Despite the backlash following his “slut” and “prostitute” references about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh continues to denigrate women. More recently, he targeted Tracie McMillan, journalist and author of the book, The American Way of Eating, and stated, “What is it with all of these young, single, white women, overeducated — doesn’t mean intelligent.” For an audio of this comment, click here. What does Ann Coulter have to say about this? Where is the outrage by the women commentators on Fox? All women, regardless of political ideology, should voice their indignation at these misogynist attacks on women. Though only a segment of the female population participated in the Suffrage Movement, all women reaped the benefits of the sacrifices and courageous defiance of those pejoratively labeled “troublemakers” (more aptly defined as trouble-solvers). Women will never achieve equality in law and society until all women own the reality that the Feminist and Civil Rights Movements opened the doors for women who currently have rights and privileges (including jobs and education) that would be reserved for white men absent those movements. One of the biggest threats to the equality of women is the silence and acquiescence of fellow women who enjoy the benefits attained thanks to the persistence and hard work of the radical feminists while participating in the oppression of womanhood by becoming apologists for misogyny and opportunists of patriarchy.
Then, there are the recent attacks on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Mitt Romney supporters. Sotomayor does not fit the submissive, dumb and voiceless Latina stereotype, so she is a threat to a constituency that tolerates Latina/os but does not welcome them as full and equal members of American society. When historically subordinated communities are under attack, it is more important than ever to avoid being pitted against one another — and to work together to achieve equality for all. But working together requires acknowledging the ways in which we are privileged and the ways in which we are subordinated. This is an issue that has challenged the women’s movement since its inception. Indeed, it challenges us on a daily basis in our lives as feminist law professors.
A forthcoming book edited by women academics begins to shed light on issues that remain unresolved. Why is it that women are still presumed incompetent as teachers, scholars, and participants in faculty governance? Why is it that women faculty of color experience both subtle and overt hostility from students and colleagues? How should women go about forging the types of alliances that transform the workplace, promote a more welcoming environment for all women, and create a safe space for critical inquiry and social justice pedagogy? The book is called Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, and it is available for pre-order on amazon.com. For a preview of the book, you can download the thought-provoking introduction, co-authored by law professors Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. Gonzalez, from SSRN. To read what Gloria Steinem, Norma E. Cantú, Mari Matsuda and Kimberlé Crenshaw say about the book and to see the beautiful cover art, click here.
One of our challenges as feminist law professors is to teach our students to speak out when they witness injustice rather than passively reap the benefits of the struggles of prior generations. But in order to do this, we need to practice what we preach in our own institutions. Our job is not simply to share knowledge but to model for our students the principles of equality in day-to-day practice.