Gender and the Law Prof Blog

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

Friday, September 11, 2020

Book Review: Law and Non-Legal Entitlements, Reviewing How Male Privilege Hurts Women

Lesley Wexner, Law and Non-Legal Entitlements: Kate Manne's Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Verdict

Philosopher Kate Manne’s first book Down Girl exploded into the popular consciousness just a few years ago. She rejected a simplistic view of misogyny as simply men who hate women and instead developed a broader view that misogyny serves “primarily a property of social environments in which women are liable to encounter hostility due to the enforcement and policing of patriarchal norms and expectations. . . . Misogyny functions to enforce and police women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance.” Given Manne’s sharp analytic approach, I eagerly awaited her follow-up, Entitled, just now published. This new work focuses on how “privileged men’s sense of entitlement. . . is a pervasive social problem with often devastating consequences.”

Coming to Manne’s new work as a law professor, I thought about how Entitled might fit within the property literature. It reminded me, in a good way, of Robert Ellickson’s infamous article on Shasta County and the role of informal norms in managing property rights. Ellickson’s investigation of ranchers and farmers was seminal in challenging the Coasean intuition that in the absence of transaction costs, initial property entitlements are irrelevant since parties will simply bargain their way to the efficient outcome. He urged law and economics to think about and account for the development and the enforcement of informal norms and what those might tell us about the recourse to the law to enforce legal entitlements. Manne makes a similar move, but one step earlier. She suggests that to successfully challenge both the law and the informal norms, more of society needs to first clearly see and understand the original underlying entitlements. Her book identifies, names, and explores a whole universe of entitlements that often benefit men at the expense of women. While many of the entitlements Manne identifies are not legal entitlements provided for by the state, they are pervasive, they shape a great deal of human interaction, their use as the social default disfavors women, and society is having a difficult time bartering to what I see as the appropriate socially optimal egalitarian outcome. I found her entitlement framework illuminating and will spend the rest of this post explaining how the framework exposes different entitlements in American society.

September 11, 2020 in Books, Gender, Manliness, Theory | 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, September 3, 2020

Restorative Justice Approaches for MeToo

Julie Goldscheid, #MeToo, Sexual Harassment and Accountability: Considering the Role of Restorative Approaches, Ohio State J. Dispute Resolution, Forthcoming

Questions about the meaning of accountability for civil rights violations, and about what role the law can play in advancing accountability, are critically important to law reform. With respect to gender violence, the #MeToo movement has prompted widespread recognition of what feminists have long known, that sexual harassment is pervasive both in and out of the workplace. Yet its persistence, notwithstanding sexual harassment laws and policies that now have been on the books for decades, should spur reflection about what law and policy reforms actually would deter and prevent harassment, and what approaches would meaningfully advance equality at work.

Sexual harassment at work lies at the intersection of parallel critiques of anti-discrimination law and of criminal legal interventions in response to gender violence. Both critiques should be taken into account in developing workplace responses to sexual harassment. In both contexts, commentary as well as pilot programs have begun to explore the possibility of incorporating restorative programs to promote healing and redress harms.

This Article builds on those foundations and argues that workplaces should integrate restorative approaches into the options available to workers who raise sexual harassment complaints. It summarizes, and draws parallels between critiques of criminal legal regimes addressing gender violence, on the one hand, and workplace discrimination, on another. It describes principles common to restorative justice approaches and reviews the emerging research on the use of restorative justice with gender violence cases. It offers a beginning assessment of how restorative justice approaches might be incorporated into workplace sexual harassment responses, and identifies challenges that will have to be addressed for effective implementation.

September 3, 2020 in Equal Employment, Theory, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2020

New Book: Entitled--How Male Privilege Hurts Women

 

Book Review, Kate Manne: "Entitled" Takes a Scalpel to What Men Feel they are Automatically Deserve

“This book shows that an illegitimate sense of male entitlement gives rise to a wide range of misogynistic behavior,” she writes in “Entitled.” “When a woman fails to give a man what he’s supposedly owed, she will often face punishment and reprisal.”***

 

The book goes on to parse the various “goods” that men, in Manne’s reckoning, have been conditioned to feel entitled to — admiration, sex and consent; a home where someone else uncomplainingly does most of the child care and housekeeping. Some of these things are “feminine-coded,” she writes; others, like power and knowledge, are typically reserved as a masculine prerogative.

 

Some forms of discrimination are subtle, operating below the level of our conscious thoughts, but they still exert meaningful effects, Manne says. The reflexive distaste or suspicion that greets any woman who asserts her ambition is in some ways just as indicative of how the social order gets preserved as the violence meted out by the most vicious misogynists.***

 

One of the qualities that makes Manne’s writing bracing and even thrilling to read is her refusal to ingratiate herself by softening the edges of her resolve. She was trained as a logician, and in “Down Girl” she systematically laid out her premises and evidence to show how misogyny operated according to its own peculiar logic.

 

“Entitled” doesn’t feel as surprising or as tightly coiled as that book. In “Down Girl,” she offered a brilliantly original understanding of misogyny, a term that can sound too extreme to use, by showing the routine and banal forms that its hostility often took. The concepts of entitlement and privilege aren’t nearly as rare or mysterious; swaths of this new book are clarifying but also familiar.

 

Still, the subject of “Entitled” is trickier in many ways than the subject of “Down Girl.” Feelings of entitlement may be essential to misogyny — but Manne argues that they’re essential to defeating misogyny, too. She ends by writing about her newborn daughter, and the things that she wants her daughter to feel she deserves, which are necessarily connected to a set of moral obligations. This more reciprocal understanding of entitlement encourages us to think hard about what we owe, not just to ourselves but to one another.

 

August 17, 2020 in Books, Manliness, 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 27, 2020

Thin and Thick Interpretations of the Nineteenth Amendment -- A More Robust Understanding of Women's Constitutional Rights

Richard Hasen & Leah Litman, Thin and Thick Conceptions of the Nineteenth Amendment Right to Vote and Congress's Power to Enforce It, 108 Georgetown L.J. 27 (2020)

This Article, prepared for a Georgetown Law Journal symposium on the Nineteenth Amendment’s one-hundred-year anniversary, explores and defends a “thick” conception of the Nineteenth Amendment right to vote and Congress’s power to enforce it. A “thin” conception of the Nineteenth Amendment maintains that the Amendment merely prohibits states from enacting laws that prohibit women from voting once the state decides to hold an election. And a “thin” conception of Congress’s power to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment maintains that Congress may only supply remedies for official acts that violate the Amendment’s substantive guarantees.

 

This Article argues the Nineteenth Amendment does more. A “thick” understanding of the Nineteenth Amendment’s substantive right is consistent with the Amendment’s text and history, as well as with a synthetic interpretation of the Constitution and its expanding guarantees of voting rights. The thick understanding of the Nineteenth Amendment would allow voting-rights plaintiffs to attack restrictive voting laws burdening women—especially those laws burdening young women of color, who are also guaranteed nondiscrimination in voting on the basis of age and race. A thick understanding of Congress’s power to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment would give Congress the ability to pass laws protecting women from voter discrimination and promoting their political equality. The thick understanding offers a way to redeem the Amendment from some of its racist origins and entanglement with the sexism that limited the Amendment’s reach. It also reinforces the democratic legitimacy of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the current Court is unlikely to embrace a thick understanding of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Paula Monpoli similarly argues for a thick or more robust interpretation of the Nineteenth Amendment, tracing the historical development of the thin conception of the amendment post-ratification in her new book, Constitutional Orphan: Gender Equality and the Nineteenth Amendment (Oxford Aug. 2020).  See Paula Monopoli, The Constitutional Development of the Nineteenth Amendment in the Decade Following Ratification, 11 ConLawNOW 61 (2019)

Reva Siegel argues for a more robust interpretation of the Nineteenth Amendment for gender equality more generally by a better understanding of the pre-ratification history, and a symbiotic reading of the Nineteenth with the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause.  Reva B. Siegel, The Nineteenth Amendment and the Democratization of the Family, 129 Yale L.J. Forum 450 (2020)

 

July 27, 2020 in Constitutional, Gender, Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Survey Shows 80 Percent Support Gender Equality, But Less Identify as "Feminist"

This is How America Feels About Feminism in 2020

Feminism is sometimes referred to as the other "f" word, a term so loaded its meaning is often obscured by the intense emotions around it.

This was reflected in a Pew Research Center survey released this month, which found that although nearly 80% of Americans support gender equality – and feminism is defined as "the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes" by Merriam-Webster – only 61% of women and 40% of men say "feminist" describes them very or somewhat well. 

 

“I think ‘identify as feminist’ has morphed into ‘identify with a wide breadth of social, political issues that align with contemporary politics of equity and reparative justice,’ ” says Karla Holloway, who has taught African American studies, women's studies and law at Duke University. “Feminism is taken to mean a shared perspective on these issues, but because the issues divide constituencies, it turns into pushing aside the label rather than understanding it as a category that can, and does, contain complexity."  

 

Three-quarters of self-identified feminists say the country hasn’t gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men, and only 39% of nonfeminists say the same, according to the survey, which found divisions along gender, racial and political lines, as well

July 20, 2020 in Gender, Pop Culture, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Grounding the Role of the Feminist Scholar-Activist in a Transnational Black Feminist Framework

Kia Hall, A Transnational Black Feminist Framework: Rooting in Feminist Scholarship, Framing Contemporary Black Activism, 15 Meridians 86 (2016) [pay wall]

What is the role of feminist scholar-activists in contemporary Black freedom movements such as Black Lives Matter? This article proposes a Transnational Black Feminist framework as a theoretical complement to grassroots activism in Black communities. The proposed framework is rooted in Black feminist and transnational feminist traditions, and has as its core the guiding principles of intersectionality, scholar-activism, solidarity building, and attention to borders and boundaries.

July 6, 2020 in Race, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Anti-LGBT Free Speech and Group Subordination

Luke A. Boso, Anti-LGBT Free Speech and Group Subordination

In 2020, the Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia held that Title VII, a federal workplace antidiscrimination law, prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender employees. The majority concluded by citing potential concerns from religious and conservative dissenters, and it suggested that Constitutional and statutory principles of religious freedom and free speech might override LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination commands in appropriate cases.

This Article is about the tension between liberty and equality. It examines this tension in the context of disputes over Free Speech and LGBT rights. Today, dominant conceptions of both Equal Protection and Free Speech are informed by libertarian ideology, reflecting a commitment to limited government oversight and regulation. A pluralistic and progressive society must more adequately balance libertarian interests in the exercise of individual rights — like Free Speech — with the need for government action to promote equitable outcomes. This Article joins voices prominent in the field of Critical Race Theory who argue for an antisubordinating approach to both equality and liberty. Simply put, if the triumph of a Free Speech claim would enforce a status hierarchy that positions historically oppressed groups as inferior, that Free Speech claim should fail.

The moment is ripe to reconceptualize liberty and equality. In response to a shifting social and legal climate that is increasingly less tolerant of bullying, embraces liberal sexual and gender norms, and seeks to institute formal equality for formerly disfavored groups, many in the conservative movement have turned to the First Amendment to protect the status quo. A libertarian view of the Constitution ensures that meaningful liberty and equality exist only for some. The LGBT community and the backlash to its increasingly protected legal status sit at the epicenter of current court battles over the contours of equality and the breadth of the First Amendment, but equity for all marginalized groups is at stake.

July 2, 2020 in Constitutional, LGBT, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Podcast: Feminist Prosecutors and their Feminist Detractors

Podcast, Feminist Prosecutors and their Feminist Detractors

One prosecutor in rural Maine is trying to change the norms of evidence around prosecutions for domestic violence and sexual assault—she wins, even when she loses. In the era of progressive prosecution, two different historical injustices are pulling prosecutors in opposite directions. Patriarchy has kept too many men from being prosecuted for gender-based crimes, while tough-on-crime policing has resulted in too many men being prosecuted for other crimes. This week we look at what it means to be a feminist prosecutor, and whether advocacy for more policing and prosecution on behalf of women can backfire for progressive causes. Guest voices include Maine District Attorney Natasha Irving, Villanova law professor Michelle Madden Dempsey, University of Colorado law professor Aya Gruber, and University of Maryland law professor Lawrence Sherman.

In Slate Plus, Sarah Lustbader, senior legal counsel at the Justice Collaborative and contributor at the Appeal, and Barry talk about whether the adversarial system of prosecution and defense makes the criminal justice system a bad way to pursue improvements in gender relations and reduce gender-based crime.

May 27, 2020 in Courts, Theory, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Papers from the Feminist Legal Theory Research Network at Next Week's Law & Society Association Virtual Meeting

I am probably one of the few people in the world who is thrilled that the Law & Society Annual Conference is virtual -- since I will now be able to attend.  In general virtual conferences open up access to some barriers to participation due to finances,  travel, family, disability, and health issues.

You can register for the virtual conference here at the Law & Society Association website.  

Scheduled papers to be presented from the Feminist Legal Theory Research Network:

 

Time

Title

Type

Wed, 5/27
1:00 PM - 2:45 PM

#MeToo: The Narrative of Resistance Meets the Rule of Law

Plenary Session 

Thu, 5/28
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Moving Rules: Struggles for Reproductive Justice on Uneven Terrain

Paper Session 

Thu, 5/28
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Sexual Harassment: Victims and Survivors

Paper Session 

Thu, 5/28
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

CRN07: Feminist Legal Theory Business Meeting

Business Meeting 

Thu, 5/28
2:15 PM - 4:00 PM

Families, Laws, and Institutions

Paper Session 

Thu, 5/28
2:15 PM - 4:00 PM

The State and Violence: New Proposals for Stopping the Cycle

Paper Session 

Fri, 5/29
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Normativity in Men, Women, and Bodies

Paper Session 

Fri, 5/29
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

The Politicization of Safety: Critical Perspectives on Domestic Violence Responses

Roundtable Session 

Fri, 5/29
1:00 PM - 2:15 PM

Sexual Harassers, Sex Crimes, and Accountability

Paper Session 

Fri, 5/29
4:00 PM - 5:45 PM

Women's Rights in the Shadow of the Constitution

Paper Session 

Sat, 5/30
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Perspectives on Sex, Work and New Legal Orders

Paper Session 

Sat, 5/30
1:00 PM - 2:45 PM

Trans and Queer Life in Private and Public

Paper Session 

Sat, 5/30
4:00 PM - 5:45 PM

Human Rights in an Unequal World: Autonomy, Status, and Other Stories

Paper Session 

Sun, 5/31
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Feminist Legal Theory in a Public/Private World

Paper Session 

Sun, 5/31
11:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Laws of Social Reproduction

Paper Session 

Sun, 5/31
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Intimate Lies and the Law

Author Meets Reader (AMR) Session 

Sun, 5/31
2:15 PM - 4:00 PM

Feminist Judgments on Reproductive Justice and Family Law

Roundtable Session 

Sun, 5/31
2:15 PM - 4:00 PM

Women and Gender in Private, Public, and Places in Between: Old Doctrines Meet New Realities in the Twenty-First Century

Paper Session 

May 20, 2020 in Conferences, Constitutional, Equal Employment, Family, Masculinities, Reproductive Rights, Theory, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Misunderstanding Transgenderism as a Question of Gender Rather than Sex

Naomi Schoenbaum, The New Law of Gender Nonconformity, 105 Minnesota L. Rev. (forthcoming)  

A central tenet of sex discrimination law is the protection of gender nonconformity: unless a feature of biological sex requires it, regulated entities may not expect that individuals will conform their gender performance to the stereotypes of their sex. This doctrine is critical to promoting the antistereotyping aims of sex discrimination law by allowing gender nonconformers from aggressive women to caregiving fathers to challenge expectations that would limit them to the gender performance that accords with their sex. More recently, courts have extended gender nonconformity protection to transgender persons in cases where discrimination is due to the transgender person’s gender performance. The Supreme Court will consider this new law of gender nonconformity this term in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which asks whether sex discrimination law of the workplace covers transgender discrimination.

Notwithstanding its partial success, the gender nonconformity doctrine is the wrong path for pursuing transgender rights. The doctrine has led to losses when transgender persons are discriminated against not for their gender performance, but for seeking recognition as their identified sex rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender plaintiffs are likely to continue to lose under the doctrine when seeking such recognition in the long list of contexts—like bathrooms, dress codes, sports, schools, and beyond—that are still lawfully sex segregated. Even transgender plaintiffs’ successes under the doctrine are Pyrrhic victories. Under the gender nonconformity doctrine, a plaintiff who was designated male at birth but who identifies as female is an effeminate man rather than a woman. The doctrine thus reinforces the notion that transgender persons are their birth-designated sex, contrary to substantial medical and legal authority, and to the claims of transgender persons seeking recognition as their identified sex. And treating transgender plaintiffs as gender nonconformers risks harm not only to transgender rights, but to protection for gender nonconformity, by raising the bar to prove such claims, even in paradigm cases. Regardless of the outcome in Harris, this Article has implications for transgender rights throughout sex discrimination law.

These losses and harms are not inevitable. They all stem from one error—misunderstanding transgenderism as a matter of gender rather than sex—that can be corrected. As a few courts have suggested, discrimination on the basis of seeking recognition for one’s identified sex is discrimination on the basis of sex. Contrary to the concerns of some courts and scholars, extending protection to transgender discrimination would advance rather than undermine the antistereotyping aims of sex discrimination law. Doing so under the right theory can protect transgender persons while promoting sex discrimination law’s historic role in fighting sex stereotypes.

April 3, 2020 in Gender, LGBT, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Analyzing Feminist Theories of the Silencing Function of Pornography, Constraining Women's Sexual Refusal

Kate Greasley, Silencing Without Uptake, in B. Leiter and L. Green eds., Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, Vol 4 (forthcoming)

In the argument over pornography’s censorship, feminist theorists of certain stripes have argued that one of the ways pornography might harm women is by silencing them. First suggested by Catharine MacKinnon, the silencing claim has since been considerably developed, most notably by Rae Langton and Jennifer Hornsby. Taking their cue from J.L. Austin’s speech act theory, these scholars have argued that pornography is capable, in principle, of silencing women in the ‘illocutionary’ sense, that is, by robbing them of a speech act power — as a case in point, the power of sexual refusal. Langton refers to this as the silencing of ‘illocutionary disablement’. The illocutionary disablement claim has met with plenty of resistance, especially concerning its reliance on an ‘uptake’ condition for illocutionary success, also attributed to Austin. Pursuant to this uptake condition, certain speech acts — meaning, acts constituted in the uttering of certain words in a certain context — depend, for their very performance, on the addressee’s recognition of a particular speaker intention.

Among other misgivings, critics of the silencing claim have found it implausible that the performance of a speech act such as sexual refusal could possibly depend on the happenstance of the speaker’s intention getting through to the addressee. Sympathetic to these complaints, I will try to relay how the illocutionary disablement claim can do without the uptake condition as Hornsby, Langton, and others have heretofore formulated it. I am aligned with their critics in thinking that performing the speech act of sexual refusal cannot depend on any individual addressee’s recognition of illocutionary intent. Nevertheless, I will argue, ‘reciprocity’ of a certain kind is a condition of women’s ability to engage that illocution. The speech act of sexual refusal depends, for its very survival, on the existence of semantic and pragmatic conventions that recognisably signal refusal to competent auditors. To the extent that pornography works to destabilise these conventions, it will effectuate illocutionary disablement with regard to that speech act power. Moreover, I argue, if porn did such a thing in the way Langton and others have envisaged, it would indeed be ‘silencing’ women in a distinctive and distinctively disquieting way.

March 19, 2020 in Theory, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Use of Sex as a Proxy for Interest in Predictive Algorithms

Deborah Hellman, Sex, Causation, and Algorithms: Equal Protection in the Age of Machine Learning,  98 Wash.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2020)

U.S. constitutional law prohibits the use of sex as a proxy for other traits in most instances. For example, the Virginia Military Institute [VMI] may not use sex as a proxy for having the “will and capacity” to be a successful student. At the same time, sex-based classifications are constitutionally permissible when they track so-called “real differences” between men and women. Women and men at VMI may be subject to different training requirements, for example. Yet, it is surprisingly unclear when and why some sex-based classifications are permissible and others not. This question is especially important to examine now as the use of predictive algorithms, some of which rely on sex-based classifications, is growing increasingly common. If sex is predictive of some trait of interest, may the state – consistent with equal protection – rely on an algorithm that uses a sex-based classification?

This Article presents a new normative principle to guide the analysis. I argue that courts ought to ask why sex is a good proxy for the trait of interest. If prior injustice is likely the reason for the observed correlation, then the use of the sex classification should be presumptively prohibited. This Anti-Compounding Injustice principle both explains and justifies current doctrine better than the hodge-podge of existing rules and concepts and provides a useful lens through which to approach new cases.

March 18, 2020 in Books, Business, Constitutional, Gender, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Imperfect Metaphor of the Waves of Feminism -- Historically Misleading and Politically Unhelpful

The Waves of Feminism and Why People Keep Fighting Over Them

***People began talking about feminism as a series of waves in 1968 when a New York Times article by Martha Weinman Lear ran under the headline “The Second Feminist Wave.” “Feminism, which one might have supposed as dead as a Polish question, is again an issue,” Lear wrote. “Proponents call it the Second Feminist Wave, the first having ebbed after the glorious victory of suffrage and disappeared, finally, into the sandbar of Togetherness.”

 

The wave metaphor caught on: It became a useful way of linking the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s to the women’s movement of the suffragettes, and to suggest that the women’s libbers weren’t a bizarre historical aberration, as their detractors sneered, but a new chapter in a grand history of women fighting together for their rights. Over time, the wave metaphor became a way to describe and distinguish between different eras and generations of feminism.

 

It’s not a perfect metaphor. “The wave metaphor tends to have built into it an important metaphorical implication that is historically misleading and not helpful politically,” argued feminist historian Linda Nicholson in 2010. “That implication is that underlying certain historical differences, there is one phenomenon, feminism, that unites gender activism in the history of the United States, and that like a wave, peaks at certain times and recedes at others. In sum, the wave metaphor suggests the idea that gender activism in the history of the United States has been for the most part unified around one set of ideas, and that set of ideas can be called feminism.”

The wave metaphor can be reductive. It can suggest that each wave of feminism is a monolith with a single unified agenda, when in fact the history of feminism is a history of different ideas in wild conflict.It can reduce each wave to a stereotype and suggest that there’s a sharp division between generations of feminism, when in fact there’s a fairly strong continuity between each wave — and since no wave is a monolith, the theories that are fashionable in one wave are often grounded in the work that someone was doing on the sidelines of a previous wave

March 17, 2020 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

Book Review: Hood Feminism and Seeking Intersectionality in the Women's Movement

Hood Feminism

NPR, "Hood Feminism" is a Call for Solidarity in a Less-Than-Inclusive Movement

If you're someone who claims the mantel of feminism, who believes in the innate equality of all genders, who thinks that solidarity among communities of women is a core component of the world you want to live in, I strongly encourage you to read Mikki Kendall's debut essay collection, Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot. (Also, if you're not one of those someones, I really think you should read Hood Feminism.)

 

As the subtitle makes clear, Kendall's central thesis is that mainstream feminism in the United States has been anything but inclusive, despite being "a movement that draws much of its strength from the claim that it represents over half of the world's population." In prose that is clean, crisp, and cutting, Kendall reveals how feminism has both failed to take into account populations too often excluded from the banner of feminism and failed to consider the breadth of issues affecting the daily lives of millions of women.

 

Many of the book's essays focus on these overlooked issues, with chapters examining how gun violence, hunger, poverty, education, housing, reproductive justice, and more are all feminist issues.***

 

Securing that equality, Kendall argues, requires that women accept some inconvenient truths, specifically "the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others.... [W]hite women can oppress women of color, straight women can oppress lesbian women, cis women can oppress trans women, and so on." If feminism is to truly represent all women, it must resist the "tendency to assume that all women are experiencing the same struggles [which] has led us to a place where reproductive health imagery centers on cisgender able-bodied women to the exclusion of those who are trans, intersex, or otherwise inhabiting bodies that don't fit the narrow idea that genitalia dictates gender."

 

Those already familiar with Kendall as a leader in Black feminist thought won't be surprised that Hood Feminism is grounded in intersectionality, a term coined by Prof. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to reflect how race and gender combine to impact Black women in the criminal justice system. 

February 28, 2020 in Books, Pop Culture, Race, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New Research Shows Bringing Up Past Injustices Against Women Alienates Men, Making Reform More Difficult

Ivona Hideg & Anne Wilson, Research: Bringing up Past Injustices Make Majority Groups Defensive, Harvard Bus. Rev. 

Many organizations and institutions reference past injustices with the intention of making people more sensitive to how historic systems of oppression contribute to present-day inequalities. By drawing on social identity theory, however, we speculated that excessive focus on historical injustices can actually backfire by causing key groups to deny current discrimination and withdraw support for ongoing remediation programs.

 

Social identity theory posits that people derive some of their sense of identity and self-worth from their group memberships (including gender, race, religion, politics, or even sports teams), and are highly motivated to maintain and protect a positive image of their social groups. Just as an individual’s self-image can be shaken by reflecting on their own misdeeds, threats to social identity may arise when contemplating past misconduct by their group. This threat can lead to defensive behavior that diminishes or deflects perceived criticisms. As the historically-advantaged group, social identity theory predicts men will react defensively when presented with evidence of past injustices suffered by women, the disadvantaged group.

 

We tested these ideas through our recent research.***

 

These converging results suggest invoking past discrimination can threaten men’s social identity and undermine their perceptions of current levels of discrimination, consequently lowering their support for policies meant to ameliorate this situation.

 

What might be done to mitigate these negative effects? Must we sidestep these discussions of current groups’ shameful history, sacrificing its capacity to enrich our understanding for fear of triggering defensive backlash? Rather than simply avoiding discussions of the past, we reason that historically-advantaged groups (men, in these studies) might be more open to information about past injustices if there was a way to lessen the threat to their social identity.***

 

This work has important implications for policy-makers and organizations seeking to implement diversity and equity policies. Despite the intuitive appeal of using past injustices to bolster the case for such initiatives, this approach can undermine progress by threatening the social identity of key participants. As the efficacy of diversity and equity programs depends on establishing broad-based support, getting both men and women to view these policies positively should be considered an important pre-condition for success.

February 19, 2020 in Business, Gender, Pop Culture, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Book Symposium: The Common Law Inside the Female Body

Symposium Book Discussion: The Common Law Inside the Female Body by Anita Bernstein

Symposium Contributors: Bridget J. Crawford, David S. Cohen, Joanna L. Grossman, Cyra Akila Choudhury, Margaret Chon, Maritza I. Reyes, Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb, Anita Bernstein

The Common Law Inside the Female Body: In The Common Law Inside the Female Body, Anita Bernstein explains why lawyers seeking gender progress from primary legal materials should start with the common law. Despite its reputation for supporting conservatism and inequality, today’s common law shares important commitments with feminism, namely in precepts and doctrines that strengthen the freedom of individuals and from there the struggle against the subjugation of women. By re-invigorating both the common law – with a focus on crimes, contracts, torts, and property – and feminist jurisprudence, this highly original work anticipates a vital future for a pair of venerable jurisprudential traditions. It should be read by anyone interested in understanding how the common law delivers an extraordinary degree of liberty and security to all persons – women included.

February 6, 2020 in Abortion, Books, Gender, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Potential Persuasive Influence of the Feminist Judgments Project on Judicial Decision Making

Kate Webber Nunez, Persuasive or Pipe Dream? The Feminist Judgments Project's Potential Influence on Judicial Decision Making, British Journal of American Legal Studies (Vol. 9 2020 Forthcoming)

The Feminist Judgments Project (“FJP” or the “Project”) rewrites existing judicial opinions from a feminist perspective. This article explores whether and how the FJP’s alternative jurisprudence can influence future decisions. The FJP rewrites the law in order to reveal the underlying biases that exist in purportedly neutral decision making. In doing so, the FJP seeks to influence future advocacy and, ultimately, change the law. According to the Project’s commentary, this change will come by revealing unconscious bias and opening judicial minds to previously unknown perspectives; a method that draws on psychological theories of decision making, such as cultural cognition. This article takes a different approach and evaluates the FJP using theories from political science on how judges decide cases. The article’s analysis is relevant because certain prominent theories in the political science field would challenge the utility of the Project. Specifically, given an increasingly conservative judiciary and Republican administration, the attitudinal and strategic theories of decision making would give the FJP little prospect of actually influencing the law. This article explains, however, that the field of political science would not universally nor completely dismiss the Project’s efforts. An alternative line of thought, historical institutionalism, presents a theoretical explanation for why and how the FJP’s re-envisioned law could possibly create persuasive arguments that will influence the judiciary. This article applies historical institutionalist concepts to the FJP, exploring how, and the degree to which, this view of decision making supports the Project’s utility. Ultimately, it concludes that the path of persuasion is somewhat narrow and limited, but possible.

December 4, 2019 in Courts, Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Understanding the Outdated but Pervasive Legal Definitions of Sexual Harassment

Brian Soucek & Vicki Schultz, Sexual Harassment by Any Other Name, 2019 U. Chi. Legal F. 229

The New York Times won a Pulitzer and helped ignite the #MeToo movement with its reporting on sexual harassment. But the Times still doesn’t understand what sexual harassment is. In its official definition and the stories it pursues, the Times employs a sexualized conception of sexual harassment that is twenty years out of date in the law. It’s also disconnected from the lived experience of most people and from the findings of social science research. In this, the Times is not alone. Even the two leading enforcers of federal antidiscrimination law — the EEOC and the Department of Justice — still at times issue pronouncements that fail to reflect current Title VII law or even those agencies’ own enforcement priorities.

Lost in these outdated but still pervasive definitions of sexual harassment are the many ways employees are undermined, excluded, sabotaged, ridiculed, or assaulted because of their sex, even if not through words or actions that are “sexual” in nature. “Put-downs” and not simply “come-ons,” these types of sexual harassment are even more pervasive than the overtly sexualized forms. Relegating them to another category or term such as “gender harassment” or “sex-based harassment” treats them as secondary to the sexualized forms, causes society to misunderstand the dynamics at play even in the latter, and skews the focus of workplace training (and subsequent reporting) about sexual harassment. With the #MeToo movement giving unprecedented attention to the problem of sexual harassment, now is the time to better understand that term.

November 26, 2019 in Courts, Equal Employment, Theory, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)