FeministLawProf Profile: Naomi Cahn

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Naomi Cahn is the John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University, where she is also the Associate Dean for Faculty Development. Professor Cahn has held a variety of positions in both the private and public interest sectors, including as an associate with the Washington, D.C., firm of Hogan & Hartson and as a staff attorney with Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services.For the five years prior to her joining the faculty of the Law School in 1993, Professor Cahn was the assistant director of the Sex Discrimination Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, where she supervised students in domestic violence cases. She was a visiting professor at Georgetown from 1991 to 1993 and in 1998.At GW Law, Professor Cahn teaches courses on family law, trusts and estates, and child, family, and state. Professor Cahn is the co-author of the West casebook, Contemporary Family Law, and has co-authored other books about family law, reproductive technology, and adoption. From 2002 to 2004 she was on leave in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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

NC: Certainly before college — in college, I wrote my senior thesis on women’s work and child care, examining, among other topics, various laws and approaches to child care.

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.)?

NC: I think feminism continues to have an enormous amount to contribute to the law. One of the methods that feminism contributes to legal analysis is an emphasis on context, on helping us see that the law is critical to feminist goals, but that changes in the law are not enough. For example, I’ve written about sexual violence against women during war, and argued that prosecution, or even reparations, are legal solutions to a problem that also requires emphasis on humanitarian issues. These humanitarian issues are also legal issues: we need laws supporting the use of such (what I term) ‘social services justice.” Or take the issue of low income women in the workplace, who need guarantees of job equality, or protection from the impact of domestic violence on their job, but who also need child care and longer school years.

FLP: What are you working on now?

NC: I’m working on 2 projects. The first is a book on reproductive technology and the law, forthcoming from NYU Press, which argues that we need a coherent framework for addressing issues of parenthood, market regulation, and relationships. A second project, a co-authored article, with Professor June Carbone, is titled, “Red Families v. Blue Families,” and articulates two distinct sets of life patterns and supporting family laws that are roughly correlated with a state’s political climate.

FLP: Has blogging changed academic feminism?

NC: I think blogging is just beginning to realize its potential.

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