Category: Feminism and Gender


Cheerleaders for girls and for geeks

The N.Y. Times has an interesting article by Winnie Hu on movements to have cheerleaders cheer equally for boys and girls teams. The legal theory is that girls’ sports, deprived of cheerleaders, are receiving less support from their schools than boys’ sports receive. The unsurprising reality in many cases is that the equal cheering makes no one happy — including the players on the girls’ teams that receive the cheers.

Will the next move be equal cheering for the coed academic teams? I did receive a varsity letter in high school — for my participation on the math team. Our team coach was able to convince the administration that we needed to be treated equally with the sports teams. You will not be surprised to hear that I put the big orange “M” in the bottom of the dresser instead of sewing it onto a jacket.

I can just imagine what math team might have been like if we had cheerleaders: “Calculate the area, hooray, hooray; pi-r-squared, that’s the way.” That would have been enough to get me to quit the math team, although thinking with all of the cheering going on might have created some additional challenge. Plus, I suppose that I might have gotten to know some of the cheerleaders on the bus rides to competitions. This could have made a great ’80s movie.

On the merits of the curernt dispute, my own view is that having (almost exclusively) girls cheering the boys does not send the right messages about our idealized views of sex roles. But it probably doesn’t make things much worse either, and the new interpretation seems like a stretch of Title IX. My preferred solution would be to turn cheerleading into a sport in its own right, if there remains enough demand for it, with squads competing against each other while not disturbing other athletic contests. Some will say that to cheer, you need something to cheer. But I saw “Bring It On,” so I know better.


Xoxohth 1.2: The Whys and Wherefores

[This is Part I, Section 2, of the project I announced here. (Part 1.1 is here.) The goal of today’s installment is to present a diversity of views on why people spend time on Xoxohth, drawing largely on the voices of posters themselves.]

inkblot.cgiI’ll start by acknowledging an uncomfortable fact. This project suggests, and perhaps even reinforces, that critique of academic life often bandied about by the popular press: I’m asking a minor question, focusing on the uninteresting choices of marginal members of society, and using a methodology of debatable validity.

I felt bad about this for a while. And then I realized that the next best use of my time is grading: a similar process, but with higher perceived stakes.

Forward. The issue for today is why people continue to spend substantial amounts of time on XO. The question arises from the obvious point that students and lawyers have many ways to spend their time. Most of those ways are unlikely to lead to professional embarrassment if publicized, and may even enable individuals to build reputations for probity and acuity. It is odd, then, that hundreds or thousands of students and lawyers devote significant chunks of their free time to talking anonymously on XO. What gives?

It seems to me that there are a few motivations in play: entertainment, a search for information, the need for community, and the pleasures of transgression. Before we begin, let’s get some reader input. What motivation do you think drives XO’s traffic?

Why Do People Spend Time on XO?
The Community
The Transgression!
Information (Giving and Getting)
Free polls from

Now that we’re done with the scientific polling, let’s look at the qualitative data.

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Silicone Injections & The Twilight Zone

Eye of the Beholder.jpg

Frank previously has blogged about the “Beauty-Industrial Complex.” This story in today’s L.A. Times is another reminder of the serious health risks through which some people will put themselves in the quest for eternal youth and “beauty.” As the blurb under the headline sums it up, “‘Dr. Daniel’ gets prison after injecting Beverly Hills women with a wrinkle remover better suited to a Bentley.” The injections were given at fancy house parties … sort of like tupperware parties with industrial-grade silicone, loads of cash and syringes.

All of this reminds me, by the way, of an excellent old Twilight Zone episode: “Eye of the Beholder” — the picture above is a scene from the same.


Women’s Funds

I’ve recently been asked to get involved with a new women’s fund that is being created here in Winston-Salem (which I feel compelled to mention is the home of the extremely impressive Wake Forest football team! Go Deacs!) The idea is that women are both underrepresented as charitable donors (because even in two-income families men tend to control a household’s charitable giving) and that charities specifically targeted toward helping women and girls are underfunded (according to the statistics the fund gave me, less than five percent of philanthropic dollars in the U.S. go specifically to programs for women and girls). The idea is that you buy into the fund, pledging to make an annual donation every year for three years, and then you get a vote as to how the fund’s resources are allocated. Do any of our readers have experience with these kinds of funds? Any reactions about whether they are a good idea?

The Beauty-Industrial Complex

There have been a lot of reviews lately of Alex Kuczynski’s Beauty Junkies: Inside our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery. Kuczynski writes for the NYT’s Thursday Styles section, and has a journalist’s flair for finding the most bizarre instances of consumer trends (such as an $11,000 South African surgery/safari package). I found Rebecca Mead’s take particularly insightful:

“We have begun to think of our bodies as something like an accessory that can be modified when necessary, discarded when it is worn out, and upgraded when required, a leathery sack to transport us from one medical specialist to the next,” Kuczynski writes; and the analogy is apt . . . . The new idea offered by the contemporary culture of cosmetic surgery is that it is the vessel itself that we must value, rather than the soul or spirit that it contains.

Mead also focuses on an underreported aspect of Kuczynski’s analysis: how business pressures and laws governing health care and insurance are spurring the trend:

Kuczynski argues that the soaring incidence of cosmetic surgery—a nearly fivefold increase in the number of cosmetic procedures performed on Americans during the past decade—has been driven by market forces rather than by the measurable health needs of the nation. Surgeons exhausted by the medical-insurance morass are flocking to the field. “If you’re a doctor working in this kind of environment, do you want to spend an hour removing a freckle and get paid $12 in two months by some insurance company? Or do you want to spend fifteen minutes putting Botox into someone’s face and get $1,000 in cash five minutes later?” one attendee at a convention of plastic surgeons asks.

Indeed, many moves to “high end health care” are driven by frustration with insurance providers. Some argue that a move to “free up” the health care field from regulation might help restore a balance. But a book on plastic surgery far more critical than Kuczynski’s suggests there is a deeper “market based” method to the industry. . .

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Xoxohth 1.1: The Past and Present

[This is Part I, Section 1, of the project I announced here. The goal of today’s installment is to set out the history of the XO board, and briefly describe its present statistics.]

goldencalf.jpgHugs and Kisses, Hope this Helps

The genesis of XO was less gripping, bloody, tortured, significant and miraculous than the Exodus, a tale which it otherwise resembles in important respects.

The community started as a group of posters at the Princeton Review Discussion Board [PR]. Some individuals began at PR in 1997-1998, as they were applying to college, and continued posting in that forum after matriculation. The reason that people spent time – sometimes 20 hours a week or more – at PR will become familiar:

Before I started law school, I posted on the former incarnation of xoxo (which was then run by the Princeton Review) because it was a wide-open and mostly unmanaged discussion. In one sitting I could have the most sober and serious conversations as well as the most silly and immature b******* sessions, all with the same group of people. The other, more “mature” boards were by comparison intellectual wastelands, partly because they were so “sober” and “mature.” All the really smart people shunned those boring boards in favor of pr (now xoxo).

But not all individuals were looking for information: some were actually, weirdly, (slumming) older alumni.

The standard foundation story holds that in March, 2004, PR switched to a new software format that users found irritating because it (1) enabled IP tracking; (2) discouraged use of multiple aliases; (3) discouraged abusive language through moderation and banning; and (4) eliminated the “‘tree’ format and switching to a vBulletin-type format that was heavily despised by most users.” See here and here and here for some posts from the period. One emailer explains:

The only moderators were Jeff Adams, a Princeton Review employee, and TPR Droid, who was a long-time poster that Jeff hired to moderate the board when he wasn’t around. Anger at TPR Droid’s moderation style was one of the main reasons for the initial rift — while Jeff was even-handed with deletions and bannings, many people felt Droid had an agenda since he would ban people for criticizing his favored posters, or delete racist threads directed at Jews and Christians while refusing to delete equally hateful threads about Muslims.

A group of users decided to leave PR as a group. However,

The law boarders didn’t know about the existence of xoxohth. [A user with the handle Rowan] organized an AIM chat and people were brainstorming ideas of how to re-create the board. I think rk even drafted a letter looking for corporate sponsorship . . . In the very beginning, the law and college boards were one. During those heady first days, all personal wars were called off – Edgar Martinez, Julia, RWA, LawyerBird got along – but soon order was restored and things returned to normal.

Obviously, the domain name had been purchased before problems on the PR board became exigent. According to a WHOIS search, the purchase of the xoxohth domain occurred on January 29, 2004. The buyer was Jarret Cohen, now in business in Pennsylvania. As you can see from this screenshot of the early board, it was intended to be a replacement for the PR community. Contrary to Eugene’s speculations, xoxohth is not a dungeons and dragons reference. It seems to stand for xoxo (hugs and kisses) plus hth (hope this helps).

It is also worth noting that there was an early worry that the former PR community would split into a college (XO) faction and a law faction, located at the JD2B board. A source comments:

[W]hen Marshall [Camp, JD2B’s owner] found out the xo board existed, he not only deleted the JD2B message board, but prominently linked to the board on his site and actively sent traffic our way; basically we were treated as JD2B’s unofficial messageboard.

That site probably accounted for 50-75% of our referring URL traffic in the early days

Organizational Control

Cohen’s – alias Rachmiel – and another user known as Boondocks (from the comics strip?) coded the initial software for the board, which (of course) was unmoderated. Boondocks, I am given to understand, is an African-American man who, though one of XO’s founders, forewent an administrative role after the first two months of the board’s existence.

Instead, in about May, 2004, Anthony Ciolli, a Penn Law student, became partners with Cohen. My sense is that Ciolli – alias “Great Teacher Onizuka” (manga comic reference?) – and Cohen split the board’s revenues 50/50, and share operational control over the permissions on the site.

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Should Female Legal Academics Blog?

In Yale Pocket Part, two new essays raise the question of whether women in legal academics should spend time blogging. Only one of the essays discusses this question explicity — Rosa Brooks in her candid and thoughtful What the Internet Age Means for Female Scholars? However, for women academics deciding whether to blog, I think the other essay, Brian Leiter, Why Blogs are Bad for Legal Scholarship may also be a must read.

In her essay, Brooks describes gendered challenges to academic success. The most salient is the time many women spend engaging in caretaking and housework — to the detriment of scholarship. The fact that women are often more pressed for time than men might suggest that valuable time should not be spent blogging. (Why am I not finishing the paper I am working on right now instead of musing about blogging!?)

However, Brooks also notes that not only must legal academics write great scholarship, they also have to ensure that their scholarship is read and noticed. Typically, conferences, colloquia, and visiting semesters are the best ways to promote scholarship. More women than men are also hampered here by family obligations or working spouses who are unwilling to uproot themselves for cross-country semesters or years. So, Brooks suggests, the internet provides a convenient way to advance own’s ideas and name. Though she observes that blog culture can be hostile to women and overly testosterone driven, Brooks seems cautiously optomistic that the internet and blogging might prove quite useful to women:

I can think of several younger scholars—including some women—whose careers have clearly been helped by blogging and commenting on blogs, activities that have gotten them noticed by people who then go on to read and be impressed by their more “serious” work. It’s too soon to say, but I suspect that the Internet age may gradually help eliminate the practice of making visits a predicate of lateral faculty offers. To the extent that blogging can help people get to know a scholar’s style of thinking, why put everyone to the trouble and expense of term- and year-long visits?

Enter Brian Leiter. Leiter appears hostile to blogs as means for those not already recognized as legal superstars to promote their ideas. He says so quite explicity:

[M]y sense is that blogs have been bad for legal scholarship, leading to increased visibility for mediocre scholars and half-baked ideas and to a dumbing down of standards and judgments.

Two mechanisms still exist for counteracting these developments. First, more first-rate scholars may enter the blogosphere, and use their pre-Internet gravitas to shift the terms of discussion. Second, the shift to peer-refereed publications in the legal academy—most of the best work in law and economics and law and philosophy, for example, now appears in faculty-edited journals—will ameliorate the significance of availability cascades on non-expert mediators like students and journalists.

It seems therefore, that Leiter (and any who agree with him) will give little credence to ideas posted in the blogosphere unless an already established legal superstar (those with pre-Internet gravitas) provides an introduction or some other sort of cover. Now, I presume Leiter would respond that he is not arguing that an idea or theory is mediocre simply because it is advanced by someone not already known by the heavy weights of the legal academy. However, the challenge for those not already in the club is to find vehicles for their work to be read. Once it is read, hopefully it will be judged on its merits. If Leiter’s view is widely shared, blogs will not prove useful alternatives to conferences or visits.

So –for women deciding whether to spend precious time blogging, the big question appears to be whether Leiter’s view will prevail.


Gender and the Eve-of-Wedding Prenup

Gender wars are alive and well in the blogsphere recently. While it seems to me that more than enough cyber ink has been spilled over boobgate and the fracas over Above the Law, I do think that the role of gender in law and culture continues to be actually difficult and worth discussing. I am teaching Family Law for the first time this semester and have noticed that my students often find ideals of formal sex equality extremely unsatisfying. As an example, I offer the enforceability of the eve of wedding prenup.


Let’s imagine a couple — Catherine and Fred. Catherine is a 23 year old nurse and Fred is a 39 year old neurosurgeon. On the night before their wedding, Fred’s lawyer presents Catherine with a prenup limiting her to support payments of $200 per week with a max of $25,000 should their wedded bliss end in divorce. Catherine signs — without any legal advice. Should this be enforceable?

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Using a feminine universal

In my lectures and class discussions (and out of class, for that matter), I tend to use a universal female pronoun. Not in cases where a universal is inappropriate because it conflicts with specific facts, obviously — “Mr. Jones went to the bank and she deposited her check.” But in cases where a universal pronoun is used, and where traditional English would therefore call for a “he,” I tend to use “she.” (Ditto for “her,” “hers,” and so forth). Thus, “for a testator to execute a will, she has to meet the following requirements.”

This is normally not much of a problem. Substituting she for he is not exactly rocket science.

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A Feminist Gets Married

I got hitched Saturday. Beforehand, I had been sheepish about telling my students I was getting married. It seemed inconsistent with my professional persona as an independent, fearless, freedom-fighting law professor. So I waited until the last possible minute to mention it. “OK, I have a quick announcement,” I began a recent Criminal Law class. “I do apologize, but I have to cancel next Thursday’s class because… um… well… my partner and I have decided to get married.” My students then began to clap. Gads, this was worse than I’d imagined it would be. The applause grew.

“No, no—please don’t clap. This is a truly freakish event that was never supposed to happen to someone like me.” Applause turned to laughter. Now I’d gotten myself in a fix.

Gavin had faced none of this angst. He had told his journalism students months ago, and he’d enjoyed their applause, while I skulked around my school as if I had a dirty little secret.

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