Feminist Law Professors

I have long been a fan of the blog “Feministlawprofessors.com.” The blog does a stellar job of raising and discussing various issues, the content of the blog is sound and reasoned, and Ann Bartow, the founder of the website, has graciously cross-posted some of my posts on prostitution over the past couple years.

Therefore, when Bridget Crawford, another of the main posters on feministlawprofessors.com, asked if I wanted to be named on their list of “self-identified feminist law professors,” I was thrilled to be asked. The question was raised, however: What does the label “feminist law professor” mean? If I was going to self-identify as a “feminist law professor,” I wanted to be sure I fit within the definition.

The reality is that those who know me well might not immediately fit me within the category of “feminist law professor,” if we consider only the older stereotypes about what a feminist “looks like.” To wit, I have never taught “feminist legal theory” (though I could and would, happily), I am Catholic, I am fairly conservative, I have never been a member of NOW, I have been a member of the Federalist Society, I am not offended by some things that are clearly “gendered” (such as men opening doors for women), and I have never burned a bra.

That said, I support equality for all, and I engage in activities intended to support this goal. Indeed, one of the many things that troubles me about the legal profession is the fact that women make up roughly 50% of all law students but only about 19% of all law firm partners and less than 20% of all Supreme Court justices.

But does supporting equality for all make me a feminist law professor? If so, wouldn’t – in theory – most law professors be “feminist law professors?”

I realize that this blog post should be many paragraphs longer, to address the issues raised by my questions above. But even with a blog post five times the length of this one, I doubt I could do the questions justice. So I will end simply by observing that, while I am happy to be labeled a “feminist law professor,” it is interesting to me that the phrase is not easily defined.

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3 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    Interesting post. Elizabeth, what’s your sense of how “feminism” differs from other broad-brush political classifications in this regard? For example, are you a “conservative law professor”? I bet there are a lot of positions held by conservatives you disagree with. I think feminism is similarly big-tent (particularly if it includes both sameness and difference feminists), but my intuition on what separates “feminists” from all other people who support gender equality is that feminists believe there are profound problems with the current situation that need addressing. So by that definition, you would be a feminist.

  2. Elizabeth Nowicki says:

    Bruce,
    Thanks for your non-anonymous comment.

    You raise a good point with your question, and I unfortunately do not have a ready answer. Let me answer your question by skirting it:

    I’m not sure I would call myself a conservative law professor, in part because the fellows I normally blog with at truthonthemarket.com are far more conservative than I. My sense is that *they* should be called conservative law professors, as opposed to me. Yet perhaps, if asked, they would not define themselves as “conservative,” but, rather, they might label themselves libertarians…. Which is a longwinded, indirect way of answering your initial question. I cannot help but wonder if my view of the label of “feminism” is less relevant than the view of 50 people on the street who are surveyed.

    In a related vein, I clerked for Jim Oakes, 2d Cir., who sat in Brattleboro, VT. Prior to becoming a judge, he was an elected politician – Republican. Believe you me, he was like *NO* Republican I had ever met, and his views when I clerked for him were far, far from even the left fringe of Republicans. A Vermont Republican is very different from a Virginia Republican.

    So it is interesting to hear that your intuition is that a feminist is one who believes there are profound problems with the current gender equality situation that need addressing. I would agree with your definition, though I wonder if it is too narrow. (Even if you believe there are not profound problems, perhaps you can still be a feminist. Although maybe a true feminist would say that if you do not believe there are problems, you have your eyes closed and therefore cannot be a feminist.)

    Interesting, all of this. Labels and taxonomy are not easy to sort out.

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    The recent past Presidential election lead to a lot of sometimes heated discussions about what it means to be a feminist. I don’t have any easy answers for you, but I rather like this post:

    http://tomatonation.com/?p=677

    Cheers,
    Ann