FeministLawProf Profile: Carlin Meyer

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Carlin Meyer is a Professor at New York Law School.   Professor Meyer served on the New York City Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women and was a consultant to its Sexual Harassment Task Force, has written about prostitution and pornography.   She has taught and written on matters ranging from feminist jurisprudence to separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution and is a frequent speaker and commentator on issues related to sex, sexuality, and gender, as well as issues related to labor and world trade.

Before New York Law School, Professor Meyer was bureau chief for labor in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, and represented the State Labor Department and Workers’ Compensation Boards. She earlier served as assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of that office; as assistant general counsel to District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and as partner in the firm of Gladstein Meyer and Reif (currently Gladstein Reif & Meginniss). Professor Meyer has served as legislative liaison for both the Sex and Law and Civil Rights committees of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. She belongs to the City’s Office of Collective Bargaining Panel of Independent Arbitrators, has written numerous arbitration decisions, and occasionally mediates public employment disputes. She is a pro bono consultant to nonprofit organizations on labor matters and was selected by the New York State Attorney General to help oversee enforcement of a pathbreaking”Code of Conduct”for New York City’s greengrocers. She is a member of the Society of American Law Teachers, and of the Law & Society Association, and is a former president and current member of the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

FLP: What is your educational and professional background?

CM: I’m a graduate of Harvard/Radcliffe College (when there were still two); Rutgers Law School (JD), and Yale Law School (LLM).   More important to me, I joined the National Lawyers Guild the summer before I began law school, recruited by a funky group of lawyers who were talking law and politics at a diner where I stopped en route from Chicago to New Jersey for my first year of law school.   Those folks are still my friends as are many more folks I met through the Guild; they (the men as well as the women) would all call themselves feminists; I would count on most of them to support me in time of need.

FLP: What courses do you teach?

CM: Employment Law, Family Law, Feminist jurisprudence (and I have taught lawyering, evidence, legal ethics.)

FLP: How does feminism influence your teaching/scholarship/service?

CM: I don’t separate being a feminist from being who I am.   So it influences everything I do — although I wish it did so more.   (For instance, I know what I should do in the classroom to be a better teacher to both women and those males who feel excluded by the pace and aridity of dominant legal discourse, but I still have trouble pausing and allowing for silence (so as to give those who need time to collect their thoughts to raise a hand) before calling on someone; I still often rely on the teacher/student hierarchy to protect myself from deep questioning; stuff like that.   Re scholarship, I tend to write on things that interest me, which turn out a lot to be issues that would be identified as feminist (pornography, women/internet, etc.)   I’m currently reviewing several books on brain and gender, and thinking about how what we are learning may (or may not) influence law.

FLP: When did you first make a connection between feminism and the law?  

CM: In college.   I joined Bread and Roses, a Boston umbrella for small women’s groups like the “Red Coven” to which I then belonged.   Our early talk was about how women always ended up with purple hands from running the mimeo machines rather than serving as leading speakers or scholars.   From there it was a short hop to the role of law in promoting male dominance.

FLP: Has feminism reached the limits of what it can accomplish via the law?   Should feminists focus on issues other than the law (i.e., culture, youth education, etc.)?

CM: To question #1, hardly, and we never will.   That is, law is too central to our culture to let it be addressed without an explicit and implicit feminist agenda.   Look who the lawmakers are, and what direction we are going in, and ask yourself if feminists have “finished” with law.   More than that, the either/or questions aren’t that helpful.   Women trained in law can use law to influence areas like culture and education: we can draft the bills that those in such struggles will need (whether bills to provide more tax support; fiscal equity; gender equity in distribution of resources, etc.).   I gave a talk at Law & Society aimed at whether law could contribute to reducing the sexism in advertising; my conclusion was that it could, but only by challenging corporate culrtural dominance by supporting public and alternative media.   My own view is that feminists need to more explicitly incorporate an understanding of class and its interrelation to gender, if we want to move forward on issues of importance to women.

FLP: What is the “feminist climate” at your school?   Does your self-identification as a feminist impact the way you are perceived by students, colleagues or university administrators?    

CM: You’d have to ask a student about the “climate” – we faculty exist in somewhat rarified circumstances.   My self-identification certain does impact the way I’m perceived, in ways both good and bad.   Some students and faculty tune me out; but many others tune me in and seek assistance and mentoring.   (I think for all women faculty it becomes a burden as well as a pleasure; there are too many who want mentoring and too few of us to provide it.

FLP: What are you working on now?

CM: See above:   Brain, gender, law.   Also gender and class.   Also a book of questions aimed at helping students to think through (and ask) race/gender/class questions while studying law.

FLP: Could you recommend at least one book/article/theorist to law students who are interested in feminism’s relationship to the law?    

CM: The Way We Never Were, Stephanie Koontz.   Articles, especially early ones, by Martha Fineman.   Recent articles by Carol Sanger.   Articles by Sylvia Law.   The problem is that there are WAY too many fabulous articles, and too few hours in which to read them.  

FLP: Has blogging changed academic feminism?    

CM: Blogging either helps or hurts, depending. Am waiting to see.   I’m still unfortunately struggled to keep up with email, and haven’t done much blogging yet.


-Amanda Kissel and Bridget Crawford

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