Gender Law Journals vs. Women’s Law Journals: What’s In a Name?

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Inside HigherEd carried this interview  under the heading, “The Evolution of American Women’s Studies.”  In it, Alice E. Ginsberg, the editor of    The Evolution of American Women’s Studies: Reflections on Triumphs, Controversies and Change  (Palgrave Macmillan), talks about how women’s studies has changed as a discipline.  Here is an excerpt of the interview:

Many women’s studies programs have included the word gender, or changed their name entirely to”gender studies.”There are also possible variations on this, such as”female studies”or the slightly riskier”feminist studies.”I posed this very question to the contributors of the book, and they were very divided in their answers. Some felt that using the word gender calls attention to the fact that gender is a socially constructed category, which may include transgendered individuals, and is more likely to look at differences among women based on race and class, etc. Perhaps the most compelling argument for changing the name to gender studies is that it invites men to look at their experiences in American culture, as well as how they may be complicit in the continuation of systems of power and privilege. It also compels men to see themselves not as the”norm”but as gendered human beings.

On the other hand, we can’t overlook the significance of the apostrophe in the name women’s studies. Born from the women’s movement, women are finally claiming  their own  lost histories and taking the lead in challenging the social construction of knowledge.  There is no such”gender movement”to speak of.

As of February, there were 24 law journals  identified by ExpressO as having”women”as a subject matter speciality (blogged here).  They are:

  • American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law
  • Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice
  • Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law
  • Boston College Third World Law Journal
  • Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law & Social Policy
  • Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender
  • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law
  • Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy
  • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law
  • Harvard Journal of Law & Gender
  • Hastings Women’s Law Journal
  • Impunity Watch Law Journal
  • Michigan Journal of Gender & Law
  • Michigan State Journal of Gender Law
  • Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy
  • Texas Journal of Women and the Law
  • Women’s Law Forum (Villanova University)
  • Touro Journal of Race, Gender and Ethnicity
  • UCLA Women’s Law Journal
  • Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice
  • William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law
  • Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society
  • Women’s Rights Law Reporter (Rutgers Newark)
  • Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

That breaks down to 12 journals using “gender” in their titles, 6  journals using “women” in their titles, 1 (Yale) using “feminism” in its title, and 5 journals using none of the foregoing.  Not too long ago, many  of the 12 journals using “gender” in their titles used “women” instead.  Does Ginsberg’s analysis of the evolution of women’s studies lend any insight into the decision of law reviews to change their titles from journals of “women and the law” to “gender and the law”?  

I suspect that there was much debate and deliberation behind the decision of any journal to change it’s title.  On  using “gender” vs. “women,” I myself  share what I detect to be some ambivalence on Alice Ginsberg’s part.  There is much gain, especially the inclusion of men, in a focus on “gender;” but I also have an undeveloped sense that we lose something, too, when we fold “women” into “gender.”

I also wonder if both the labels “women” and “gender” for law journals, at least, miss — or even intentionally distance themselves from — the connection to feminist legal theory and methods.  ”Feminism” is still a dirty word to some women and some men.  I suspect that it is no coincidence that the one journal using “feminism” in its name is at Yale.  Perhaps that school’s graduates are so highly valued in the employment market that they feel they can “afford” to have a “risky” or “political” journal title on their resumes, but students at lesser-ranked (but elite all the same) feel safer with more “conservative” journal titles?  

Considering the relationship between and among “feminism,” “gender” and “women,” would a hypothetical employer make assumptions about a student who is a member of a  ”feminist” journal or maybe even a “gender” journal that the employer would not make about a student who is a member of a “women’s” journal?  Maybe I’ve been in New York too long, but I find it harder to conjure an overt discriminator against a member of a  ”women’s” law journal (who would openly  admit  to being against women, after all?).

After reading the interview with Ginsberg, I must chuckle at my own (perhaps idiosyncratic) sense that a “women’s” journal seems so … well… tame, especially since the entrance of “Women’s Studies” into the academy was anything but that.

-Bridget Crawford

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