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Delayed Dispatches from LSA in Hawai'i, Part III

Capping off our series of grad student reports from LSA in Hawai’i, here’s Osgoode own (now Emory’s in a way) Stu Marvel (more about Stu’s current projects at the link). Got a way with words, does our Stu.   Enjoy. And think about what kind of dispatches you might want to send us!


Read Part I (Shanthi Senthe) here and Part II (Nikki Karalekas) here.  These “delayed dispatches” from Hawaii are a set of reports and reflections on the substance and the experience of conferencing as a graduate student.  Why read them? Because you want to know what is up with these conferences.  Because you are a grad student and need some encouragement about conferences, and about what networking can be when it’s being “it’s best self”. Because you are a prof and need the same.  Because you are contemplating grad work. Or because you are a professor and it’s always useful for professors to think about what’s happening for the grad students at these events and how we can improve the experience for everyone.


Take 2600 sociolegal scholars from around the world, plunk them on the beaches of Waikiki, add Power Point presentations, and serve in a giant pineapple. The most overwhelming part of the 2012 LSA conference in Honolulu was simply how overwhelming everything was. This was conference-going writ large! Thirty-two concurrent panels at all times! Cavernous rooms filled with jet-lagged people in sunglasses! Mega tour bus shuttles whisking everyone off to rolling lawns and the strains of ukulele music!

The organizers were tops (nice work, IFLS’ own Annie Bunting), our hosts were gracious and always present was our debt to the island itself: the green vistas and golden beaches upon which we talked, debated, laughed, lectured, shared and made community. Yet these conversations across a sea of islands also offered an explicit invitation to reframe colonial modalities of landscape and look instead across our waterways; liquid convergences of space and world-making, power and history. Inspired by the work of Polynesian scholar Epeli Hau’ofa, the guiding logic of the conference fluidly shifted dominant frameworks of sovereignty and challenged us all to ask new questions about the cultural and legal terrain of our 65 home countries (and countless more unrecognized nations).

Our conversations flowed especially toward issues of settler colonialism and indigenous rights, eddying through the 525 panels, roundtables, plenaries and author discussions, and rising (for me, anyway) in the keynote given by Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller from the University of Hawai’i. A brilliant meditation on the spatial re-framing advanced by Hau’ofa, this talk was delivered in the Wednesday afternoon session and provided a welcome opportunity to gather with the hundreds of other grad students at the conference. Such attention to grad students and an interest in nurturing our often tentative contributions was keenly felt throughout the week.

Because part of what felt so thrilling to me was the inclusivity of this conference, with seasoned academic rockstars and fledgling young scholars meeting in the halls and hunkering over sandwiches together. The egalitarianism of our rushed lunchtime repasts may not have translated into equal attendance at the panels – I saw a couple sessions where panelists outnumbered the audience; while author talks with high-profile scholars had people crammed into the aisles – but for those wise enough to get themselves on a CRN (Collaborative Research Network) or IRC (International Research Collaborative), there was generally someone to talk to.

Hot tip for y’all: Get yourself onto one of these specially organized sessions! These panels were crafted with much care, and topics and themes could be discussed in breadth over the course of the conference arc. Grad students, talk to your supervisor and find out how to land in your dream CRN stream! Professors, organize more of these in collaboration with your grad students!

And the choice of feminist streams was nothing short of inspiring, with CRNs on Feminist Legal Theory; Gender and Judging; Women in Legal Professions; International Socio-Legal Feminisms; Gender, Sexuality and Law; Gender and Judicial Education; and Gender Equality. There was also an excellent series on Care and Autonomy in the Age of Austerity, as well as CRNs on Critical Research on Race and the Law; Colonization and Law; and Law and Indigeneity, not to mention independent research streams on Taxation, Regulation, Governance, Social Movements, East Asian Law and Civil Justice.    [a bit more on CRN;s at this IFLS post What’s a CRN?” – ed]

With so much to choose from it was hard to narrow down the options. However it was my pleasure to attend 14 panels over the week, with some real standouts from both experienced and emerging scholars. I warmly present my star roster of academic headliners:


Legal Construction of the Elusive Embryo: Jenni Millbank, Isabel Karpin and Sheelagh McGuinness

This panel kicked off the conference for me with a spectacular trio of speakers. Discussion ranged from a philosophical exploration of the complex legal ontologies of the embryo, to an analysis of new empirical research coming out of Australia around assisted human reproduction. The only downside was the absence of Osgoode’s own Roxanne Mykitiuk, who was originally scheduled to present on the panel. Seriously top notch and an exciting start to the week.

Roundtable – Today’s Politics of Settler Colonialism: Renisa Mawani, Brenna Bhandar, Carole Blackburn and Nandita Sharma

This was the most contentious panel I attended, as the speakers disagreed substantially over the role of settlers of colour in indigenous solidarity movements. They wrestled over difficult matters of complicity, responsibility and accountability in contemporary settler colonialism, bringing insight from Australia, Canada, the mainland US, Hawai’i and Palestine. Among an incredibly thoughtful set of panelists, Brenna Bhandar was the standout for me in translating complex postcolonial analytics into a compelling engagement with critical indigenous philosophy.

Gender, Race and Violence: Claris Harbon, Hijin Park, Nan D. Stein, Gena Hong and Stu Marvel

This was my own panel, which was tenderly attended by my stalwart colleagues Amaya Alvez and Nikki Karalekas. Here is also where I learned the importance of getting oneself on a CRN.  Bobbing amidst the sea of applicants, my abstract’s offhand mention of conceptual ‘violence’ had landed me on a panel with four women writing about, well, violence: Interracial heterosexual violence, teen dating violence, and the violence of the aborted fetus. Everyone was very kind to my air quotes abstractions, however, and we had a jolly time under the generous chairship of Cynthia Nance.

Author meets Reader – Law’s Relations by Jennifer Nedelsky

I attended two of these author chats and thought them a useful window into the writing and critical process. Jennifer Nedelsky’s new book was energetically discussed by the panel – John Borrows was the standout for me – and as an emerging scholar it was both terrifying and inspiring to see someone’s work so enthusiastically engaged with. Great stuff.

Comparative Perspectives on Indigeneity and Legal Pluralism: Kinka K. Bluesky, Sarah Hunt, Antonia Rivas and Dale J. Dewhurst

This is part of the pleasure of a conference the size of the LSA – listening to people at different stages of their academic career and intellectual projects. Most compellingly for me this panel showcased three emerging female scholars, all of whom were wrestling with the role of indigenous traditions of law within the colonial legal project. I was deeply impressed by the presentation by PhD student Sarah Hunt, who outlined a critical legal geography of the reserve as a “performative ontological project” from which three agentive possibilities emerged. Dazzling stuff about the activation of indigenous space which I’m excited to see developed further.

Cultural Power of Law in Indigenous Legal Experiences in Hawai’i and Canada: Decolonization or Recolonization? – Danielle Conway, Jennifer Llewellyn, Valerie Napoleon, Ronald Niezen, Leslie Jane McMillan

I must admit to feeling a bit of conference fatigue by this point, and I only caught the end of Danielle Conway’s presentation before she ceded the podium to Jennifer Llewellyn. Fresh on the heels of a panel that had solidly rejected the politics of recognition as offering poor concession to a First Nations legal order, I found Llewellyn’s approving overview of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada a bit jarring. However Val Napoleon was the real barnburner on this panel, with a moving and engaging narrative that wove us through the living oral traditions of law and governance from which indigenous legal pluralities emerge. Her deftly gendered analysis pointed the way forward for restorative justice measures based upon the intellectual resources of indigenous song, story and dance. Amazing stuff.

Sexual Mutability and Law: Michael D. Boucai, Lisa Diamond, Terry Kogan, Clifford J. Rosky

I was excited about seeing Lisa Diamond present, as I’ve read her work on sexual fluidity with interest (she has been conducting the longest-running empirical study of sexual identity to date). And gee boy was I right! A truly inspiring speaker, Diamond was funny, charming, whip-smart and juggled a great use of hard science (dynamical systems theory) as applied to understand human motivation and relationality (sexual orientation over time). She had to leave the panel early, and people were literally jumping up in their seats, waving their hands in the air and shouting out questions. It’s like we were at a rock concert.

Author meets Reader – Fatal Intervention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts

Whew! This was the last panel I attended, after four solid days of reunions, presentations, questions, heated discussion and late-night karaoke. Dorothy Roberts was generous and thoughtful in her response to a slew of interlocutors, and offered a pointed riposte to questions from the audience about the role of deploying scientific racism in a strategic manner to mitigate the harms of the criminal justice system. She moved easily between comments from a pharmaceutical researcher to critical race scholars like Lisa Ikemoto and Osagie Obasogie, across the swath of population genomics, personalized medicine, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks busily resuscitating race as a biological category written in our genes. Fascinating, and lots to think about as I was floating in the sea not fifteen minutes later.


Basically, it was a dream conference, and I cannot overstate how grateful I am to everyone that I heard speak, listened to me yammer, and – especially – helped me get there. My thanks lie in particular with Professor Martha A. Fineman, who generously supported my trip and allowed me to act as a mouthpiece for the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative in her stead. (Note: Check out this website and sign up for updates on our mailing list!)

Thanks also to Debra Parkes for organizing a great gab session sponsored by the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, and to Nancy Polikoff for putting together a smashing feminist dinner at the local Thai restaurant. And the deepest of thanks to the Kanaka Maoli `O Hawai`i for our time on the islands. I learned a great deal in this short, blissful, dizzying week, and was honoured to be a part of it all.

Delayed Dispatches from LSA in Hawai'i, Part II

Nikki Karalekas is a PhD candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. During the 2012-2013 academic year, she will be a Mellon Teaching Fellow in the Department of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans.  She blogs here, and the internet says her dissertation will be entitled: Strip Clubs and the Legal Everyday: Rethinking the Feminist Turn Away from Law.
Nikki got roped into this mini IFLS project through the chain Stu Marvel (Osgoode Phd Candidate) – Shanthi Senthe (Osgoode PhD Candidate) – Brutally persistent IFLS blog captain Sonia Lawrence. Beware, because if you get close to this network, you will become a target for guest post duties too.  And I may ask you for a photo that includes your pets.
Read Part I here.  These “delayed dispatches” from Hawaii are a set of reports and reflections on the substance and the experience of conferencing as a graduate student.  Why read them? Because you want to know what is up with these conferences Because you are a grad student and need some encouragement about conferences, and about what networking can be when it’s being “it’s best self”. Because you are a prof and need the same.  Because you are contemplating grad work. Or because you are a professor and it’s always useful for professors to think about what’s happening for the grad students at these events and how we can improve the experience for everyone.

A Newcomer’s Thoughts on LSA in Hawaii


This was my second time attending LSA, but my first time actively participating in multiple events, including the feminist legal theory critical research network. Therefore, I offer these thoughts as a newcomer and as an invitation for interdisciplinary dialogue about what it means to be a feminist theorist working in legal studies today.


As someone who works outside of the field of law, but works on feminist legal theory, I learned a lot from attending Law and Society in Hawaii and participating in the feminist legal theory critical research network. I was especially interested in how feminist legal scholars interpret laws in a technical, doctrinal way. The two best papers I saw, in this regard, concerned the composition of juries. The first paper examined what the author considered to be a sloppy importation of the 14th amendment into cases that should simply focus on a 6th amendment claim. (ed: hey, could that be this paper, perhaps?). The second paper critiqued laws and cases preventing people who had at some point in time been through the criminal justice system from serving on juries. Another great panel that I went to was a roundtable on the distinction between governance and governmentality. While governmentality, or what Foucault calls the “conduct of conduct,” was a popular analytic in the late 1990s, this panel suggested that it has been supplanted—uncritically—by the concept of governance. The roundtable concluded that a helpful skepticism emerges around the concept of governance when refracted through the lens of governmentality.  Since my dissertation is in direct conversation with Janet Halley’s critique of “governance feminism,” I found this panel to be incredibly relevant for my work. Indeed, at the end of the panel, someone mentioned Halley’s critique of governance as an example of cutting edge work in feminist legal theory that has broad implications for a variety of fields.

What is notable to me in all this is that these papers and panels were not directly about feminism, feminist legal theory, or so-called “women’s issues.” While I did attend many panels on topics ranging from abortion to motherhood to domestic violence, these papers tended toward an incredibly narrow approach. Surprisingly, a good number of papers adopted Catherine MacKinnon’s dominance theory, which has been tremendously critiqued in my field and many others (women’s studies, feminist theory, queer theory). At the same time, one of the more interesting papers I saw attempted to critique MacKinnon’s approach by theorizing a “neofeminism.” However, this paper failed to acknowledge that criticisms of MacKinnon (a professor at UMich Law) were contemporaneous with her approach. Therefore, critiquing MacKinnon turns out to be not as “neo” as the author might think.

While other papers did not take a dominance approach, many still tended to be overly tethered to pre-defined “women’s issues.” While it is important to analyze such issues, including domestic violence, abortion, and motherhood, limiting all feminist critique to such issues obscures other important issues in women’s lives such as poverty, sexuality, and sickness/health. Moreover, presenting a limited set of issues as universal for all women obscures differences of race, class, nationality, religion, sexuality, and ability that exist between groups of women.

The discussion of MacKinnon and pre-determined women’s issues at the conference however did meet with audience criticism. This leads me to believe that there is a wider understanding of what feminism means among members of the feminist legal theory community at LSA. This diversity may need to be properly plucked from the audience and featured on panels in future years.




Conferences: Pain, or Pleasure? Delayed Dispatches from LSA in Hawai'i

over at the great Australian feminist legal blog Amicae Curiae, they have a nice round up on conferencing (how-to’s and a list of upcoming conferences):  Opportunity knocks more than once

It’s a great lead in to a set of posts that IFLS is pleased to have from grad students Nikki Karalekas, Stu Marvel and Shanthi Senthe.  These “delayed dispatches” from Hawaii are a set of reports and reflections on the substance and the experience of conferencing as a graduate student.  Why read them? Because you want to know what is up with these conferences Because you are a grad student and need some encouragement about conferences, and about what networking can be when it’s being “it’s best self”. Because you are a prof and need the same.  Because you are contemplating grad work. Or because you are a professor and it’s always useful for professors to think about what’s happening for the grad students at these events and how we can improve the experience for everyone.

So without further ado, here’s Delayed Dispatch #1, from Shanthi Senthe, is a second year PhD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, and a Fellow of the Osgoode Hall Law School Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society.  As a ‘former’ banking / corporate lawyer in the US and Canada, her doctoral work now examines banking and financial regulation in the context of microfinance.).  Race and gender scholarship are her not so secret passion.  She agreed to send the IFLS dispatches from Hawaii, but was having too much fun (and Wi-Fi issues, apparently).



picture of Shanthi SentheMahalo to the people of Occupied Hawaii!  My delayed dispatch is supposed to summarize my enlightening moments at the LSA Conference – but there were too many!  The conference panels consisted of a mélange of interdisciplinary scholarship ranging from financial regulation to logics of settler colonialism in the Pacific Rim, thus creating a daily agonizing task of deciding which panels I would attend.

I searched for the scholars that have been influential in my own research, and found panels featuring Professors Annelise Riles, Bill Maurer, and Rashmi Dyal-Chand.

At the New Approaches to Financial Regulation: An Interdisciplinary Conversation panel, Bill Maurer from UC -Irvine presented his paper “Boredom and the Mundane: It’s Where the Action Is (or Should Be) in the Anthropology of Finance” in which he described the regulatory mechanics of “abstractions of credit” and the “new value movement” akin to a new social movement. This panel was chaired by Annelise Riles from Cornell University, who succinctly defined new ways of thinking about regulation and the nature of interdisciplinary engagement within this discourse.  (You can see a review of Prof Riles book, Collateral Knowledge: Legal Reasoning in the Global Financial Markets on Jotwell, here).

At What Should Be the Agenda for Progressive Property Scholars? This session provided an alternative view from the dominant model of ownership within the property law context. In “Rights and Remedies in the Progressive Property Agenda: The Value of Use” Rashmi Dyal Chand of Northeastern University School of Law focused on the concept of a use-based approach in property law. (you can find some of her other papers here on SSRN)

The next three sessions reaffirmed why I love my “job” as a PhD student! Not only did I discover new and emerging scholarship outside my field of expertise, with various intellectual perspectives, but I also met the individual scholars who were all gracious, kind and inspiring.

Roundtable–What Do Critical Race Theory and Empirical Socio-Legal Studies Have to Teach Each Other? This roundtable consisted of Osagie Obasogie (UC -Hastings),Paul Butler (Georgetown University), Devon Carbado (UCLA), Laura E. Gomez (UCLA)and Laura Beth Nielsen (American Bar Foundation/Northwestern U).  The discussion centered on the challenges and successes in using social science methods in CRT discourse.  I had a chance to chat with Laura Beth Nielsen (a sociologist, author of “License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech (Princeton UP, 2006, and other papers you can find here) about my research.  She mentioned a few names, scholars who do interesting research, and who may be helpful in my work.  Her encouraging words inspired to actually complete a section of my mobile banking paper!

Roundtable–Bridge to Empowerment: Exploring Legal Literacy Paradigms with   Rhoda P Cato (FAMU Law) , Jamila Jefferson-Jones (Barry University) , Phebe Poydras (Librarian at FAMU Law), Jalila Jefferson-Bullock (Phoenix School of law) and Deleso Alford This open and informal session emphasized teaching methodologies used to inspire law students and build on critical thinking using a feminist perspective; and “to instill in law students a critical understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the creation of race and law as well as the role of the law and the lawyer in improving the human condition.”  We talked about the generational gaps within the classroom (are today’s students “automatic purgers” of information as a result of the internet?), the competing educational aspirations of students, and how legal pedagogy has truly transformed due to technology.  At the end of the session, the panelists (who teach in Arizona, Florida and Indiana) took a group photo, commemorating the fact that they are all from the great state of Louisiana!

We’re Here to Stay: Minority Law Faculty Narratives of Surviving and Thriving in the Legal Academy. Jacquelyn Bridgeman (Wyoming) presented “Still I Rise” and Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa) presented “Understanding Professional Forbearance”. Both of these moving presentations illustrated the “narratives that speak to the habits of surviving and thriving in the American legal academy” which are “stories narratives of professional forbearance because they speak to the labor, pleasures, pain, and insight that emerge from remaining in one place, one job, and one institution over time.”  Angela Onwuachi-Willig discussed the “various types of burdens and biases that minority professors endure in remaining and succeeding” in law schools. The discussion prompted me to read her paper:   87 Wash. U. L. Rev. 763 2009-2010 COMPLIMENTARY DISCRIMINATION AND COMPLEMENTARY DISCRIMINATION IN FACULTY HIRING (available on SSRN here)

Abstract: …. this Article concentrates on discrimination against the “overqualified” minority faculty candidate, the candidate who is presumed to have too many opportunities and thus gets excluded from faculty interview lists and consideration. In so doing, this Article poses and answers the question: “Can exclusion from interviewing pools and selection based upon the notion that one is just ‘too good’ to recruit to a particular department constitute an actionable form of discrimination?” Part I of this Article begins by briefly reviewing the changes in faculty diversity and inclusion at colleges and universities. Part II lays out a hypothetical of a superstar, bidding-war minority faculty candidate in English and explicates how the exclusion of this candidate, although accompanied by high praise and not racial animus, may constitute actionable discrimination. In so doing, it examines how federal courts have analyzed the concept of “overqualification” when employers have articulated it as the reason for not hiring a job applicant in discrimination lawsuits. It then explains why the myth of the “overqualified” minority faculty candidate as the “highly sought-after” candidate can render that candidate’s exclusion from interviews, and thus hiring, a unique and specific form of racial discrimination. Part III further explicates how this form of “complimentary discrimination” works to create the “complementary discrimination” of keeping other “less qualified,” but certainly qualified minorities locked out of the academic market or out of particular schools. Specifically, it explains how faculties’ dreams of one day recruiting the superstar minority candidate-generally the only type of minority candidate whom they truly find acceptable-can function as an excuse for not “settling” for racial minority candidates who are well qualified, but not as highly credentialed as the superstars, which, in turn, continues the cycle of low representation of minorities on college and university faculties. To illustrate this point, this Part details a hypothetical involving a minority female candidate on the entry level market in law. The Conclusion of this Article then expresses and details the need for and importance of increasing diversity on college and university faculties in today’s society and the importance of carefully evaluating one’s own biases when creating and serving on faculty search committees.

But the presentations were only part of the conference experience.  In talking to other graduate students, I discovered that all of us mainly remembered the “in between moments” during the conference (a phrase suggested by Toby Goldbach, a JSD student at Cornell).  This is the time when we had the opportunity to meet informally at the coffee shop, in the elevator or nearby sites. I’ve had many positive experiences attending conferences this year. I was initially surprised by this, because my pre-academic experiences at conferences as a lawyer in the US and Canada have been quite formal, pseudo-professional interactions.

Is it them or me? Am I more relaxed as I do not have billable targets to meet (or am I less unintentionally rude as I am not constantly checking my blackberry? Or am I more interested in people’s research than files and cases? Or are academic conferences much more fun as I get to go attend with my friends??  I am not sure….

In closing, this conference was really beyond academic scholarship, it created networks and friendships that are going to last post-conference! I want to give a shout out to Maneesha Dekha (Victoria Law, see her on video here), Suhraiya Jivraj (Oxford Brookes) and Deb Parkes (Manitoba Law)– whom I met  while attending the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law reception  with my friends Stu Marvel and Nikki Karalekas.

More from Nikki and Stu tomorrow and the next day as the Delayed Dispatches series continues.

NIP:Feminist Constitutionalism: Global Perspectives Beverley Baines, Daphne Barak-Erez, Tsvi Kahana eds.

Feminist Constitutionalism: Global Perspectives by Beverley Baines, Daphne Barak-Erez, Tsvi Kahana editors

June 2012

Constitutionalism affirms the idea that democracy should not lead to the violation of human rights or the oppression of minorities. This book aims to explore the relationship between constitutional law and feminism. The contributors offer a spectrum of approaches and the analysis is set across a wide range of topics, including both familiar ones like reproductive rights and marital status, and emerging issues such as a new societal approach to household labor and participation of women in constitutional discussions online. The book is divided into five parts: I) feminism as a challenge to constitutional theory; II) feminism and judging; III) feminism, democracy, and political participation; IV) the constitutionalism of reproductive rights; and V) women’s rights, multiculturalism, and diversity. As a collection, the book seeks to examine, challenge and indeed redefine the very idea of constitutionalism from a feminist perspective.

Part I. Feminism as a Challenge to Constitutional Theory: 1. Rethinking constitutionalism through the lens of the gendered division of household labour Jennifer Nedelsky; 2. Feminist fundamentalism and the constitutionalization of marriage Mary Anne Case; 3. Abortion, dignity, and a capabilities approach Rosalind Dixon and Martha Nussbaum; Part II. Feminism and Judging: 4. Her-meneutics: feminism and interpretation Daphne Barak-Erez; 5. Intuition and feminist constitutionalism Suzanne Goldberg; 6. Women judges, ‘maiden speeches’, and the high court of Australia Heather Roberts; 7. Will ‘watertight compartments’ sink women’s charter rights? The need for a new theoretical approach to women’s multiple rights claims under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Kerri Froc; 8. Constitutional adjudication and substantive gender equality in Hong Kong Kelley Loper;

Part III. Feminism, Democracy and Political Participation: 9. The gendered state and women’s political leadership: explaining the American puzzle Eileen McDonagh and Paula A. Monopoli; 10. On parity, independence, and women’s democracy Blanca Rodriguez-Ruiz and Ruth Rubio-Marin; 11. Women’s involvement in international constitution-making Elizabeth Katz; 12. Between constitutional jurisdiction and women’s rights organizations: women, war, and the space of justice in Colombia Carolina Vergel Tovar; 13. The promise of democratic constitutionalism: women, constitutional dialogue, and the Internet Tsvi Kahana and Rachel Stephenson; Part IV. The Constitutionalism of Reproductive Rights: 14. Pregnancy, equality, and U.S. constitutional law Jennifer S. Hendricks; 15. Federal spending and compulsory maternity Nicole Huberfeld; 16. Challenges for contemporary reproductive rights advocacy: the South African example Rachel Rebouché;

Part V. Women’s Rights, Multiculturalism, and Diversity: 17. Constitutional rights of women under customary law in Southern Africa: dominant interventions and ‘old pathways’ Chuma Himonga; 18. Minority women: a struggle for equal protection against domestic violence Puja Kapai; 19. Watch GRACE grow: African customary law and constitutional law in the equality garden Jewel Amoah; 20. Critical multiculturalism Vrinda Narain; 21. Democratic theory, feminist theory, and constitutionalism: the challenge of multiculturalism Susan H. Williams;

Part VI. Women between Secularism and Religion: 22. Secular constitutionalism and Muslim women’s rights: the Turkish headscarf controversy and its impact on the European Court of Human Rights Hilal Elver; 23. On God, promises, and money: Islamic divorce at the crossroads of gender and the law Pascale Fournier; 24. Polygamy and feminist constitutionalism Beverley Baines.


argh. Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” and that men can too. I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

Law Professor Anne Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic. Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – The Atlantic.


Have you been faced with this article yet? Wait 20 seconds. Check your email or facebook.

This article is making me agitated.  There’s some stuff in it to like, (more on that later) but why does Slaughter say this:

the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence.

and this – in the same article

I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic—highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place. We may not have choices about whether to do paid work, as dual incomes have become indispensable. But we have choices about the type and tempo of the work we do. We are the women who could be leading, and who should be equally represented in the leadership ranks.

Millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers; many struggle to find any job; others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is either unavailable or very expensive; school schedules do not match work schedules; and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have.

This leaves it rather unclear whether she is claiming to be a typical working parent or not.  And that blurring is going to set the tone for discussion of this article.  And it is what is making me annoyed.  When I read the article, it seems relatively clear that overall, the claim she’s making is that if high government office isn’t compatible with family life, then women will be largely shut out of high government office – and this will sharply curtail the possibility that broader regulatory changes that can improve the lot of women generally.  This is an empirical claim – I’m not generally disputing it, but neither do I think that in a charged political environment we can necessarily assume that this is true (Republican women, anyone?).  But regardless, if this is what she really means, then what’s the big deal?  She’s talking about a job which required that she live in both Washington and New Jersey!  So why would that kind of situation draw so much attention?

So, two big deals.  One, upper middle class feminists need to be really careful about the way that they generalise their issues to “all women” (even the reference to Mad Men as representative of what was going on in the late 1950’s in America is of concern in this light).  But Slaughter IS careful, as you can see above.

Which leads me to the second point. The Atlantic.  This is the magazine that seems to have a bit of a history of publishing a certain kind of “women: fight amongst yourselves” kind of piece.  Like Caitlyn Flanagan’s How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement: Dispatches from the nanny wars, which Ms. Mag critiques here.  Ooh, and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “1% Wives are helping Kill Feminism and make the War on Women Possible” which sounds so neat but begins with:

When my mind gets stuck on everything that is wrong with feminism, it brings out the 19th century poet in me: Let me count the ways. Most of all, feminism is pretty much a nice girl who really, really wants so badly to be liked by everybody — ladies who lunch, men who hate women, all the morons who demand choice and don’t understand responsibility — that it has become the easy lay of social movements.

Helpful! Define the content of feminism, then mock it! With slut-shaming metaphors (actually, that’s quite clever, I thought).  I mean, I’m a big tent feminist, but a movement which claims “the personal is political” can’t really be so easily dismissed as accepting of all choices, can it?

So please, before you get caught up in the “debate” over this article, please do look at pieces like this (in the American Prospect) which describe this genre of article, in the Atlantic and elsewhere. Plus hilarious pics of the stock “baby in the briefcase” photo which defines a certain kind of article.

I like Slaughter’s take on lots of things including most of what she says about Facebook COO’s Sheryl Sandberg’s Barnard commencement speech – representing the genre, beloved of many who want to deny systemic structural disadvantage,  which holds that women are holding themselves back. But replacing that with another simplistic approach doesn’t seem that helpful.

My bottom line: Slaughter’s main claim, about high powered government jobs, are interesting and reasonable.  But the framing of the article even on its own terms is a problem. And the way that it will be framed in the media and particularly the interwebs is going to be worse than anything she wrote.

I once saw “the mommy wars” described as “the motherlode of all linkbait”.  I say, yes.  Can we talk about a living wage? Can we talk about inequality reduction? These get buried in Slaughter’s article and will almost certainly be ignored in the commentary.  They don’t deserve this.