Category: Feminism and Gender

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Ifill on Having Even Half and What More Needs to Be Done

My colleague (and guest blogger) Sherrilyn Ifill has an insightful post on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s attention-grabbing Atlantic piece  and future book on the silly notion of “having it all.”  As Professor Ifill’s post makes clear, Slaughter’s lament captures a microscopic part of the problem–most working women, especially minorities, cannot remotely have any part of the illusory promise.  Professor Ifill calls upon professional women, the 1%, to help the plight of the other 99% of working women with kids, because they can and because they should.  Professor Ifill’s post on the relevance of legal scholarship rightly captured lots of attention, and this post should too.

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Context is Everything

I am thrilled to be guest-blogging for Concurring Opinions for the month of August.  For my first post, I thought I would draw your attention to an interesting case out of the Seventh Circuit last month.  In Passananti v. Cook County, the court considered a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim brought by an investigator for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.  The primary issue on appeal was whether the “frequent and hostile use of the word ‘bitch’ [was] a gender-based epithet that contributed to a sexually hostile work environment.”  In other words, is “bitch” always sexist?

Putting aside the use of the word in dog-training circles, you might be wondering how this word could possibly not be sexist? It turns out that the Seventh Circuit, in a prior case, actually concluded that the use of the word was not based on sex but rather on personal animosity that “arose out of an earlier failed relationship between the plaintiff and the harasser.”

But in Passananti, the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court, finding that the mere use of the term in this case, without other gendered words, is sufficient for a finding of sexual harassment.  And the court, quite reasonably, pointed out that “when gender-specific language is used in the workplace . . . context is key.”  A laudable approach until you look one step further at the specific context that the court looked to for help here:  “The jury heard testimony that Sullivan used the word “bitch” regularly in reference to the plaintiff. He did not use the word in jest, but instead used it together with his threats against Passananti’s employment.”  Not exactly convincing. We are supposed to understand that the term is gendered because he didn’t use it in jest and was threatening her employment?

Most of us would agree that the supervisor’s use of the word “bitch” in this case was gender-derogatory for one simple reason:  he is a man, using a gendered word, against a woman, and there is no other explanation for its use.  Can the term have different meanings in other contexts?  Absolutely.  When women use it amongst themselves, for one, the term can be endearing or playful.  But it is rarely benign when spoken by a man and directed at a woman.  But nowhere in the court’s lengthy discussion of context does this simple truth appear.  Why is the court so hesitant to name this reality – that linguistic meaning is the product of multiple contextual factors, including, importantly, the identity of the speaker?

I’ll save additional discussion and some possible answers for a later post.  Suffice it to say, I am thinking a lot about this question right now and have just posted a draft of my article on the topic on SSRN. I’ll discuss the article in a later post but for now here’s the link to The N-Word at Work: Contextualizing Language in the Workplace.

 

 

 

 

 

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Anita Allen’s Unpopular Privacy

Lucky for CoOp readers, I had a chance to talk to Professor Anita Allen about her new book Unpopular Privacy, which Oxford University Press recently published.  My co-blogger Dan Solove included Professor Allen’s new book on his must-read privacy books for the year.  And rightly so: the book is insightful, important, and engrossing.  Before I reproduce below my interview with Professor Allen, let me introduce her to you.  She is a true renaissance person, just see her Wikipedia page.  Professor Allen is the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  She is also a senior fellow in the bioethics department of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, a collaborating faculty member in African studies, and an affiliated faculty member in the women’s studies program.  In 2010, President Barack Obama named Professor Allen to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She is a Hastings CenterFellow.  Her publications are too numerous to list here: suffice it to say that she’s written several books, a casebook, and countless articles in law reviews and philosophy journals.  She also writes for the Daily Beast and other popular media.

Question: You began writing about privacy in the 1980s, long before the Internet and long before many of the federal privacy statutes we take for granted. What has changed? 

 I started writing about privacy when I was a law student at Harvard in the early 1980s and have never stopped. Unpopular Privacy, What Must We Hide (Oxford University Press 2011) is my third book about privacy in addition to a privacy law casebook Privacy Law and Society (West Publishing 2011).  My original impetus was to understand and explore the relationships of power and control among governments, individuals, groups, and families.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the big privacy issues in the newspapers and the courts related to abortion, gay sex, and the right to die.  Surveillance, search and seizure, and database issues were on the table, as they had been since the early 1960s, but they often seemed the special province of criminal lawyers and technocrats.

To use a cliché, it’s a brave new world.   Since my early interest in privacy, times have indeed changed, the role of electronic communications and the pervasiveness of networked technologies in daily life has transformed how personal data flows and how we think about and prioritize our privacy.  Terms like webcam, “text messaging,” “social networking,” and “cloud computing” have entered the lexicon, along with devices like mobile, personal digital assistants, and iPads.

The public is just beginning to grasp ways in which genetics and neuroscience will impact privacy in daily life—I have begun to reflect, write, and speak more about these matters recently, including in connection with my work as a member of President Obama’s Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Question: Your book coins the phrase “unpopular privacy.”  In what way is privacy unpopular?  

First let me say that I think of “popular privacy” as the privacy that people in the United States and similar developed nations tend to want, believe they have a right to, and expect government to secure.  For example, typical adults very much want privacy protection for the content of their telephone calls, e-mail, tax filings, health records, academic transcripts, and bank transactions.

I wrote this book because I think we need to think more about “unpopular” privacy. “Unpopular” privacy is the kind that people reject, despise, or are indifferent to.  My book focuses on the moral and political underpinnings of laws that promote, require, and enforce physical and informational privacy that is unpopular with the very people that those laws are supposed to help or control.  (I call such people the beneficiaries and targets of privacy laws.)  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for instance, was an unpopular government mandated privacy for military service members.  My book suggests that some types of privacy that should be popular aren’t and asks what, if anything, we should do about it.

Question: If people don’t want privacy or don’t care about it, why should we care?

We should care because privacy is important.  I urge that we think of it as a “foundational” good like freedom and equality.  Privacy is not a purely optional good like cookies and sports cars.  Since the 1960s, when scholars first began to analyze privacy in earnest, philosophers and other theorists have rightly linked the experience of privacy with dignity, autonomy, civility, and intimacy. They have linked it to repose, self-expression, creativity, and reflection. They have tied it to the preservation of unique preferences and distinct traditions.  I agree with moral, legal and political theorists who have argued that privacy is a right.

I go further to join a small group of theorists that includes Jean L. Cohen who have argued that privacy is also potentially a duty; and not only a duty to others, but a duty to one’s self.  I believe we each have a duty to take into account the way in which one’s own personality and life enterprises could be affected by decisions to dispense with foundational goods that are lost when one decides to flaunt, expose, and share rather than to reserve, conceal, and keep.

If people are completely morally and legally free to pick and choose the degrees of privacy they will enter, they are potentially deprived of highly valued states that promote their vital interests, and those of their fellow human beings. For me, this suggests that we need to restrain choice—if not by law, then by ethics and other social norms.  Respect for privacy rights and the ascription of privacy duties must comprise a part of a society’s formative project for shaping citizens. Read More

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Women in Big Law

This week the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) released its Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, which compiles data on the professional progress of women in the nation’s 200 largest firms. Most of the reporting on NAWL’s survey results has focused on the decrease in the number of female first and second year associates.  While the decline is only slight—47 percent of first and second year associates are women, compared to 48 percent a year ago—it is the first decrease since NAWL began reporting survey results in 2006.   NAWL speculates that the decline is attributable to changes in law school enrollments, where there have also been slight decreases in the percentage of female students.

The most interesting part of the report, however, discusses where women find themselves in the hierarchal complexities of today’s law firms.  As the NAWL survey points out, large law firms are no longer comprised of simply partners, associates, and a few of counsel.  Instead, firms are a mix of equity and non-equity partners, associates, staff attorneys, and of counsel.  Read on after the jump for sobering highlights about how women tend to fit into organizationally-complex large law firms. Read More

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What Derb doesn’t get (about the reality of sexual harassment)

As noted in earlier discussions, conservative pundit John Derbyshire recently wrote: “Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like “racial discrimination“? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up.” (Some other pundits have expressed similar views.)

For comparison, here are a few snippets from the facts of some court opinions in actual recent sexual harassment cases. (major trigger warning — these cases contain some extremely disturbing fact patterns) Read More

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On Female Privilege

You mention male privilege in a blog post, and it’s inevitable: Someone else (usually male) will start asking about female privilege. If men have privilege, don’t women have privilege too? And does that undercut the idea of male privilege as a type of gender subordination which is built into society? (Because, the implication goes, we all have privilege — and so feminists should stop complaining about male privilege.)

And, so, predictably, some critics of feminism, “men’s rights” blogs, and the like have assembled lengthy lists of female privilege. (Women get their dates paid for — it isn’t fair!) And it’s true that there are areas where, taken on a stand-alone basis, male and female treatment appears to favor women. As we’ll see, I don’t think these areas really provide an analogue to male privilege.

We’ll start with the obvious, descriptive matter: Some areas exist in which women have some advantages. For one obvious example, some bars offer free drinks to women on some evenings. (Ladies night.) Looked at in isolation, these could be viewed as areas of female privilege. However, in context, it seems evident that this apparent female privilege fills one of two roles. Read More

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Harassment, male privilege, and jokes that women just don’t get

A familiar theme comes up frequently in internet discussions: Women who complain about online harassment are just missing the joke.

As an initial descriptive matter, it’s pretty clear that women and men are often treated differently in online discussion. (Quick, name a case in which someone was harassed online. Was the person you thought about a woman? I thought so.)

A few months ago, John Scalzi noted that:

In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake. . .

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends. (Emphasis added.)

That bears repeating: The Internet is not the same experience for men as it is for women. (No wonder women are numerically underrepresented in prominent internet discussion spaces.)

Why is the internet a different place for men than for women? There are doubtless a number of contributing causes, but one of the major factors is that the internet is largely a male-constructed discursive space, and internet discussion norms often build on assumptions of male privilege. Read More

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Bigoted Harassment, Alive and Well Online

With the help of law and changing norms, invidious discrimination has become less prevalent in arenas like schools, workplaces, hotels, and public transportation.  Due to our social environments, anti-discrimination law is fairly easy to enforce.  Because leaders usually can figure out those responsible for discriminatory conduct and ignore such behavior at their peril, bigotry raises a real risk of social sanction.  So too hate discourse in the public sphere is more muted.  A hundred years ago, Southern newspapers and leaders explicitly endorsed mob violence against blacks.  As late as 1940, a newspaper editor in Durham, North Carolina could state that: “A Negro is different from other people in that he’s an unfortunate branch of the human family who hasn’t been able to make out of himself all he is capable of” due to his “background of the jungle.”  In the post-Civil Rights era, the public expression of bigoted epithets and slurs occurs infrequently.  One rarely hears racist, sexist, or homophobic speech in mainstream media outlets.  Some interpret this state of affairs optimistically, as a sign that we are moving beyond race, gender, and arguably even sexual orientation.  The election of the first black President provoked proclamations of our entry into a “post-racial” era.  Many contend that we no longer need feminism anymore.  Prime time television is filled with images of female power, from Brenda Leigh Johnson’s chief on The Closer to Dr. Miranda Bailey’s “take no prisoners” surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy.  Who needs feminism anymore as its goals have been achieved?

But a new era is not upon us.  In some arenas, hate’s explicit form has repackaged itself in subtlety.  In public discourse, crude biological views of group inferiority are often replaced with a kinder, gentler “color-blind racism,” as sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls it. The face of modern racism is, in journalist Touré’s estimation, “invisible or hard to discern, lurking in the shadows or hidden.”  The media has also better disguised sexism with its anxiety about female achievement, renewed and amplified objectification of young women’s bodies and faces, and the dual exploitation and punishment of female sexuality, as media scholar Susan Douglas explains.

Offline public discourse may now be on more neutral ground but its online counterpart is not.  While virulent bigotry continues behind closed doors, it increasingly appears in online spaces that blend public and private discourse.  Although televised sports commentary rarely features anti-gay rhetoric, online sports message boards are awash in in-your-face homophobic speech.  Racial epithets and slurs are common online, whether in Facebook profiles, Twitter posts, blog comments, or YouTube videos.  College students encounter more sexually inappropriate speech in online interactions than in face-to-face ones.

Matters have not improved since I started talking and writing about it since 2007, when we woke up, for a brief second, and paid attention to sexualized, misogynistic attacks on Kathy Sierra on her blog and two others and the targeting of female law students on AutoAdmit.  Then, technologist Tim O’Reilly and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales called for a Blogger’s Code of Conduct.  That effort failed to gain traction, and ever since the bigoted online abuse continues, silencing victims, ruining their online reputations, costing them jobs, and interfering with their ability to engage with others online and offline.  Newsweek’s always insightful Jessica Bennett has published important new piece on online misogyny and the Guardian’s Vanessa Thorpe and Richard Rogers similarly explore the rape threats and abuse of female bloggers.  I will be blogging about bigoted online harassment, as I am amidst writing a book about it and serving on the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force on Online Hate, which recently held a hearing at the House of Commons.  This all has to stop, and now.

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Pregnancy and Disability

Yesterday I posted about a dilemma in parental leave policies: The desire for formal sex equality leads to equal “caretaking” leave for men and women; when this leave is paid by the employer, it is typically quite short. The reality of biological differences is dealt with by providing separately for “disability” leave for pregnant and birthing women, often for a much longer period. In practice, that means that a woman who gives birth has an extended opportunity to bond with and care for a new child, while people who become parents in other ways do not. This creates an early discrepancy in caretaking between birthing and non-birthing parents. When children are adopted, the family as a whole suffers from not having that extra leeway for caretaking.

A woman in New York has filed a suit challenging these inequities in a novel way: Kara Krill received 13 weeks of paid maternity leave when she gave birth to her first child. Krill was unable to bear another child, and she and her husband hired a gestational surrogate, who gave birth to twins. This time, Krill was allowed only 5 days of leave, under the company’s policy for adoptive parents. Her suit alleges disability discrimination, saying that if it weren’t for her disability, which required her to have her children through a surrogate, she would have given birth and been entitled to the full 13 weeks of leave.

Krill faces an uphill battle under current law. I’m drawn, however, to the idea of designing parental leave policy around the idea that the inability to give birth is a disability that should be accommodated—and not just for women. Read More

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Sex Equity in Parental Leave

Many thanks to Solangel, Dan, and the rest of Co-Op for inviting me to blog here this month. I’ll start out with a few posts about parental leave policies, inspired by this story about a woman named Kara Krill. (H/T Family Law Prof Blog) Krill had children through a surrogate mother. When her employer refused to give her the same maternity leave that is available to employees who give birth, she sued for disability discrimination. But first some background on the core dilemma of U.S. equality law when it comes to parental leave:

U.S. law aspires to formal equality for women and men in the workplace. When it comes to parental leave, that has meant maintaining a sharp theoretical separation between pregnancy leave and caretaking leave. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy leave is treated as disability leave and is supposed to cover the period of time in which pregnancy and birth disable a woman from doing her job. Caretaking leave—time to bond with and care for a new baby—is supposed to be available on a sex-neutral basis. In Nevada v. Hibbs, when the Supreme Court upheld the Family and Medical Leave Act as applied to the states, it said that Congress could legitimately force employers to give (unpaid) caretaking leave to everyone, in order to address the problem of many employers giving such leave to women only, by calling it “pregnancy leave” even when it was much longer than necessary for physical recovery from birth.

The distinction between pregnancy/disability leave and caretaking leave is neat in theory but breaks down immediately in practice. Read More