Category: Feminism and Gender


Partial Birth Abortion and Scientific Uncertainty

Although my area of research is primarily environmental law, I also explore how lawmakers deal with scientific uncertainty. And so the recent decision in the consolidated partial-birth abortion cases of Gonzales v. Carhart (05-380) and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood (05-1382) really interests me.

In these cases, Justice Kennedy states that “when medical uncertainty persists . . . The Court has given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.” Accordingly, the Court deferred to Congressional findings in 2003 that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary. While this is definitely a blow for advocates of abortion rights, I can’t say (without further deeper reflection) that I automatically disagree with this approach, in which the majority deferred to Congressional findings, albeit not “uncritically.” This approach, after all, affects many areas in which Congress has made decisions to regulate in the face of scientific uncertainty, including environmental and health regulation. For example, how much can the presence of scientific uncertainty allow Congress to authorize agencies to protect the environment under the Commerce Clause?

The key, though, is how this “not uncritical” examination plays out in the future, and how “uncertainty” is defined. How much medical disagreement is necessarily to overcome a Congressional finding? If the bar is too high–which it could be, given how one could argue that all of science is “uncertain” and “unstable” to some extent–then Congress is free to entirely ignore scientific determinations. Yet if the bar is too low, then Congress would be unable to act in the face of predicted, yet “uncertain” risks.

What I would have liked to have seen, therefore, is a more thorough delineation of the nature of uncertainty and degrees of uncertainty, setting out ways for courts to inquire into its legal existence, which of course could be distinct from its epistemological existence. (This, by the way, seemed incomplete in the global-warming case of Massachusetts v. EPA as well.) Instead, it’s treated as almost an on-off thing, rather than recognizing degrees (and kinds) of uncertainty.

I would also like to have seen some recognition that scientific findings and legal findings are often intermingled. As many scholars observe, much of the science at issue in legal decisions involve “trans-scientific determinations”–determinations that involve both scientific and policy components. Because of this, a judicial determination could go either way depending on whether you look at a given determination as scientific, or legal (despite the presence of both elements). On one hand, you’ve got courts deferring to Congress when it “act[s] in areas fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties,” but you’ve also got the canon that courts apply (somewhat inconsistently) to construe statutes to avoid constitutional risks–which also involve areas of uncertainty, albeit legal uncertainty. And so without delineating how you “tell” what counts as science (for legal purposes) or law (for legal purposes), you end up with a situation where the rule of deference that one applies (or doesn’t apply) will depend heavily on a standardless characterization of the nature of a determination.

Anyway, I’m still thinking this through! So I’d really appreciate further thoughts and suggestions!


Woman Town? has an interesting blurb on “Woman Town,” an experimental town inside the Shuangqiao district in the Chongqing municipality of China dedicated to being a place where women make the decisions. It’s an interesting concept, though I’m not entirely sure what the point of it is. Is it to respond to what’s seen as a predominantly patriarchal culture? Is it meant more as an amusement for tourists? Time will tell, but it’ll be fascinating to see whether or not any different local legal approaches develop as a result of an institutionalized “female dominated” structure. Keep your eyes peeled, Carol Gilligan!


Virtual Women

Yesterday, the Virtual Women conference was held at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. It was the seventh annual Women and the Law conference for TJSL, and it was a good one. The keynote speaker was Rochelle Dreyfuss (NYU); panelists included Ann Bartow (South Carolina), the proprieter of Feminist Law Profs blog, Boatema Boateng (U.C.S.D.), Dan Burk (Minnesota), Carys Craig (Osgoode Hall at York University, Toronto), former Co-Op guest Christine Haight Farley (American), Michele Goodwin (DePaul), K.J. Greene (Thomas Jefferson), Eileen Kane (Penn State), Mary LaFrance (UNLV), Doris Estelle Long (John Marshall), Malla Pollack (American Justice), Cheryl Preston (BYU), and Rebecca Tushnet (Georgetown), as well as a panel of practicing attorneys. Kudos to conference organizers Julie Cromer and Sandy Rierson for putting together a great group.

With that line-up, it’s no surprise that the conference is already being blogged. On her blog, Rebecca Tushnet has posted summaries and reactions for the first two panels. If you haven’t already done so, you should take a look at Rebecca’s posts on the conference: Panel 1, Panel 2 (part 1), Panel 2 (part 2), Panel 3, and the Keynote.


Should the state put gender under erasure?

I was delighted to see this story about Chanda Musalman, a Nepalesse person who asked that the census not record his/her gender. The census workers, wanting to put something down, decided that “both” would be more suitable than “none”.

This would be a very interesting move if adopted here in the US. Legal and social classifications, of course, run along a two-way street. A fair portion of equal protection theory and doctrine can be thought of as a response to this fact: Once we realize that laws both reflect and contribute to social classifications that carry different status benefits, the game is on. Part of the fun of watching traditionalist legal actors is watching both how insistent they are that their classifying reflects some natural reality and how nervous they are that legal classifications might work against their preferred social order.

Are there a more sophisticated argument against multi-coding? None come to mind. I’m curious what others think. Political feasibility aside, would you support such a change in our census? How would you classify yourself? Do you know anyone who you think would prefer to cross-classify?


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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