 22, 2021

4:00-6:30 Achieving Menstrual Justice: Law and Activism
 

Panel One: Menstrual Justice and Activism Across Employment, Homelessness, Education, and Data Privacy

  • Margaret E. Johnson, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, Professor of Law, and Co-Director, Center on Applied Feminism, University of Baltimore School of Law, Menstrual Justice
  • Marcy Karin, Jack and Lovell Olender Professor of Law and Director of the Legislation Clinic, David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia, Menstruation at Work
  • Marni Sommer, Associate Professor, Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, Menstruation and Homelessness
  • Michele Gilman, Venable Professor of Law and Co-Director, Center on Applied Feminism, University of Baltimore School of Law, Menstrual Apps and Privacy

Panel Two: Focus on Menstrual Justice in Schools

  • Laura Strausfeld, Co-Founder, Period Equity, Menstrual Equity, Comprehensive Sex Education, and Title IX
  • Diana Philip, Executive Director, NARALProChoice Maryland, Menstrual Equity as Reproductive Justice
  • Alana Glover, Symposium Editor, University of Baltimore Law Review, Menstrual Equity & UB Law
  • Christopher A. Cotropia, Dennis I. Belcher Professor of Law, Director, Intellectual Property Institute, University of Richmond School of Law, Period Poverty & School Attendance/Performance
Friday, April 23, 2021
9:00-9:15 Welcome and Opening Remarks
 
  • Ronald Weich, Dean, University of Baltimore School of Law
  • Margaret E. Johnson, Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, and Co-Director, Center on Applied Feminism, University of Baltimore School of Law
  • J.J. Lucido, Editor-in-Chief, and Christian Coward Symposium Editor, University of Baltimore Law Review
9:15-10:15 Panel One: Controlling Personal Data in The Digital Age
 
  • Kendra Albert, Clinical Instructor, Harvard Law School, The Double Binds of Transgender Privacy
  • Cynthia Conti Cook, Civil Rights Lawyer and Law & Technology Resarcher, and Brook Kelly-Green, Program Officer, Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation, Data for Reproductive Autonomy or Surveillance? The Role of New Technology in Criminalizing Pregnant People
  • Lynn Daggett, Smithmoore P. Myers Chair and Professor of Law, Gonzaga University School of Law, Gender and Student Medical Privacy
  • Nicole McConlogue, Associate Professor of Law and Clinic Director, West Virginia University College of Law (moderator)
10:15-10:45 Break Rooms Open for Coffee and Discussion
 
  • Room 1:    Data Privacy as Social Justice
  • Room 2:    Academic & Activist Social Mingle
10:45-12:00 Panel Two: Resisting Intrusions into Physical Privacy
 
  • Jenny Brooke Condon, Professor of Law, Director, Equal Justice Clinic, Seton Hall Law School, Uncaging Privacy:  What "Me Too" Means for the Fight Against Sexual Violence and Coercion in U.S. Prisons and Jails
  • Michelle Ewert, Associate Professor of Law, Washburn University School of Law, Their Home Is Not Their Castle: Subsidized Housing’s Intrusion into Family Privacy and Decisional Autonomy
  • Susan Hazeldean, Associate Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School, Privacy as Pretext
  • Sapna Khatri, Attorney, Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the ACLU of Illinois, From Rosary to Camera: The Shift in Protesting Tactics Jeopardizing the Privacy of Patients
  • Shanta Trivedi, Clinical Teaching Fellow, Georgetown University Law Center (moderator)
12:00-12:30 Break Rooms Open for Lunch and Discussion
 
  • Room 1:  Pitching and Writing Op-eds on Privacy Topics
  • Room 2:  Reproductive Justice Agenda:  What’s Now/Next?
12:30-1:30   Keynote
   Fatima Goss Graves, CEO and President, National Women’s Law Center
1:30-1:45 Break
1:45-3:00 Panel Three: Protecting Decisional Autonomy To Shape Identity And Families
 
  • Deborah Brake, John E. Murray Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, andJoanna Grossman, Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and the Law and Professor of Law, SMU Dedman School of Law, Beyond Pregnancy: Title IX and Reproductive Rights
  • Laura Kessler, Professor of Law, University of Utah, Miscarriage of Justice: Early Pregnancy Loss and the Limits of U.S. Employment Discrimination Law
  • Anibal Rosario Lebrón, Assistant Professor of Lawyering Skills, Howard University School of Law, Weaponizing Civil Liberties: A Crisis Lens Analysis to Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Equality
  • Lynn Lu, Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director, Economic Justice Project, CUNY School of Law, Anti-Poverty or Anti-Privacy? Reimagining Welfare through Restorative Justice and “Radical Help”
  • Emily Poor, Clinical Teaching Fellow, University of Baltimore School of Law (moderator)
3:00 Closing Remarks
 
  • Michele Gilman, Venable Professor of Law and Co-Director, Center on Applied Feminism, University of Baltimore School of Law

 

 

 

February 19, 2021 in Conferences, Family, Reproductive Rights, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Feminist Efforts to Disentangle Disputed Conceptions of Motherhood

Jennifer Hendricks, Disputed Conceptions of Motherhood, forthcoming, Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the U.S. (Deborah Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds.)

This chapter, which will appear in the Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the U.S. (Deborah Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds.), examines feminist efforts to disentangle womanhood, biological motherhood, and social motherhood in order to promote equality in the law. It argues that this approach has produced important feminist influence and results in some areas of law but has led to a lack of feminist influence in areas where biological and social motherhood overlap, such as parental rights, reproductive technology, and surrogacy. Just as the law needed a theoretical boost that went beyond gender neutrality to see the gendered harm of sexual harassment at work, it needs a feminist account of pregnancy and birth that recognizes that these biological processes have social, relational dimensions.

February 9, 2021 in Family, Gender, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 1, 2021

Refuting the Claims that Pioneering Nineteenth-Century Feminists Were Anti-Abortion Advocates

Faye Dudden, Women's Rights Advocates and Abortion Laws, 31 Journal of Women's History 102 (2019)

In this article, historian Faye Dudden carefully and persuasively refutes the claims of modern pro-life activists that pioneering feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony originated the "feminist" demand for anti-abortion laws and thus serve as appropriate figureheads for the modern movement.  (For example, in the appropriation of Anthony's name for the "Susan B. Anthony List," a pro-life fundraising and political action organization).  Dudden agrees with my own conclusions that 1) the historical evidence attributed to Stanton and Anthony is not theirs, but the work and beliefs of their male co-editor, former minister and abolitionist Parker Pillsbury, and that 2) other early feminists' personal dislike of abortion did not support legal regulation of women's autonomy. See Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law 176-85, 232-36 (NYU Press 2016); Tracy A. Thomas, Misappropriating Women's History in the Law and Politics of Abortion, 36 Seattle L. Rev. 1, 2-68 (2012).

Ever since Roe v. Wade, opponents of legal abortion have invoked women’s history to justify themselves. A group called Feminists for Life (FFL) first came up with the idea that the founders of the women’s rights movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had opposed abortion and “worked to outlaw” it. FFL saw their historical vision widely adopted in the Right-to-Life movement in the early 1990s as it tried to appeal to younger women with pro-woman and “women-protective” arguments. When a political action committee was formed in 1993 to support anti-choice candidates, it doubled down on this historical claim by calling itself the Susan B. Anthony List. But FFL and kindred groups have played fast and loose with the evidence, as the historian Ann D. Gordon and others have already pointed out.

In fact, a number of early feminists expressed decided skepticism about outlawing abortion. They disliked abortion but thought anti-abortion laws did not apply “the proper remedies,” according to one nineteenth-century women’s rights pioneer. Such laws “do not touch the case,” declared another. FFL assumed that it was enough to show that “the original feminists condemned abortion in the strongest terms” to infer that they favored legal sanctions.  The sources show, however, that this assumption was wrong; feminists could condemn abortion but remain quite skeptical of its criminalization. This article revisits the sources and context to better understand how early women’s rights advocates thought about both abortion and abortion laws. While discussing disputed evidence in some detail, it goes beyond a verdict of “not proven” on Right-to-Life claims to argue that the early feminists’ insights about the law have lasting power.

h/t Kimberly Hamlin

February 1, 2021 in Abortion, Family, Legal History, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Normalizing Menopause and Finding the Appropriate Legal Frameworks

Naomi Cahn, Justice for the Menopause: A Research Agenda,  Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, vol. 41 (forthcoming 2021)

This short essay, prepared for a symposium on menstruation, is an initial effort to catalogue various legal approaches to menopause and to set out areas for further analysis. It argues for consideration of menopause in the movement for menstrual and gender justice. It briefly explores cultural images of menopause and post-menopausal women, including the ubiquitous hot flashes and a sexuality, analyzes potential legal claims based on age, sex, and disability for menopausal justice, and suggests the interrelationship between such approaches and social attitudes towards menopause, menstruation, and gender. It suggests that “normalizing” menopause, acknowledging its realities, is one means for removing the associated stigma and disabilities and might result in reinterpreting existing laws and future legal reforms.

January 26, 2021 in Equal Employment, Family, Gender, Healthcare, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Working Mothers and the Postponement of Women's Rights from the Nineteenth Amendment to the Equal Rights Amendment

Julie Suk, Working Mothers and the Postponement of Women's Rights from the Nineteenth Amendment to the Equal Rights Amendment,   Forthcoming, University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 3, 2021

The Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification in 1920 spawned new initiatives to advance the status of women, including the proposal of another constitutional amendment that would guarantee women equality in all legal rights, beyond the right to vote. Both the Nineteenth Amendment and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) grew out of the long quest to enshrine women’s equal status under the law as citizens, which began in the nineteenth century. Nearly a century later, the ERA remains unfinished business with an uncertain future. Suffragists advanced different visions and strategies for women’s empowerment after they got the constitutional right to vote. They divided over the ERA. Their disagreements, this Essay argues, productively postponed the ERA, and reshaped its meaning over time to be more responsive to the challenges women faced in exercising economic and political power because they were mothers. An understanding of how and why the amendment stalled speaks directly to the current controversy in Congress and the courts about whether a congressional time limit should stop the ERA from achieving full constitutional status. Such an understanding recognizes that suffragists disagreed in the immediate aftermath of the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification over the ERA, and that these divisions undermined the ERA’s prospects for at least a few decades. Ultimately, however, the ERA that earned congressional adoption and 38 ratifications over almost a century was stronger because of this postponement.

January 13, 2021 in Constitutional, Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Disparate Impact of COVID on Single Mother Families and the Argument for Human Rights Protections

Theresa Glennon, Alexis Fennell, Kaylin Hawkins, Madison McNulty, "Shelter from the Storm: Human Rights Protections for Single Mother Families in the Time of COVID-19"  , 27 Wm. & Mary J. Race, Gender & Soc. Justice ___ (2021 Forthcoming)

This Article assesses the effects in the US of COVID-19, with particular attention to its impact on single mother families. It scrutinizes decades of deliberate legal and policy choices that have left them financially vulnerable and exposed to enormous risks to their health and well-being. To remedy this situation, this Article argues for adopting a human rights framework that can reverse this disastrous course.


This Article conveys the pandemic experiences of some single mothers and their place in larger demographic trends. It identifies the disparate impacts that the pandemic has had on single mother families and the laws and policies that have either supported these individuals and their families or left them adrift. The Article then examines the structure of employment and family assistance laws and policies. Inadequate employment discrimination protections contribute to the financial vulnerability of single mother households. These vulnerabilities force some single mothers into welfare and other assistance programs that are materially inadequate and purposefully humiliating. Government officials have used sexist and racist tropes to vilify single mothers as immoral, lazy and opportunistic to justify this denigration. After reviewing this statutory framework, the Article briefly explains why constitutional law has not provided an adequate remedy. It reviews the Supreme Court’s use of extremely deferential standards of review of government decisions that negatively and disparately affect single mothers, including BIPOC single mothers, regarding employment laws and social and welfare programs. Finally, to address these problems the Article proposes use of a human rights framework. Such a framework would bring the US in line with most other developed states that have embraced these principles. More importantly, it would help protect against multiple forms of discrimination that currently fall outside of constitutional protection and help ensure adequate provision of material resources to the most vulnerable among us.

January 13, 2021 in Family, Healthcare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Using Social Science to Understand Why Family Courts Discount Women's Testimony in Domestic Violence Cases

Amelia Mindthoff, Deborah Goldfarb, Kelly Alison Behre, How Social Science Can Help Us Understand Why Family Courts May Discount Women's Testimony in Intimate Partner Violence Cases, 53 Family Law Quarterly, No. 3, 2019.

Thirty years ago, legal scholars and social scientists began to note the legal systems’ skepticism of women in general and victims of gender-based violence in particular. Despite increased public awareness about domestic violence, female victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) continue to find their credibility discounted. Deborah Tuerkheimer coined the term “credibility discount” to describe how the criminal legal system responds to women’s reports of sexual violence by discounting their credibility at every step of the process, from initial reports to law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion through judicial and jury decisions. Deborah Epstein and Lisa Goodman expanded the dialogue on credibility discounting to include the experiences of female victims of IPV in legal and social service settings. IPV victims often access family courts for injunctive relief, child custody and visitation orders, and financial relief following separation from an abusive partner, a time period during which they are at a heightened lethality risk. Consequently, credibility discounting by family courts may prove particularly dangerous for victims of IPV.

This Article builds upon the work done thus far on the intersection of gender and credibility in the family courts by reviewing both psychological research and legal scholarship examining factors that may contribute to the perseverance of credibility discounting of IPV victims. As part of this discussion, we raise potential psychological misperceptions or assumptions that underlie the discounting of people’s credibility, including factors that may be particularly pertinent to women reporting IPV. We further consider the implications of these misperceptions in family court settings. We hope this advances the discussion on remedies for credibility discounting to ensure that victims receive just treatment as they navigate the legal system.

Part I of this Article reviews the family court’s role in IPV cases and how it can perpetuate credibility discounting. Part II discusses gender biases in the legal system that have the potential to propagate credibility discounting of IPV victims navigating the family court system. Part III explores general psychological theory and associated empirical evidence and considers how theory can shed light on why credibility discounting may persist in family courts. Part IV provides suggestions for ways to mitigate gender bias demonstrated in the credibility discounting of IPV victims in family courts.

December 4, 2020 in Courts, Family, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Colorado Passes Paid Family and Medical Leave

Colorado Voters Say Yes to a Paid Family and Medical Leave Act Program

Colorado voters have approved a new paid family and medical leave law. The measure had the support of 57 percent of voters as of 9:30 p.m., with a sizable lead of nearly 400,000 votes.

 

Under Proposition 118, Colorado would require that employers provide 12 weeks of paid time off for childbirth and family emergencies. Eight other states and Washington, D.C., have created similar programs in the last two decades.

 

"I am happy for the workers of Colorado," said State Sen. Faith Winter, a paid leave proponent The new law will ensure that mothers don't have to return to work mere days after giving birth, she said, and that cancer patients can take time to heal.***

 

Labor reformers have been trying to pass a similar law in Colorado since 2014, but it has failed each time in the legislature. This year, after legislative efforts fell apart yet again, advocates instead decided to put the measure on the ballot. It’s the first time that voters in any state have been asked to decide on a paid leave law.

 

The supporting campaign had raised nearly $6.5 million as of mid-October, mostly from the North Fund and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, national liberal nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors.

 

Business interests have fought similar measures in Colorado for years — but they ultimately were outspent by a 10-to-1 ratio, said opposition campaign co-chair Dave Davia. It was difficult to raise money amid a bruising pandemic year and with 10 other statewide ballot measures competing for funding, he said.

 

See Lily, Paid Family Leave Has Never Been on a Ballot--Until this Year

 

As voters cast ballots for national, state and local candidates, they will also be asked to vote on Proposition 118, to create a paid family and medical leave program. If passed, it would be the ninth state, plus D.C., to do so.

 

This is the first time it has been directly on a state ballot. In the past, it has always originated from a state legislature or, in the case of D.C., the city council.

 

If passed, workers in Colorado could expect up to 12 weeks of paid leave, with an additional four weeks for qualifying childbirth or pregnancy complications.***

 

In Colorado, the new measure would include maternity, paternity, medical leave, or time off to care for a family member. The program would work like other social insurance programs with employees and employers contributing to a fund, equivalent to 0.45 percent of an employee’s wages. Employers have the option to pay up to 100 percent of the contributions.

 

Businesses with fewer than 10 employees would not have to contribute, but their employees still receive the time off. The average Colorado worker would contribute less than $4 a week, according to the Fairness Project.

 

The measure has received bipartisan support, including from advocates for small businesses, who say owners don’t want to compete with large corporations for benefits.

November 4, 2020 in Family, Legislation, Work/life | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Centrality of Marriage to the Meaning of the Nineteenth Amendment

Nan D. Hunter, Reconstructing Liberty, Equality, and Marriage: The Missing Nineteenth Amendment Argument, 108 Georgetown L.J. 73  (2020)

The social movement that led to adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment sought not only women’s right to vote but also the end to a system of marriage law based on coverture. Under coverture, married women were deprived of property and contract rights and were de jure subservient to their husbands. Coverture also provided the predicate for denial of the vote. The model voter was the independent yeoman or worker able to express his own interests in a democratic system. Women were thought to be properly confined to the domestic sphere and dependent on their husbands, who were presumed to vote on behalf of all household members. On this understanding, coverture and the state functioned as interlocking systems of governance. The nineteenth century Women’s Rights Movement was a campaign to reshape American democracy; eliminating coverture and extending full citizenship rights to women were necessary to achieve that goal. To use a phrase that we now associate with same-sex couples, it was the nation’s first marriage equality movement.

Adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment marked a new social under-standing that constitutional principles and democratic norms must apply to women’s role in marriage as well as to women as citizens. The movement began by articulating a concept of collective liberty, which grew out of experiences in the anti-slavery movement and which expanded on the Founders’ more individualist concept of liberty in the Declaration of Independence. After the Civil War, the equality discourse of the Reconstruction Amendments and the rejection of women’s demands for the vote by both Congress and the Supreme Court reshaped the dominant theme of women’s rights efforts into a campaign for equality. The refusal by federal lawmakers to address women’s issues left them no recourse except to lobby state legislators, which women’s groups undertook on both suffrage and marriage law. But the diffuse, localized nature of family law presented insuperable barriers to ending coverture in one pre-emptive action.

The Nineteenth Amendment reflects these dual goals in its text and sub-text. The former prohibits denial of the vote based on sex, and the latter, by enabling women’s full participation in political life, rebuts the heart of the rationale for coverture: that women’s role in society lay solely in the domestic sphere of home and marriage.

Failure to understand the centrality of marriage-law reform to the social and political meaning of the Nineteenth Amendment has impoverished the constitutional grounding for contemporary challenges to the legal regulation of marriage, including the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. In Obergefell, which prohibited the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, the Court missed an opportunity to draw on the history and meaning of the Amendment to frame the issue as implicating dual systems of governance, both of which must be bound by constitutional principles. Instead, the Court described marriage as a largely prepolitical realm of private, idealized relations. The opinion of the Court failed to comprehend the extent to which marriage today continues to function as an institution of the state and a zone of governance, no longer because of coverture but because it is foundational to the privatization of collective responsibility that is embedded in the nation’s primary systems of social insurance.

October 27, 2020 in Constitutional, Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Revaluating Marital Norms in the Administrative Cases Brought by Deserted Wives Seeking Homesteading Rights in the 19th and early 20th Centuries

Hannah Haksgaard, The Homesteading Rights of Deserted Wives: A History, Nebraska Law Review (Forthcoming)

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the federal government of the United States distributed 270 million acres of land to homesteaders. The federal land-grant legislation allowed single women, but not married women, to partake in homesteading. Existing in a “legal netherworld” between single and married, deserted wives did not have clear rights under the federal legislation, much like deserted wives did not have clear rights in American marital law. During the homesteading period, many deserted wives litigated claims in front of the Department of the Interior, arguing they had the right to homestead. This is the first article to collect and analyze the administrative decisions regarding the homesteading rights of deserted wives, offering a unique view of American marriage. After documenting the history of homesteading rights of deserted wives, this Article explores how these unique administrative decisions adopted or rejected the prevailing marital norms in America and how understanding these administrative decisions can aid in our understanding of marriage in American history.

October 23, 2020 in Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Unconscionability of Requiring a Domestic Violence Survivor to Pay Alimony to her Abuser

Amanda Nannarone,  Comment, Adding Insult to Injury: The Unconscionability of Alimony Payments from Domestic Violence Survivors to their Abusers,  69 American U. L. Rev. 253 (2019)

In 2017, the #MeToo movement took social media by storm when individuals from all walks of life began openly sharing their experiences with sexual violence and gender-based harassment for the first time. Starting in the employment space and moving to other areas, the movement encouraged legal changes that improve gender equality. Alimony, which has received little scholarly attention in recent years, became of interest to #MeToo reformers who discovered current laws failed to adequately serve survivors’ interests by forcing them to pay spousal support to their abusive ex-spouse. Instead of a uniform system that removed the possibility of survivors being required to pay spousal support to their abusers, lawyers and clients face a patchwork of statutes that vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions prohibit considering any evidence of marital misconduct, while others leave it solely to the court’s discretion. California is the only state that has affirmatively enacted legislation disqualifying alimony payments from survivors to abusers.

As state legislatures continually fail to implement proper laws, survivors’ only hope in having alimony provisions in divorce settlements invalidated lies in judges’ hands. Courts have used contract law for centuries to protect vulnerable people from being taken advantage of in their dealings with more powerful individuals. Particularly, the doctrine of unconscionability began as an equitable doctrine that courts invoked as a way to restrict enforcement of harsh, biting, and unreasonably one-sided agreements. Judges today can continue to use the doctrine of unconscionability as a way to deny enforcing divorce settlements that require survivors of domestic violence to pay spousal support to their convicted abusers because those payments represent a continuation of abuse and control. Survivors’ freedom from abuse should not be obtained at such an unreasonably steep price and judges have the power to end that once and for all. Allowing this practice to go on creates fresh wounds on top of barely healed flesh, adds insult to indescribable injury, and prevents survivors from ever truly being free. In the #MeToo era, that is not acceptable.

October 13, 2020 in Family, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Book Review Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories

Leah Litman, Redefining Reproductive Rights and Justice, reviewing Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories (Melissa Murray, Katherine Shaw, & Reva Siegel, eds. 2019),  118 Mich. L. Rev. 1095 (2020).

Against this backdrop comes Melissa Murray, Katherine Shaw, and Reva Siegel’s edited collection of essays, Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories. The collection could not be timelier. Their volume contains a series of essays that “bring[] together important cases involving the state regulation of sex, childbearing, and parenting.” 

The two goals of the collection are to expand the contours of the field of reproductive rights and justice and to decenter the role of courts in that field. The editors’ pathbreaking volume cements a definition of reproductive rights and justice that is both more coherent and more nuanced than many earlier definitions, which often limited discussions of reproductive rights
and justice to contraception and abortion. The volume makes significant headway in illustrating the many different ways that law affects reproductive rights and justice.

Broadening readers’ understandings about what constitutes reproductive rights and justice has several benefits. It illuminates the many different ways that law and society construct and constrain what parenthood—and particularly motherhood—entails. Unpacking how law and society have made motherhood carry certain roles and expectations clarifies the stakes of
traditional reproductive rights and justice issues. For example, if becoming a parent, and in particular becoming a mother, entails assuming a particular identity, then the autonomy and liberty interests at stake in parentage decisions are much greater than just bodily autonomy.

The collection of essays also offers a lens through which to understand myriad legal issues. The volume makes clear that many different topics— ranging from workplace protections, to labor law, to disability law, to criminal procedure, to insurance law—implicate reproductive rights and justice in addition to decisions about whether to criminalize abortion or contraception. That has the salutary benefit of unearthing the complex web of laws and social conventions that influence parentage decisions. Understanding all of the influences on parentage decisions would also make it easier to construct a system that is supportive of families.

By broadening the definition of reproductive rights and justice to include the many different ways that law and society shape individuals’ decisions about whether to have children, the volume also pushes its readers to think about additional ways in which law and society influence decisions about sex and parentage.

 

October 7, 2020 in Abortion, Books, Family, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Gendered Complications of Covid-19: Towards a Feminist Recovery Plan

Naomi Cahn & Linda McClain, Gendered Complications of Covid-19: Towards a Feminist Recovery Plan, Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, 2020

Gendered inequalities are on the frontlines of Covid-19. The catalogue of Covid-19’s impact covers all aspects of women’s lives: work, family, education, health, reproduction, mental and physical well-being, and leisure. The pandemic has exposed the limitations in the current economic system on public and private support for gender equity and the intersecting impact of gender, race, and class in that lack of support. Women of color, particularly Black, Latina, and Native American, are at the intersection of the inequities in the emerging stay-at-home economy. This Article argues that Covid-19 is likely to have complex implications for gender equality and gender equity as state and local governments, the federal government, and private actors focus on recovery plans. The negative impact includes hundreds of thousands of deaths, lingering health complications for many among the several million people who have already contracted the virus, massive economic disruption and loss for individuals, families, and communities and the exacerbation of structural inequalities. The creative policy responses prompted by the devastating impact of Covid-19 provide promise for building a more transformative and equitable future. Indeed, any roadmap to resilience is incomplete without addressing the gender inequities in our social infrastructure. Proposing a feminist recovery plan, this Article focuses on a set of issues relating to gender inequities concerning work and family, including the gender pay gap, the child care crisis, and the disproportionate role of women—particularly, women of color— in providing essential but undervalued care work.

September 22, 2020 in Equal Employment, Family, Gender, Healthcare, Work/life | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Local Gender Norms by Geography as Significant Influences in Gender Equality

Local Gender Norms Across the US, Gender & Society blog

We wanted to learn more about whether gender norms varied across cities in the U.S. and if so, and what this means for gender equality. Although we often revel and delight at places’ unique cultural flair, does this local culture also contain  elements that convey different expectations for women and men? Our analysis and results are published in a recent Gender & Society article. We highlight our key findings below.

MAPPING LOCAL GENDER NORMS ACROSS THE U.S.

We measured local gender norms by focusing on the way they’re reflected in personal attitudes about gender (e.g. beliefs that women are better caregivers than men and beliefs about women’s suitability for politics) as well as revealed preferences behavior (e.g. age of mothers’ first birth and the segregation of college majors). Focusing on differences in these indicators across commuting zones, we found that cities and their surrounding areas (commuting zones)  fall into four general categories of gender norms:

  • Liberal-egalitarian areas have norms that convey values of gender equality. In these locations, women and men are expected to contribute equally to caregiving and are viewed as having similar skills and leadership qualities. Places with these norms include Burlington, VT, Honolulu, HI, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, DC.
  • Egalitarian-essentialist places have local norms that support women’s labor force participation and leadership, but where people hold  gender essentialist beliefs that women and men are inherently suited for different types of work. Areas with egalitarian-essentialist norms include Charlotte, NC, Milwaukee, WI, and Orlando, FL.
  • Traditional-breadwinner norms exist in places where people hold  beliefs that the ideal family is one where men work and women tend the home. In these areas, women and men are not viewed as essentially different, but instead expected to hold different responsibilities. Places with these norms include Knoxville, TN and Tulsa, OK.
  • Traditional-essentialist locations are places where people believe in the essential difference between women and men with norms that women should focus primarily on family responsibilities. Places with these norms include Little Rock, AR, Charleston, WV, and Midland, TX.

***We found greater evidence that people are influenced by the gender norms where they reside rather than their personal characteristics, particularly if they live a city with traditional-breadwinner or traditional-essentialist norms. In those traditional places, even residents with a college degree, who tend to show more support for gender equality, were much more likely to oppose women’s leadership and feel that men should be earners and women caregivers than college graduates who lived in more egalitarian environments. Residing in a place with traditional norms appears to cause those who would otherwise support gender equality to, instead, endorse more conventional beliefs about women’s leadership and the gendered division of labor.

September 8, 2020 in Family, Gender, Masculinities, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Book Talk: What Does a Feminist City Look Like

What Does a Feminist City Look Like?

Feminist geographer Leslie Kern has faith in cities.

 

Kern, an associate professor of geography and environment and director of women’s and gender studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, Canada, believes cities’ histories as bastions of social progress prove they can be transformative places for women and other people who have been, and remain, socially and politically oppressed.

 

But in her new book, “Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World,” Kern argues that despite their potential, cities have also long failed — and continue to fail — women, and specifically women of color and women with disabilities. Kern spoke to The Lily about how she believes feminist cities could stymie domestic violence and better support parents, why urban planners should read feminist theory and what the coronavirus pandemic reveals about how cities need to change to be more equitable places for all their inhabitants

 

Julianne McShane: I first want to ask a question that’s probably on a lot of readers’ minds: What makes a city feminist?

Leslie Kern: A feminist city would be one that prioritizes care work — the work that we all do to take care of one another and to survive as human beings — rather than mostly prioritizing the economic work of the city. So there’s lots of ways that can play out, whether it’s in housing, transportation, food, child care, all of these realms, but to me that is one of the core principles that would underlie a feminist city.

Click the link above to read the rest of the interview.

August 6, 2020 in Books, Family, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Giving Gender Discrimination a Meaningful Remedy: Rewriting Justice Ginsburg's Opinion in Morales-Santana

I have just published: Tracy Thomas, Rewriting Sessions v. Morales-Santana, in Feminist Judgments: Family Law Opinions Rewritten (Rachel Rebouche ed., July 2020)

In Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. 1678 (2017), the Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg struck down a citizenship law that discriminated against children born abroad to US citizens based on whether the citizen was their father or their mother.  The opinion was widely held to be a model of equal protection analysis, documenting the legal history of the Court's gender equal protection law and recognizing the masculinity side of gender discrimination against men.  

However, the opinion was problematic for its refusal to order a meaningful remedy for the petitioner.  The Court did not grant the discrimination victim relief, but instead ordered the government to adopt formally equal rules going forward, and that those rules should be the more stringent rule for fathers. The Court was focused on restraining the government rather than redressing the individual's harm.

I have written about the remedial problem of so-called leveling down unequal treatment to deny the benefit.  Tracy Thomas, Leveling Down Gender Equality,  Harvard J. Law & Gender (2019).

In this book chapter, I apply these criticisms to rewrite the Court's opinion to properly award a meaningful remedy as required by due process.  This book is part of the US Feminist Judgments Project rewriting key court decisions as if they had been informed by feminist theory. 

 

 

 

July 20, 2020 in Books, Constitutional, Family, Masculinities, SCOTUS | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Exploring the Toxic Racial Construct of the Black Welfare Queen

Catherine Powell & Camille Gear Rich, The “Welfare Queen” Goes to the Polls: Race-Based Fractures in Gender Politics and Opportunities for Intersectional Coalitions, Geo.L.J., 19th Amendment, Special Edition (forthcoming)

As Americans celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification, our celebration would be premature if we failed to reflect on the ways that race has been used to fracture women’s efforts at coalition politics and our understanding of women’s rights. Indeed, a careful reading of U.S. history and contemporary politics shows that although similar rights claims are made across a diverse community of American women, women’s shared interests are often obscured by the divisive manipulation of race. Notably, 2020 is also the 150-year anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted the right to vote to Black men. In this Article, we use the coinciding anniversaries of the two amendments as a critical opportunity to direct feminist attention to intersectional questions—to frame this historical moment as a pivot point that explores the mutually constitutive nature of gender and racial subordination in American politics.

In service of these goals, we use this Article to explore a toxic racial construct often used to distract American women from our shared rights claims—the political trickster known as the “welfare queen.” This construct was born as a result of fiscal conservatives’ attacks on government anti-poverty subsidy programs in the 1980s. It relied on antipathy toward Black women—characterized as “welfare cheats” or frauds—and pathologized women of color to call for aggressive cuts to social-safety-net programs. This Article explores the remobilization of this construct in present-day electoral politics and the ways in which it compromises cross-racial coalitions and obscures the path to reform. We take as our object the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, for in 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and his surrogates reanimated the welfare queen construct and alleged that she was stealing American democracy through voter fraud. The visceral power of this construct allowed this group of Republicans to transform Americans’ understanding of voting rights and American democracy. In so doing, their representations simultaneously sidetracked feminist efforts to build strong cross-racial coalitions. This Article explores the various paths out of our current discourse, dispelling thedistracting haze generated by the welfare queen construction. In the process, we also hope to advance our conceptual understanding of intersectional identities and their relationship to political change.

June 10, 2020 in Family, Legal History, Poverty, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)