Thursday, June 9, 2022
From the Legal History Blog, Jeon on Women-Led, Non-Lawyer Legal Aid in Boston
Kelsea A. Jeon, the holder of an M.Phil in Socio-Legal Research from the University of Oxford, has published Legal Aid Without Lawyers: How Boston’s Nonlawyers Delivered and Shaped Justice for the Poor, 1879–1921 in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy:Women nonlawyers were some of the first actors to provide organized legal aid to America’s poor. Yet, today, unauthorized practice of law statutes bar nonlawyers from providing legal help, citing concerns about malpractice and public harm. This Article uses a historical case study to challenge conceptions that nonlawyers cannot provide effective legal services to the people. The study focuses on the development of legal aid in Boston via two organizations, the nonlawyer-led Women’s Educational and Industrial Union and the lawyer-centric Boston Legal Aid Society. Although organized legal aid in Boston began with the nonlawyers at the Union, they were eventually overtaken by the lawyer-centric Legal Aid Society. This paper examines this transition in legal aid practitioners, emphasizing how nonlawyers provided effective legal help. In doing so, it challenges the modern-day conception that access to justice requires access to an attorney and serves as a powerful counter to claims that nonlawyer practitioners endanger the public.
For more on the history of women-led legal aid, see Felice Batlan, Women and Justice for the Poor: A History of Legal Aid , 1863-1945 (Cambridge Press 2015):
This book re-examines fundamental assumptions about the American legal profession and the boundaries between “professional” lawyers, “lay” lawyers, and social workers. Putting legal history and women's history in dialogue, it demonstrates that nineteenth-century women's organizations first offered legal aid to the poor and that middle-class women functioning as lay lawyers, provided such assistance. Felice Batlan illustrates that by the early twentieth century, male lawyers founded their own legal aid societies. These new legal aid lawyers created an imagined history of legal aid and a blueprint for its future in which women played no role and their accomplishments were intentionally omitted. In response, women social workers offered harsh criticisms of legal aid leaders and developed a more robust social work model of legal aid. These different models produced conflicting understandings of expertise, professionalism, the rule of law, and ultimately, the meaning of justice for the poor
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Cash Aid to Poor Mothers Increases Brain Activity in Babies, Study Finds, Possible Policy Implications
A study that provided poor mothers with cash stipends for the first year of their children’s lives appears to have changed the babies’ brain activity in ways associated with stronger cognitive development, a finding with potential implications for safety net policy.
The differences were modest — researchers likened them in statistical magnitude to moving to the 75th position in a line of 100 from the 81st — and it remains to be seen if changes in brain patterns will translate to higher skills, as other research offers reason to expect.
Still, evidence that a single year of subsidies could alter something as profound as brain functioning highlights the role that money may play in child development and comes as President Biden is pushing for a much larger program of subsidies for families with children.
“This is a big scientific finding,” said Martha J. Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted a review of the study for the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, where it was published on Monday. “It’s proof that just giving the families more money, even a modest amount of more money, leads to better brain development.”
Another researcher, Charles A. Nelson III of Harvard, reacted more cautiously, noting the full effect of the payments — $333 a month — would not be clear until the children took cognitive tests. While the brain patterns documented in the study are often associated with higher cognitive skills, he said, that is not always the case.
“It’s potentially a groundbreaking study,” said Dr. Nelson, who served as a consultant to the study. “If I was a policymaker, I’d pay attention to this, but it would be premature of me to pass a bill that gives every family $300 a month.”
A temporary federal program of near-universal children’s subsidies — up to $300 a month per child through an expanded child tax credit — expired this month after Mr. Biden failed to unite Democrats behind a large social policy bill that would have extended it. Most Republicans oppose the monthly grants, citing the cost and warning that unconditional aid, which they describe as welfare, discourages parents from working.
Monday, December 13, 2021
Benin's parliament has voted to expand abortion access.
Before this amendment, a woman could get her pregnancy terminated if the pregnancy would threaten her health or life, in case of foetal malformation, or when the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape. The new law expands this to protect a woman’s education or career.
The new law allows abortion "upon the request of the pregnant woman, voluntary termination of pregnancy can be allowed when the pregnancy is likely to aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interest of the woman and/or the unborn child."
This is notable for several reasons. First, it allows abortion on the basis of socioeconomic status. Second, it is "somewhat groundbreaking" in the geographic region:
Benin goes beyond the Maputo Protocol, which has been the policy goal in the region for all the states, to "protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus."
Monday, November 22, 2021
The New York Times ran an Op. Ed. on trends in maternal health containing very useful infographics to our communities and our classrooms depicting the "shameful" status of maternal health risks, particularly by geography and race. A few key statistics from the Op. Ed.:
- "One of every five women of reproductive age in Southern states live in counties with a high risk of death and other poor maternal health outcomes, such as post-partum hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia and preterm birth."
- "American Indian and Alaska Native are 2.6 times as likely as white women to live under conditions that create problems during and after pregnancy."
- "Black women are 1.6 times as likely as white women to live under these unfavorable conditions."
The Op. Ed visually and powerfully depicts in digestible and accessible ways how "a woman’s chance of a healthy pregnancy varies greatly depending on where she lives, based on factors such as whether she has a high school diploma, her exposure to poverty, her access to OB-GYNs and midwives, and her access to abortion clinics."
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
The Biden-Harris Administration issues first-ever national gender strategy to advance the full participation of all people – including women and girls – in the United States and around the world.
The strategy identifies ten interconnected priorities: 1) economic security; 2) gender-based violence; 3) health; 4) education; 5) justice and immigration; 6) human rights and equality under the law; 7) security and humanitarian relief; 8) climate change; 9) science and technology; and 10) democracy, participation, and leadership. These priorities are inherently linked and must be tackled in concert.
The strategy also adopts an intersectional approach that considers the barriers and challenges faced by those who experience intersecting and compounding forms of discrimination and bias related to gender, race, and other factors, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and socioeconomic status. This includes addressing discrimination and bias faced by Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American people, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and other people of color.
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
In a June hearing, Spears said that her conservatorship was “abusive,” and that her father forced her to work and to keep a birth-control device in her body so that she could not become pregnant. The claims shocked the public, including many celebrities, who have increasingly voiced their support for her.
But to historians of eugenics, Spears’s ordeal sounds very familiar. It’s a story of control — control of a woman’s labor, civil rights, parental custody, legal representation and even her reproductive system.***
In the early 20th century, a lot of states were “chasing the white whale” of a eugenics law that would pass constitutional scrutiny, said Elizabeth Catte, a public historian and author of the scorching book “Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia.” Indiana passed a eugenics-based law allowing forced sterilization in 1907, but it was overturned in court, as was California’s in 1909.
Then Virginia gave it a try with its own law in 1924, and went looking for a test case to legitimize it.
Carrie Buck was born into poverty in Charlottesville in 1906. Her father abandoned the family, and her mother was soon accused of “immorality” and committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded — essentially a work camp for White people the state didn’t like. Buck was separated from her siblings and sent to live with a wealthy foster family, who forced her to leave school during sixth grade and serve as a housekeeper in their home.
When Buck was 17, she was raped by the nephew of her foster mother and became pregnant. Probably to save face, the family accused her of promiscuity and feeblemindedness, and in 1924, she was committed to the same colony as her mother. Her infant daughter was given to her foster mother.
In an 8-to-1 decision, the Supreme Court agreed, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declaring, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (Many words now used as mild insults, such as “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot,” have a long history of being used as clinical diagnoses.)
Buck, along with her mother and her sister, was subsequently sterilized by having her fallopian tubes cut and cauterized. Buck’s daughter died when she was 8.
All told, Virginia robbed 8,000 people of their ability to have children.
Spears’s situation has made Catte “think a lot about women that I write about, even though they are incredibly poor women,” and Spears is not.“The choice to deprive them of their reproductive freedom through sterilization was only one half of the state’s control over their lives,” she said. “The second half is control over their labor.”
Monday, September 13, 2021
ABA Webinar Today on Women's Rights, Cultural Heritage Preservation, and Economic Relief in Afghanistan
This panel of experts considers the urgency for women’s rights, cultural heritage preservation, and economic relief in Afghanistan. As of 2020, approximately 90% of Afghans lived below the poverty level of $2 per day, according to the US Congressional Research Service. At the same time, minerals generate just $1 billion in Afghanistan per year. Analysts estimate that 30% to 40% of returns are siphoned off by corruption as well as by warlords and the Taliban, which has presided over small mining projects. The World Bank warned that the economy remains "shaped by fragility and aid dependence.” Additionally, this panel explores how climate change has served as a threat multiplier for conflict and regional instability. Despite these obstacles, experts share insights on how to move beyond the current situation to harness potential for female education, women’s economic empowerment, and cultural heritage preservation. Information will be shared on how to assist those impacted directly through ABA and ABA partner institutions.
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Black Women Challenge Florida's Felony Disenfranchisement Law as Undue Burden and Violative of 19th Amendment
New filings in the nation’s sole 19th Amendment felony disenfranchisement suit seek acknowledgement of historical and economic factors that impact Black women in particular.
After nearly two-thirds of the state voted to restore the right to vote to those convicted of felony offenses, McCoy and more than 700,000 Floridians lost access to the voting box in 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7066 into law. The legislation requires formerly incarcerated people to pay any restitution, fines, fees or court costs — also known as legal financial obligations — before regaining the right to vote. McCoy learned that she owed about $7,500 in victim restitution, including interest, and her county expected her to pay it all at once. Advocates call the law a modern-day poll tax.
Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which sued Florida on behalf of McCoy and another Black woman named Sheila Singleton, is asking an appeals court to require a new analysis of the nation’s sole felony disenfranchisement lawsuit alleging a violation of the 19th Amendment. Lower courts dismissed SPLC’s analysis of the law’s disproportionate financial, “undue burden” on women of color. ***
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws in September, but, according to court documents filed on February 10, McCoy’s lawyers want the court to weigh in on The 19th Amendment more directly because of the law’s disparate impact on women of color.
At the core of this renewed legal battle is the question of intent. Lawyers for the state of Florida argue that McCoy and her legal team have to prove that lawmakers and the governor intended to disenfranchise women with the law. But Nancy Abudu, the deputy legal director for the SPLC, filed an appeal for Florida to focus on the impact of this law on women of color.
“We have to move away from having to prove that people are racist and sexist,” Abudu told The 19th. “If that is our burden of proof, then we might as well not bring any of these cases. Instead, we need to focus on what is the impact of these laws. You can’t feel comfortable with a system that incarcerates mostly poor Black people just because the system doesn’t say arrest poor Black people.”
Attorneys representing DeSantis and Florida’s secretary of state did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
Nationwide 57 percent of men made less than $23,000 prior to incarceration, this is true for 72 percent of women, court documents read. The SPLC’s past filings include data from Prison Policy, a nonpartisan criminal justice think tank, showing the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people between the ages of 35 to 44 was 44 percent among Black women and 35 percent for Black men, and 23 percent among White women compared to 18 percent of White men.
Abudu sees this as a timely fight. Black women’s votes ushered in the first ever woman in the White House, and Black women like Stacey Abrams, who’ve been largely uncredited with this work, became household names. Yet laws like Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law have the heaviest burden on Black women, Abudu said.
“Our argument essentially is that because of that legislative history, and because of the political history of Black women and voting in our country, that that leads to the conclusion that Black women, or women of color in general, need greater protection when it comes to their voting rights,” Abudu said.
As the SPLC argues in new court documents, the 19th Amendment claim should be read in a way that grants the greatest protection to women, especially because when Congress passed it in 1920, it hardly enfranchised all women.
“The aim of enfranchising women was not simply so they could cast a ballot, but so they could directly influence the other areas of life that ultimately infringe upon their right of self-determination,” the lawsuit reads.
h/t Paula Monopoli
Friday, October 23, 2020
The University of Kentucky Rosenberg College of Law is very pleased to host a day-long symposium entitled, “Selling Vulnerability: Sex Trafficking, Opioids, and Eradicating the Demand” on Friday, February 5, 2021. A detailed description of the symposium is provided below. We are hosting the symposium virtually via Zoom.
As part of our symposium, the Kentucky Law Journal (KLJ) is currently seeking articles to be published in an issue devoted to sex trafficking and opioids. Relevant topics may include, but are certainly not limited to, the use of drug dependency and manipulation to “coerce” sex trafficking victims; enhanced victim support services that include drug treatment; and recent efforts in and new ideas regarding sex trafficking law reform.
We are interested in many different submissions, including submissions from practitioners.
Articles published by the KLJ average 15,000 - 25,000 words. KLJ does not accept submissions from students at other law schools. Co-authorship is permissible. All authors please submit an updated curriculum vitae and/or resume.
Please submit an abstract to KLJ. The final articles are due on December 15, 2020.
Our nation is experiencing a meteoric rise in opioid overdose. The sheer power of opioid dependency has left few untouched and many devastated in its wake. Inextricably intertwined with opioid dependency is an equally epidemic rise in sex trafficking. Like no other point in its 5,000-year history, sex trafficking is on a sharp upsurge: The internet has expanded the insatiable demand for vulnerable human flesh. As the internet increases the scope of the flesh trade, opioid addiction adds to its sting. Millions are feeding their dependency through the selling of flesh.
Sex trafficking exists conterminously with drug dependency because vulnerability is the lynchpin of exploitation. This conference, the first of its kind, will examine the converging and rising tides of sex trafficking and opioid addiction. This conference has three aims: Awareness, Advocacy, and Activism. Using a panel of experts who have first-hand experience with the intertwined effects of sex trafficking and opioid addiction, this conference will increase the public awareness of the converging forces of dependency and vulnerability. A second panel of advocates will address how the legal process can intervene in the demand for human flesh. Finally, a third panel of activists will critique the current problems in the criminal justice system’s attempt to ameliorate the intertwined problem of drug dependency and sex trafficking through mass incarceration.
Friday, October 2, 2020
New Book Podcast: Michele Goodwin's Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood
Michelle Goodwin, Podcast, New Books in Law: Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood (Cambridge Press 2020)
Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood (Cambridge University Press, 2020) a brilliant but shocking account of the criminalization of all aspects of reproduction, pregnancy, abortion, birth, and motherhood in the United States. In her extensively researched monograph, Michele Goodwin recounts the horrific contemporary situation, which includes, for example, mothers giving birth shackled in leg irons, in solitary confinement, even in prison toilets, and in some states, women being coerced by the State into sterilization, in exchange for reduced sentences. She contextualises the modern day situation in America’s history of slavery and oppression, and also in relation to its place in the world. Goodwin shows how prosecutors abuse laws, and medical professionals are complicit in a system that disproportionally impacts the poor and women of color. However, Goodwin warns that these women are just the canaries in the coalmine. In the context of both the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the lead up to the 2020 Presidential election, her book could not be more timely; Not only is the United States the deadliest country in the developed world for pregnant women, but the severe lack of protections for reproductive rights and motherhood is compounding racial and indigent disparities.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
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.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Emma Decourcy, The Injustice of Formal Gender Equality in Sentencing, 47 Fordham Urb. L.J. 395 (2020)
Over the past 40 years, the entire United States penal population has grown at an unprecedented rate, and the rate of female incarceration is growing at twice the rate of men. Given that there does not appear to be an increase in female criminality that corresponds with the increase in female incarceration, it may be inferred that the rising rate of female imprisonment is the result of changes in criminal justice law and policy that prescribe simplistic, punitive enforcement responses to complex social problems.
While criminological research has paid increased attention to women and girls over the past decade, there is still much work left to be done. This Note aims to address a perceived gap in existing scholarship on female incarceration — existing research and proposed solutions have tended to focus on prison conditions and post-incarceration re-entry. While such work is imperative, an examination of the female pathways to incarceration is equally important. This Note argues reforms that target the front end of the incarceration process, namely sentencing, should be employed to address the rapidly rising rate of female incarceration.
Part I of this Note first provides a brief overview of the mass incarceration crisis in America and the changes in criminal justice policy, namely sentencing policy, to which it is attributed. Part I then discusses the impact of changes in sentencing policy on female sentencing outcomes. Part II proposes a framework of inquiry to be used by policymakers engaged in the creation of gender-responsive sentencing policies. This framework includes an analysis of the scope and nature of female incarceration, the correlates of female criminality, and the impact of existing gender-neutral policies on women involved in the criminal justice system. Finally, Part III discusses the efficacy of gender-neutral sentencing policies in action and identifies two policies that exemplify proper application of the framework presented in Part II.
Monday, February 3, 2020
Lara Sofia Romero, Rafael Romero, & Sim Jonathan Covington, Payday Lending Regulations and the Impact on Women of Color, Accounting & Taxation, v. 11 (1) p. 83-92
Payday loans, or small short-term loans that carry high fees, may provide a much-needed safety net for some consumers in need of quick cash for emergencies. However, data suggest that most payday loan borrowers become repeat users caught in a cycle of high-cost debt. Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests consistent overrepresentation of women of color, including many single mothers, among payday loan borrowers. Based on international human rights law, the U.S. has an obligation to remedy predatory economic practices such as a payday lending that have a disproportionately negative economic effect on women of color. Posing the issue of payday lending as a human rights issue can make an important contribution to public action on how to address the aftermath of the financial crisis and its impact on women of color.
Friday, August 24, 2018
Luke Boso, Rural Resentment and LGBTQ Equality, 70 Florida L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In 2015, the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges settled a decades-long national debate over the legality of same-sex marriage. Since Obergefell, however, local and state legislatures in conservative and mostly rural states have proposed and passed hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills. Obergefell may have ended the legal debate over marriage, but it did not resolve the cultural divide. Many rural Americans feel that they are under attack. Judicial opinions and legislation protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination are serious threats to rural dwellers because they conflict with several core tenets of rural identity: community solidarity, individual self-reliance, and compliance with religiously informed gender and sexual norms. This conflict is amplified by the relative invisibility of gay and transgender people who live in rural areas, and the predominately urban media representations of gay and transgender people. In several respects, the conflict is merely perceived and not real. It is at these junctures of perceived conflict that we can draw important lessons for bridging the cultural divide, thereby protecting LGBTQ people across geographic spaces.
This Article examines the sources and modern manifestations of rural LGBTQ resentment to provide foundational insights for the ongoing fight to protect all vulnerable minorities. Pro-LGBTQ legislation and judicial opinions symbolize a changing America in which rural inhabitants see their identities disappearing, devalued, and disrespected. The left, popularly represented in rural America as urban elites, characterizes anti-LGBTQ views as bigoted, and many people in small towns feel victimized by this criticism. Drawing on a robust body of social science research, this Article suggests that these feelings of victimization lead to resentment when outside forces like federal judges and state and big-city legislators tell rural Americans how to act, think and feel. Rural Americans resent “undeserving” minorities who have earned rights and recognition in contrast to the identities of and at the perceived expense of white, straight, working-class prestige. They resent that liberal, largely urban outsiders are telling them that they must change who they are to accommodate people whom they perceive as unlike them. Opposing LGBTQ rights is thus one mechanism to protect and assert rural identity. It is important to unearth and pay attention to rural anti-LGBTQ resentment in the post-Obergefell era because it is part of a larger force animating conservative politics across the United States.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Michele Goodwin & Erwin Chemerinsky, Pregnancy, Poverty and the State, 127 Yale L. J. (forthcoming)
In Pregnancy, Poverty, and The State, we argue that the core bundle of rights contained in reproductive privacy have been hollowed out through new legislation and court decisions, affecting the actual practice of reproductive privacy. We show how increasingly, even judicial opinions affirming reproductive rights fail to constrain state governments seeking to eviscerate those rights through new legislation. Though court rulings recognize these rights, they ultimately render them meaningless for poor women, particularly poor women of color. These groups are the first victims since they are largely unseen and unheard by those who make the law and policy. As the policies that substantially burden women’s reproductive rights become normalized, these norms will affect broader segments of the population, placing greater numbers of women at risk.
We view these issues as not simply matters of law, but of human rights, morality, and dignity. The moral hypocrisy of the state is clear in the reproductive health context. That is, when the state coerces women and girls into pregnancies they do not want and to bear children they do not desire to have, it not only creates unconstitutional conditions, but it also acts immorally. Even though legal scholars typically refer to lawmaking that unduly burdens the poor as unjust, we suggest that legislative efforts to eviscerate reproductive rights is far worse than that.
This project, launches with a review of Professor Khiara Bridges’s daring book, The Poverty of Privacy Rights to problematize the intersections of privacy and morality. We view the state as not only a fallible and problematic arbiter of women’s morality, but argue the state acts immorally when it deprives poor women of privacy, bodily autonomy, and threatens to rob them of life itself. As we document in detail, bounded in the state’s immoral actions toward poor women of color are its historical struggles and campaigns against their personhood and citizenship as well as conscription of their bodies in service to malevolent state agendas such as eugenics and forced sterilization. As we show, this is more than mere indifference, but an historic pattern. We illustrate how the continued effects of more than a century of negative state interventions in the reproductive lives of poor women of color is actually deadly. Finally, we predict that the continued interference in the reproductive lives of poor women creates cultural norms and precedents in medicine, law, and society that will spill over and constrain the rights of all classes of women, regardless of race. That is, historical disregard for the lives and rights of Black women inscribed by judicial doctrine and court opinions as well as state and federal legislation serve as vehicles for contemporary and future disparagement of all women.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Rigel Christine Oliveri, Sexual Harassment of Low-Income Women in Housing: Pilot Study Results
Sparked by the #metoo movement, we are once again having an important national discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment in America. The conversation is a necessary starting point, but it’s focus on high-status workplaces overlooks other contexts in which sexual harassment occurs. This Article focuses on one such area: the sexual harassment and exploitation of low-income women by their landlords. Although it is a significant national problem, there have been no reliable empirical studies about its nature and prevalence.
The lack of information causes difficulties. Policymakers and legislators cannot address sexual harassment in housing if they do not know basic facts about it such as how common it is, who is likely to experience and perpetrate it, and what form it takes. The law, much of which is borrowed from the employment context, remains underdeveloped and unresponsive to the unique challenges presented by housing harassment.
This Article and the Pilot Study upon which it is based seek to remedy this situation. The Study involved detailed interviews of one hundred randomly selected low-income women. These interviews reveal important insights into who is most at risk for housing harassment, the characteristics of the landlords who engage in it, the form it is likely to take, and how women respond to it.
The Study results both challenge and improve upon assumptions made by more theoretical scholarship, and lead to suggestions for changes to both law and policy. In particular, the results underscore the argument for treating sexual harassment in housing as a phenomenon that is entirely different from employment harassment, with a new framework that recognizes the economic reality of low-income housing. From a policy perspective, the results reveal the need for greater regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship, and the necessity of providing more resources to the most vulnerable renters.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Appalachian feminism, which is to say feminism of working-class white and Black women who lived in a place long dominated by corporate officials, has volumes to teach us about meaningful efforts to reach gender equality, but more importantly, justice. Above all, Appalachian feminism insists upon an understanding of class oppression, which operates within a capitalism that thrives on racist and sexist social structures. It requires listening to women whose feminism is rooted in their daily experiences and charting feminist movements that will transform society for all women, not just those in positions of relative power.
Appalachian feminists emerged out of welfare rights and labor movements. By the early 1970s, a few dozen welfare rights groups had organized across West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia. White and Black women led the movement and made militant calls for the rights of poor and working-class women.***
In recent years, the most recognized feminists have focused on representation rather than the redistribution of power and wealth. Theirs is not a feminism of deep solidarity. What does standing together truly look like? With fresh assaults on the social safety net happening seemingly daily and renewed attention to working women’s lives, the history of Appalachian feminism is one that today’s feminists would do well to emulate. At the core of Appalachian feminist activism of the 1970s was an understanding that gender justice for all meant accounting for the ways in which capitalist enterprises exploited working people’s paid and unpaid labor and how the state denied them their rights as citizens. The advice that the Appalachian Women’s Rights Organization gave to middle-class white feminists in the 1970s still holds: “take up the genuine problems of the vast majority of women.”
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Danielle Keats Citron, A Poor Mother's Right to Privacy: A Review, 98 Boston J. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Collecting personal data is a feature of daily life. Businesses, advertisers, agencies, and law enforcement amass massive reservoirs of our personal data. This state of affairs—what I am calling the “collection imperative”—is justified in the name of efficiency, convenience, and security. The unbridled collection of personal data, meanwhile, leads to abuses. Public and private entities have disproportionate power over individuals and groups whose information they have amassed. Nowhere is that power disparity more evident than for the state’s surveillance of the indigent. Poor mothers, in particular, have vanishingly little privacy. Whether or not poor mothers receive subsidized prenatal care, the existential state of poor mothers is persistent and indiscriminate state surveillance.
Professor Khiara Bridges’s book, The Poverty of Privacy Rights, advances the project of securing privacy for the most vulnerable among us. It shows how the moral construction of poverty animates the state’s surveillance of poor mothers, rather than legitimate concerns about prenatal care. It argues that poor mothers have a constitutional right not to be known if the state’s data collection efforts demean and humiliate them for no good reason. The Poverty of Privacy Rights provides an important lens for rethinking the data collection imperative more generally. It supplies a theory not only on which a constitutional right to information privacy can be built but also on which positive law and norms can develop. Concepts of reciprocity may provide another analytical tool to understand a potential right to be as unknown to government as it is to us.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Kate Cairns, Josée Johnston & Merin Oleschuk, Calibrating Extremes: The Balancing Act of Maternal Foodwork
When it comes to feeding children, mothers today must avoid the appearance of caring too little, or too much. Either extreme garners social stigma, although the penalties are far from equal.
As mothers in our study distanced themselves from an unhealthy “Other” who made poor food choices, we were surprised how frequently McDonald’s entered the conversation. McDonald’s seemed to function as a trope symbolizing “easy” meals, “unhealthy” choices, and “bad” mothering more generally. Gail (white, acupuncturist) contrasted her vision of healthy home cooking with a “stereotypical image of someone stopping at McDonald’s to get food for their kids.” Marissa (Black, project manager) confessed that as “busy people we do need to do fast food,” but clarified that “my kids will tell you that does not mean McDonald’s.” Lucia (Latina, social worker) said she and her son “talk about what’s junk and you know, McDonald’s and all that kind of food” in an effort to teach him “what’s healthy, what’s not healthy.”
Again and again, mothers distanced themselves from the figure of the “McDonald’s Mom,” a stigmatized “Other” they used to defend their own feeding practices. While this defense may seem judgmental, we suggest mothers’ efforts to establish this distance reflect the intense pressures they experience feeding their children. These pressures are especially penalizing for poor women who struggle to feed kids on a limited budget and racialized women who face enduring racist stereotypes about parenting and food choices. Indeed, the assumption that poor mothers make inferior food choices is evident in recent calls to restrict what can be purchased on SNAP benefits, undermining the essential role of government assistance in mitigating the effects of poverty.
When distancing their own feeding practices from “bad” ones, some mothers described feeding their children an organic diet – a resource-intensive practice that has become a gold standard of middle-class motherhood. Mothers today face considerable pressure to purchase ‘pure’ foods that are free of harmful chemical additives; this “intensive feeding ideology” involves the added work of researching products, reading labels, and making baby food from scratch.***
Our point is not to equate these uneven penalties, but to draw attention to the multiple ways mothers are harshly judged for their foodwork. Notably, comparable figures of the “McDonald’s” or “Organic Dad” did not emerge in our broader study (which included men), revealing the continued gendered burden of feeding children and the more flexible standards fathers face when doing this work.
What became clear throughout our research is that mothers from diverse backgrounds face pressure to continually monitor their children’s eating in ways that are careful and responsible, yet don’t appear obsessive or controlling. We call this process calibration – the constant balancing act of striving for an elusive maternal ideal. Calibration is labor-intensive and emotionally taxing, part of the seemingly impossible task of performing the “good” mother. If you opt for affordability or convenience, you risk being seen as a McDonald’s Mom. If you take your job as health-protector tooseriously, you may be deemed an obsessive Organic Mom who deprives her kids of childhood joys like hotdogs. These gendered pressures not only contribute to mother-blame, but distract us from the larger harms perpetuated by an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unjust food system.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Long before J.K. Rowling wrote about an invisibility cloak that allowed Harry Potter and his friends to disguise their presence and move freely without detection, cloaks, both literally and figuratively, were associated with hiding and disguise. Pregnancy is often enshrouded as well, not only by women who want time before announcing publicly that they are expecting a child, but also in the course of public policy discussion and resulting legislative or regulatory enactments.
In the United States, public policy decisions concerning employment tend to avoid the important issue of pregnancy in the workplace, and this avoidance has disproportionately negative implications for women. “Cloaking,” as I use it here, refers to the various ways the United States legislates issues related to women in the workplace without directly discussing the uniqueness of pregnancy and its impact on employment and the wage gap. In particular, the policy discussions do not address transparently that the modern workforce requires job changes for economic advancement, and current policies focusing on accommodation and family leave fail to protect job changes during childbearing years.
Labor-market demands and economic self-sufficiency for women require policy makers in the United States to cast off the cloak that camouflages pregnancy as a subset of other policy concerns—gender, disability, family—and fully embrace pregnancy as a crucial issue in developing economic policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives thousands of complaints of pregnancy discrimination each year; these numbers peaked in 2008 but remain steadily higher than in the previous decade. In an effort to add transparency to the issue, the EEOC conducted a public meeting in preparation for issuing new guidance to clarify further regulations related to pregnancy and its economic impact. At the public meeting, experts identified a direct connection between pregnancy discrimination and economic self-sufficiency for women and their families. As one expert noted, citing the “motherhood wage penalty” of as much as five percent per child, “[m]otherhood constitutes a significant risk factor for poverty.”