“The gender wage gap has only closed by 1.7 percentage points over the last decade, compared to 3.1 points the decade before and 9.7 the decade before that. “

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That’s the depressing news from this article entitled “We’ve Stopped Making Progress In Closing The Gender Wage Gap.”

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Posted in Employment Discrimination, Feminism and Economics | 1 Comment

MUST READ: “In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series” By Sady Doyle

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The most brilliant feminist essay I have read in ages. Simple, yet revolutionary. Not sure how I missed it in 2011 but very glad I got to read it at last.

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Columbia Law School announces launch of Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

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Today the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law will launch it’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project – a new think-tank created to reconceptualize and reset the intractable standoff between religious liberty and equality/sexual liberty.  The Project is funded with substantial grants from the Ford and Arcus Foundations, and we have hired Kara Loewentheil to direct the Project.

Copied below is the press release announcing the new project.

Best,

Katherine
—————————————-
Katherine Franke
Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law
Director, Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
Columbia Law School
435 W. 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
212.854.0061
212.854.7946 (fax)
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Columbia Law School Launches New Project on Religious Exemptions and Civil Rights

Katherine Franke, Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Creates Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, a New Think-Tank Designed to Reset the Conflict Between Sex Equality, Reproductive Rights, and Religious Liberty

Media Contact: Public Affairs, 212-854-2650 or publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu

New York, March 24, 2014—Katherine Franke, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, announced today the launch of the Public Rights/Private Conscience project, a new think-tank created to address the increased use of religion-based exemptions from compliance with federal and state laws securing equality and sexual liberty.

The scope of religious exemptions will feature prominently at the U.S. Supreme Court today, March 25, when owners of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby and furniture manufacturer Conestoga Wood argue that their religious beliefs justify an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers include contraception coverage in their employee health plans. The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

With increasing frequency, opponents of same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, and gender equality have sought a safe harbor in religion to justify otherwise illegal employment and business practices. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently vetoed a bill that critics argued would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians if the discrimination were attributed to religious beliefs. Similar bills are making their way through other state legislatures.

“With greater and greater frequency, respecting equality rights is seen as optional while respecting religious liberty is mandatory,” Franke said. “The Public Rights/Private Conscience project will bring the considerable academic resources of Columbia University to bear on rethinking this intractable standoff between religious liberty and other rights.”

Read more about the project in this ProPublica Q&A with Franke.

The Public Rights/Private Conscience project will:

·      map the arguments being made in the religious exemptions context in court cases, academic scholarship, policy papers, and the media;

·      mobilize scholars, lawyers, and advocates in an effort to reframe the debate so that compliance with civil rights norms is seen as compatible with faith-based doctrines;

·      develop model language that can be included in proposed legislation that strikes the constitutionally required balance between religious liberty and other fundamental constitutional rights;

·      develop best practices to address entities or individuals that refuse service on the basis of religion;

The project will be directed by Kara Loewentheil, currently a postdoctoral associate-in-law and fellow in the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Loewentheil previously served as a Blackmun Legal Fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights and as a clerk for the Honorable James L. Dennis on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“The project is uniquely positioned to develop new theoretical frameworks for understanding the role and impact of religious exemptions on liberty and equality rights in a modern multi-cultural society,” said Loewentheil, who will be joining Columbia Law School as a research fellow in addition to her role as director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project. “Our goal is to promote innovative framings of these questions in policy, advocacy, scholarship, and litigation.”

The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project is funded by grants from the the Ford Foundation, which aims to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement, and the Arcus Foundation, a leading global foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues.

Franke is available for interviews about the launch of the Public Rights/Private Conscience project and about the religious exemptions cases in the Supreme Court. She can be reached directly at kfranke@law.columbia.edu or via the Law School’s Public Affairs Office at 212-854-2650, or email publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu

The Law School also has a studio on campus equipped with an ISDN line and IFB capability for radio and television interviews. Please contact the Public Affairs Office for bookings.

# # #

Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School combines traditional strengths in corporate law and financial regulation, international and comparative law, property, contracts, constitutional law, and administrative law with pioneering work in intellectual property, digital technology, tax law and policy, national security, human rights, sexuality and gender, and environmental law.

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New blog by two constitutional law professors who want to bring women’s voices and issues to the forefront of constitutional law and law and religion debates!

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Authored by Professors Marci Hamilton and Leslie Griffin, you can check it out here!

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Posted in Academia, Feminist Blogs Of Interest, Law Teaching | Comments Off

Feminist Academics Unite to Support Carole Vance!

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Carole Vance is a pioneering feminist academic.  Her writing and her constant political engagement pressed feminist thinking and action forward in innumerable ways. Her sometimes-controversial insistence on integrating sexuality into sex equality debates, as well as her infinitely sophisticated thinking about transnational equality, have made her one of my role models for a long time.

For those of you who do not know, Carole was recently told by Columbia University’s Mailman School that they would not renew her contract. The school insists that faculty raise the money to pay their salaries in grants, and Carole has not done so.

Tenure is controversial even among those of us who have it, but if there is one kind of work that necessitates the protection of tenure, it is the work of Carole Vance. Scott Long has written most persuasively about how wrong this decision is, and the Nation  jumped in to describe why firing Carole and her colleague Kim Hopper matters immensely.

Please join us to make it clear to Columbia that their actions violate the most basic norms of academic freedom and integrity. There are a few efforts afoot to help Carole, and most of these have been described on this page. Please sign the academic petition here. Our voices will join those of esteemed scholars and civil society leaders in support of Carole.

If you choose to write SEPARATELY from the petition, please write to the President, Provost and Dean of the Mailman School, and in your communication please stress is that the “letter of non-renewal” should be rescinded, and Carole’s contract should be renewed. If you choose to write separately from the petition, please write to: Lee C. Bollinger, President Columbia University bollinger@columbia.edu; John H. Coatsworth, Provost jhc2125@columbia.edu; Lee Goldman, Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and of Medicine lgoldman@columbia.edu; Linda P Fried, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health lpfried@columbia.edu; Lisa Metsch, Chair, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, lm2892@columbia.edu Please also send copies of this letter to beckjordanyoung@gmail.com, as the organizers would like to keep a record of everything sent.

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A Documentary On Anita Hill

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Sheryl Day Stolberg of the New York Times discusses the new documentary “Anita” about Anita Hill, who became the reluctant central figure in the Clarence Thomas judicial hearings so many years ago. More here.

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Massachusetts Legislature Revises Its Statute In Response To “Upskirting” Decision

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In response to Massachusetts’ highest court’s ruling that “upskirting” is not illegal according to the state’s statute,  members of the legislature moved quickly to introduce a number of bills to criminalize the practice. One bill made it all the way to Governor Devol Patrick’s desk. He signed it March 7, and it has now amended Chapter 272, section 105, subsection a (et seq.) of the Massachusetts General Laws. “An Act Relative to Unlawful Sexual Surveillance” forbids willful photography, videotaping, or electronic surveillance, “with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, the sexual or other intimate parts of a person under or around the person’s clothing to view or attempt to view the person’s sexual or other intimate parts when a reasonable person would believe that the person’s sexual or other intimate parts would not be visible to the public and without the person’s knowledge and consent…” The crime is punishable by not more than 2 1/2 years in prison or by a fine of not more than $5000, or both.

More here.

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Mass. Supreme Court Affirms Right of Men to Look Up Our Skirts

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or at least take pictures up women’s skirts.

CNN, e.g., has coverage here.  The AP has coverage here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Is Womb-in-a-Box Next? Attempted Pregnancy of Women with Uterine Transplants

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Four Swedish women who received uterine transplants have been implanted with embryos in an attempt to carry their own biological child to term.  Read the AP story here.

As my mind attempts to grasp this medical leap, I couldn’t help thing of the Heart-in-a-Box episode of Grey’s Anatomy:

What’s next? Womb-in-a-box?  How unrealistic would that be?

-Bridget Crawford

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French in an Uproar about Judith Butler’s Gender Theories

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From the Boston Globe:

On Feb. 2, Paris once again became a vast political stage. One hundred thousand demonstrators had gathered, galvanized by a danger looming over the Republic. The threat was not, as in times past, fascism or Nazism, communism or totalitarianism. It was, instead, an ideology far more insidious and imported from, of all places, the United States.

A new specter was haunting France—the specter of gender theory.

In the United States, gender theory—embodied most notably, perhaps, by the work of Judith Butler at UC Berkeley—argues that gender is less a biological fact than a social fiction. Since the 1980s, gender studies has become a familiar part of the curriculum at liberal arts colleges. For the most part, though, the academy is where these theories have stayed, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine Americans protesting them. The current French scandal over this obscure branch of critical theory is a particularly bemusing example of the way in which certain kinds of intellectual goods get lost in translation: Not since their embrace of Jerry Lewis have the French responded so passionately to an American export we ourselves have never fully appreciated.

Behind the February protest were several political groups, uniting both traditionalist voters and conservative religious ones, that had organized massive demonstrations last summer during a vitriolic debate in France over the legalization of gay marriage. In May 2013, the Socialist government passed the law nevertheless. The battleground then shifted to a new proposed measure: an update to France’s “family law” that, among other things, stood to offer protections for reproductive assistance for gay couples. This year, many of the same protesters turned out again, their brightly colored pink and blue banners emblazoned with a battle cry: “Un papa, une maman: there’s nothing more natural.” * * *

Enough people had become horrified by the new impact of “gender studies” that, in February, they turned out in droves. Nearly overnight, “la théorie du genre” was on everyone’s lips. Gender theory was the “obsession” of the Socialist government, one conservative news magazine declared. Activists contacted public libraries to demand that they pull texts tainted by American gender theory from the shelves.

As a result of all this, Butler suddenly found herself massively famous in France.

Read the full article here.

-Bridget Crawford

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bell hooks on the State of the Feminist Movement

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In an interview with Kevin Powell over at BK Nation, author Gloria Watkins talks about the state of the feminist movement today:

I think feminism has gone the way of all our movements for social justice: Stuck on a pause. Same as we have seen for Black radical movements for justice. I was talking about Occupy Wall Street, which kind of gave us elements of activism. But we are not in a 99 percent world. We are in world with serious class complexes. It is one thing to be a college student with loan debts and another thing to be just dirt poor for your entire life. The challenge is to come up with more complex understandings of where we are, more global awareness of what connects Americans with what is happening with suffering and oppressed people all around the world. The future is not looking bright for any of us, be it women or people or color. We have to rethink how we live our lives.

I also think how feminism really pushed for jobs and money but we still have women caught up in patriarchy and sexism. A woman in an oppressive marriage with a job will leave. No. So many complexities keep women with jobs and careers in their terrible marriages. So much of civil rights and feminism have been challenged by reality. I think necessity requires us to rethink so much. That is the challenge of this whole Obama time. That sense of promise of Obama has not come true. Not Obama personally but he is a symbol of what we are talking about: What is success? What is a good life? What is our responsibility and accountability to others?

Read the full interview here.

image source: http://womensplace.osu.edu/assets/images/hooks-bell.jpg

-Bridget Crawford

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Posted in Feminism and Culture, Feminism and Politics | 1 Comment

Black Women Activists Throughout History

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Via For Harriet, this list of “27 Black Women Activists Everyone Should Know“:

  • Ella Baker
  • Josephine Baker
  • Daisy Bates
  • Mary McLeod Bethune
  • Beverly Bond
  • Elaine Brown
  • Majora Carter
  • Shirley Chisholm
  • Septima Clark
  • Anna Julia Cooper
  • Angela Davis
  • Marian Wright Edelman
  • Amy Ashwood Garvey
  • Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Dorothy Height
  • Claudia Jones
  • Flo Kennedy
  • Pauli Murray
  • Diane Nash
  • Rosa Parks
  • Jo Ann Robinson
  • Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
  • Maria Stewart
  • Mary Church Terrell
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • Maya Wiley

Read the full post here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Mini Symposium on Paid Egg “Donation”

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For those of you who haven’t seen it, I wanted to point out the mini-symposium organized by Kim Krawiec (Duke) over at the Faculty Lounge on the Perez v. Commissioner case.  The case involves the tax treatment of amounts received by an egg “donor.” A bunch of tax folks (including myself) have weighed in on the taxability of the payments.

Here are links to the posts:

Taxing Eggs: A Mini-Symposium

Taxing Eggs: Introduction to Perez v. Commissioner

Taxing Eggs: Paul Stephan

Taxing Eggs: Lisa Milot

Taxing Eggs: Lawrence A. Zelenak

Taxing Eggs: Bridget Crawford and Crawford, Part II

Taxing Eggs: What Have We Learned?

Taxing Eggs: Bridget Crawford III

Taxing Eggs: Lisa Milot Responds

Taxing Eggs: About that Other Case

-Bridget Crawford

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Posted in Feminism and Economics, Feminism and Medicine, Reproductive Rights | Comments Off

Gender Disparity In Book Reviewing and Related Occupations

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The New York Times’ Julie Bosman reports on VIDA’s annual survey of book reviews appearing in leading publications. VIDA: Women in Literary Arts reports that these reviews are overwhelmingly written by men. Ms. Bosman reports that Ruth Franklin at  the New Republic did her own survey after the first VIDA report (2010) to discover that most publications reviewed are written by men. Ms. Franklin noted that one interesting question that we could ask is why women’s writing is published at a significantly lower rate. Is it because women submit their work less often? Or is something else going on? It’s a provocative issue.

Consider the underrepresentation of women in other fields. At the conclusion of a three-year study, the New York State Council on the Arts Report (2002) found significant underrepresentation of females as playwrights and directors, even though all of the individuals (men and women) studied began with the same qualifications. In 2001/2002, American Theatre magazine, a leading industry publication, listed women as 17 percent of the playwrights and 16 percent of the directors (about equal to the listings in 1994/1995). Are women closer to equality today? It doesn’t seem so. In 2008, they represented 12.8 percent of the playwrights represented on Broadway, according to this Guardian article. Some more information about on and off Broadway playwright/director gender inequality here.

 

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Posted in Academia, Feminism and Culture, Feminism and the Arts, Feminism and the Workplace, The Underrepresentation of Women | Comments Off

On Presidents’ Day: Is Voting for the Female Candidate Bad for Women?

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Amy Schiller wrote in May, 2013 in The Nation (here) “The Feminist Case Against a Woman President.” Here is an excerpt”

A woman in the Oval Office would not result in greater motivation for feminist action—it may actually dampen it. Obama’s presidency has demonstrated that pioneering holders of that office are cautious about protecting their political capital. Their identity constituency is left with heartening optics, but no special advocacy when it comes to policy.

Read the full article here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Announcing New Book Project: Feminist Judgments – US Supreme Court Edition

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Four feminist law profs – Jamie Abrams (Louisville), Bridget Crawford (Pace), Kathy Stanchi (Temple) and Linda Berger (UNLV) – have embarked on a United States Supreme Court version of the British Feminist Judgments book. Feminist Judgments was a collaborative project among feminist law professors in the U.K. to rewrite, from a feminist perspective, key decisions on issues relevant to gender. The book compiles 23 rewritten opinions of English law ranging from topics about parenting to the definition of bodily harm to rape and issues of equality. The book is a terrific bridge between feminist academic thinking/writing and the practical world.

Kathy Stanchi saw Professor Erika Rackley (Durham University) , one of the editors of the U.K. Feminist Judgments book, speak over the summer and spoke to her about starting a U.S. version. Erika is well known in the U.K. for her successful effort to convince the government to outlaw “rape porn.”

The editors of the U.S. Supreme Court edition plan to consult U.S. feminist law profs, via a survey, to gather a list of key U.S. Supreme Court decisions that are ripe for rewriting from a feminist perspective. After putting together the list, they will seek feminist law professors who wish to participate in the rewriting. In addition to the rewritten decisions, the U.S. volume, like the U.K. version, will have commentary for each rewritten decision, ideally written by an expert in legal writing or rhetoric.

For more information, please contact Professor Kathy Stanchi (Temple).

-Bridget Crawford

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Request for Transgender Reading Suggestions

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I am looking for law review articles that are a good primer for students to understand transgender rights and its connected issues. If you have suggestions please email me at johnmkang@gmail.com
Thank you!

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Judgment Assignment and Gender On the Canadian Supreme Court

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Peter James McCormick (Independent) is publishing Who Writes? Gender and Judgment Assignment on the Supreme Court of Canada in volume 51 of the Osgoode Hall Law School Law Review (2014). Here is the abstract.

This article poses the question: now that women are receiving an increasing share of the seats on the Supreme Court of Canada, can we conclude with confidence that they have been admitted to full participation, with a mix of judgments — including the more significant decisions — that is fully comparable to their male colleague? The author looks at the assignment of reasons for judgment on the Court over the last three chief justiceships, with specific reference to the relative rate of assignments to men and women judges. Finally, he finds that the male/female gap is more robust than ever, although he also identifies other considerations which suggest that there may be factors other than gender alone that are at play. This article will be published in the next issue of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal (51:2).

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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Call for Nominations: 2015 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award

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The AALS Section on Women in Legal Education is pleased to open nominations for its 2015 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013, the inaugural award honored Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in 2014 the award honored Catharine A. MacKinnon.  Both of these remarkable women were recognized for their outstanding impact and contributions to the Section on Women in Legal Education, the legal academy, and the legal profession.

The purpose of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award is to honor an individual who has had a distinguished career of teaching, service, and scholarship for at least 20 years.  The recipient should be someone who has impacted women, the legal community, the academy, and the issues that affect women through mentoring, writing, speaking, activism, and by providing opportunities to others.

The Section is now seeking nominations for this most prestigious award. The nominations from 2014 will be automatically included for consideration for the 2015 award. Only individuals who are eligible for Section membership may make a nomination, and only individuals—not institutions, organizations, or law schools—are eligible for the award.  As established by the Section’s Bylaws, the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education Executive Committee will select the award recipient, and the award will be presented at the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting.

Please submit your nomination by filling out this electronic form by March 3, 2014Please note that only nominations submitted via the electronic form by the deadline will be accepted.

Questions may be directed to Dean Cynthia Fountaine at Southern Illinois University School of Law.

-Bridget Crawford

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Bach on “The Hyperregulatory State”

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Wendy Bach (Tennessee) has posted to SSRN her article The Hyperregulatory State: Women, Race, Poverty and Support (Yale J. of L. & Feminism, forthcoming 2014).  Here is the abstract:

Vulnerability and dependency theory offers a rich and promising vision for those who seek to conceptualize and build a more responsive state. In theorizing a road to a supportive state, however, what would it mean to take up the challenge of intersectionality? What would it mean to center the analysis around key aspects of the relationship between legal institutions and the poor, disproportionately women and families of color who have no choice but to avail themselves of what remains of a shredded social safety net? The Hyperregulatory State argues that, for women who have no choice but to avail themselves of the safety net (think welfare or public housing) and who by their sheer geographic exposure to the mechanisms of government systems (think over-policing of poor communities of color, public hospitals and inner city public schools) find themselves subject to government intrusion (think child welfare agencies and the criminalization of poverty) the state does not merely fail to respond to their needs. In fact, crucial interactions between poor women and the state are characterized by a phenomena here termed regulatory intersectionality, defined as the means by which state systems (in the examples herein, social welfare, child welfare and criminal justice systems) interlock to share information and heighten the adverse consequences of unlawful, deviant, or noncompliant conduct. At every juncture these punitive mechanisms are, in effect, targeted by race, class, gender and place to subordinate poor African American women, families and communities. The state is, in this sense, hyperregulatory. This article describes in detail the specific phenomena of regulatory intersectionality and contextualizes it within a larger schema of hyperregulation. Paying careful attention to regulatory intersectionality and hyperregulation would revise the theories of vulnerability and the responsive state in two crucial and related ways. First, it serves as a practical warning. If the current social safety net is so profoundly characterized by mechanisms that interlock to impose escalating punishment, the road to a supportive state that does not function in this way is likely to be long and complicated. Second, in attempting to realize the vision of the supportive or responsive state, a crucial first step is restructuring and building support systems to enhance rather than undermine the autonomy of poor women, poor families and poor communities. If we fail to center and prioritize those realities and those tasks, then this particular and crucial part of political and legal theory is again in danger of leaving behind those who are, by virtue of race, gender, class, and place, among the most vulnerable.

The full paper is available here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Amicus Brief of Guttmacher Institute in Hobby Lobby

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The Guttmacher Institute and Professor Sara Rosenbaum (GWU), as amici curiae in support of the government, have filed a brief in the Hobby Lobby case.  Lead attorneys for the amici are Walter Dellinger and colleagues at O’Melveny & Meyers LLP, with co-counsel Professor Dawn Johnsen (Indiana).

The specific issue in the case is whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.

The amici argue that “effective family planning yields enormous societal benefits for American women, children, and families, and that the contraceptive-coverage provision at issue in this case is crucial to achieving those benefits.”

The brief is an extraordinary, stunningly researched and comprehensive Brandeis-type brief that deserves widespread attention.  A copy is available here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Invitation to Participate in the Feminist International Judgments Project

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Over on IntLawGrrlsCecilia Marcela Bailliet has posted an invitation to participate in what looks to be a terrific project:

Women´s Voices in International Law

Initial Meeting to be held on 8th May 2014, SOAS (London)

Participants are sought to take an active role in the Feminist International Judgments Project.  The basic idea behind the project is that participants will collaboratively re-write key judgments in their field of international law from a feminist perspective.

. . . International Law is an area notoriously dominated by male perspectives, and an increasing number of feminist scholars are expressing concern about the silencing of women’s voices in international law. . . .

The aim of the project is to re-write 12-15 key judgments in the field of international law.  This project centres shared experiences in its methodology, bringing it close to the actual working practices of international courts and tribunals.  We anticipate that a number of Chambers, comprised of 3-5 academics, will each work collaboratively on one judgment.  Judgments will be rewritten in a variety of substantive areas of international law, such as, Reproductive Rights, International Criminal Law, Environmental Law, the Law of International Organisations, as well as others that address normative issues.  These are just representative examples, and at this stage we very much welcome your suggestions about suitable judgments.

The deadline for this call is 28th February 2014

Detailed invitation here.

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Catharine MacKinnon Receives AALS Section on Women in Legal Education Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award

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Professor Catharine MacKinnon received the 2014 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award from the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education on January 3, 2014 at the AALS Annual Meeting in New York City.  (Here is the press release.)

After brief remarks by Cynthia Fountaine (Dean and Professor of Law at Southern Illinois University School of Law), Professor MacKinnon was introduced by Gloria Steinem and Ann Bartow (Pace Law School).  All of the speakers, especially Professor MacKinnon, were inspiring, and the energy in the room was incredible.

Here are some photos from the event:CAM at podium 2GS  Comments

Ann Bartow Podium From top:

Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, Ann Bartow.

-Bridget Crawford

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Corbin on “Abortion Distortions”

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Caroline Mala Corbin (Miami) has posted to SSRN her article Abortion Distortions (Washington & Lee Law Rev., forthcoming).  Here is the abstract:

Two types of distortions often arise in abortion jurisprudence. The first is distortion of scientific fact. Too often abortion opponents distort medical facts and courts accept those distortions as true. Take, for example, the claim that abortion makes women depressed and suicidal. In fact, no reputable study supports any such causal link. Equally without scientific foundation is the claim that morning after pills like Plan B act as abortifacients. They do not.

The second kind of distortion that occurs in abortion jurisprudence is that the normal doctrine does not apply. Thus, despite the fact that compelling someone to articulate the government’s ideology is anathema in free speech jurisprudence, courts have upheld mandatory abortion counseling laws that force doctors to serve as mouthpieces for the state’s viewpoint. Similarly, despite the fact that for-profit corporations have never been held to have religious rights, several courts have stayed application of the new contraception mandate on the grounds that it might violate the corporation’s “conscience.” This abortion exceptionalism is problematic for women and for First Amendment jurisprudence.

The full article is available here.

-Bridget Crawford

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CFP: Special Issue of the Journal of Lesbian Studies//Pat Parker and Judy Grahn: Where Would I Be Without You?

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From the FLP mailbox:

2016 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the only spoken word album produced by Olivia Records,  Where Would I Be Without You? Featuring the poems of Judy Grahn and Pat Parker, Where Would I Be Without You? introduced Grahn and Parker to a wide array of women making the two beloved poet/troubadours during the 1970s. While both enjoyed enormous popularity, scholarly treatments of their work and its lasting significance have been sparse. This special issue of *The Journal of Lesbian Studies* will continue to redress the lack of critical engagement with these two important and iconic lesbian-feminist poets.

*The Journal of Lesbian Studies* is an interdisciplinary journal, thus, multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches are encouraged. What is the importance of the work of Pat Parker and Judy Grahn? What is the significance of the San Francisco/Bay Area in their work–and how does their work speak to the work of east coast poets? How can we read their work in relationship to political and social formations of feminism and lesbianism during the 1970s and 1980s? How can their work speak to contemporary audiences? While we welcome articles about single poems or comparisons of Parker and Grahn’s work with one another or with other poets, we also welcome proposals that explore Parker and Grahn and the intersections of lesbian literary history, the lesbian feminist movement, feminist presses, lesbian feminist publishing. Delight and surprise us with exciting engagements in the challenging, provocative, and beautiful work of Pat Parker and Judy Grahn.

Cheryl Clarke, Julie R. Enszer, and Lisa M. Hogeland are the guest editors for this special issue. Please direct inquiries or submit a proposal of 500 words with a brief CV to the guest editors in care of Julie R. Enszer (JulieREnszer@gmail.com) by April 1, 2014 (no joke!). Please put JLS Special Issue: YOUR NAME in the subject line.

The guest editors will respond to proposals by May 1st. Complete manuscripts of approximately 5,000-7,500 words will be due September 15, 2014.

More information about the iconic album is available here.

-Bridget Crawford

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Law Student Scholarship: M. Katherine Baird Darmer Equality Scholarship

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From the FLP mailbox:

The M. Katherine Baird Darmer Equality Scholarship Fund was named in memory of the late M. Katherine Baird Darmer, an activist, law professor, and champion of change for the LGBT community in Orange County and beyond. The Fund, which is sponsored by the Orange County Lavender Bar Association (OCLBA) and the Orange County Equality Coalition (OCEC), will award one or more scholarships each year to academically qualified law students who have demonstrated commitment to advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Orange County. Determinations regarding the amount and number of awards are at the sole discretion of the scholarship committee jointly appointed by OCLBA and OCEC and the Liberty Hill Foundation.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

To be considered for the Darmer Equality Scholarship, an applicant must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Be a current or incoming law student.
  • Demonstrate commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community in Orange County.
  •  Be available, if requested, to participate in an interview with the scholarship committee between May 15 and June 15, 2014.
  • Be available, if selected, to attend the OCLBA Anniversary Party on July 16, 2014 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. in Irvine.

More information and applications are available here.

H/T Francine Lipman

-Bridget Crawford

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More Discussion of Online Safety and Privacy

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Here are a few excellent recent articles about online privacy, harassment, and the silencing of women:

Amanda Hess, The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet
Conor Friedersdorf, When Misogynist Trolls Make Journalism Miserable for Women
Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger, Why Grandma Shouldn’t Have Posted Instagram Pics On Facebook

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Posted in Feminism and Technology, Invasion of Privacy | 1 Comment

Online Voter Information and Privacy

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Donny-Osmond-007Did you ever want to know Donny Osmond’s birthday, along with his voter registration status? Now you can find out, through a simple website which has posted the entire Utah state voting roll to the internet in easily searchable form. What if you’re looking in Colorado, Connecticut, or a half dozen other states? Their voter rolls are online too, sometimes with additional information like addresses.

Is this troubling? It’s one thing to post Donny Osmond’s birthday to the internet; that information is on Wikipedia anyway. It’s more troubling to post the private information of tens of thousands of everyday people, many of whom may have no idea that this online database exists.

The website pooh-poohs potential privacy concerns and touts the potential value of this information — it could help in genealogical projects, for instance. The site also points out that this information is legally available already as public records which anyone could order. That is troubling itself (it illustrates what kind of information marketing companies and others could be buying right now).

But I’m also not convinced by the “this is available anyway” argument. As scholars like Dan Solove and Danielle Citron have pointed out, sometimes structural barriers and transaction costs create a sort of informal, de-facto privacy protection, which everyday citizens may depend on. When a company acts to strip away those barriers, it threatens everyone’s privacy.

(Cross-posted from Concurring Opinions; this issue may be especially relevant for women due to privacy and safety concerns.)

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Documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes”

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From the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota, a new documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes.”

-Bridget Crawford

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Latina Feminist Reader Suggestions

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Via Amsterdam-based writer Flavia Dzodan over at Red Light Politics, this list of suggestions for a Latina Feminist Reader:

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color – Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua

Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza – Gloria Anzaldua

Unequal sisters: An Inclusive Reader in U.S. Women’s History edited by Vicki Ruiz

Since this is a pretty expensive book and not widely available online to read, at the very least, I would recommend reading the chapter “The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse” by Alma M. Garcia. Found in pdf format here.

From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture – Myra Mendible

Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism – Daisy Hernadez and Bushra Rehman

Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado – Elvia Alvarado

Especially for migrant women of color, this is a must read:
Uprootings Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration Sara Ahmed, one of my favorite feminists, edited this book with a Latina feminist, Claudia Castañeda.

As an aside, Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion is a must read. It’s not specific to Latina feminism but it is invaluable in its insights

Women of Color and Feminism – Maythee Rojas

Women’s Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering Social Justice, Democratizing Citizenship various editors

For those who do read Spanish, I would also recommend Sexualidades migrantes. Género y transgénero edited by Diana Maffia

Read the full post here.

-Bridget Crawford

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CRR-CLS Reproductive Rights Fellowship – apply by February 28th

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The deadline for the 2014-2016 Columbia Law School – Center for Reproductive Rights Fellowship (CRR-CLS Fellowship) has been extended to February 28, 2014!

The CRR-CLS Fellowship is an exciting opportunity for recent law school graduates who are interested in careers in teaching law. Please keep your eye out for promising scholars and keep in mind that experience in reproductive rights is not required. You can download the application here.

Here is our track record thus far:

Here is a little more information about the Fellowship:

The CRR-CLS Fellowship is a two-year, post-graduate fellowship offered by the Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) and Columbia Law School (CLS). Those committed to women’s rights and/or human rights would be a great fit for this fellowship – although we don’t require experience in these areas. More than anything, this is a fellowship for serious emerging academics. Fellows will be affiliated with the Center and CLS, and will participate in the intellectual life of both programs. Applicants do not need to be graduates of Columbia Law School to be eligible for this program and do not need prior experience in reproductive rights.

The deadline for applications for the 2014-2016 cycle is now February 28, 2014.

If you would like to learn more about CRR’s Law School Initiative, which supports the Fellowship, please visit our website here; email the Senior Director of the Law School Initiative, Diana Hortsch, atdhortsch@reprorights.org; or email Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, gender_sexuality_law@law.columbia.edu.

We would be grateful if you could forward these materials to your colleagues and to promising recent graduates interested in academic careers.

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National Council for Research on Women’s “Gender Stat”

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From the FLP mailbox, this notice of a research aggregation tool:

The National Council for Research on Women is proud to announce the launch of Gender Stat, a tool that collects statistics on gender equity, annually and by topic. This first installment, Politics 2013, highlights data on women’s political leadership in 2013, along with a few recent papers that explore barriers to women’s greater political participation. It includes several comparisons of regional and global metrics.

More About Gender Stat
  • Provides an annual overview of quantitative data from around the web as we attempt to answer the question, How are things changing on the gender equity landscape? 
  • Highlights research findings from academic, policy, government, and NGO/NPO sources around the web.
  • Links to primary sources for data and analysis to allow readers to explore the numbers more deeply.
  • Over time, it will become a clearinghouse for top-level numbers on where gender equity is progressing and where it is regressing and/or stalled.
  • Topics covered over the next year include: politics, wages and benefits, sexual assault, and poverty.

More info here.

-Bridget Crawford

 

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The Academic Shark? Jed Rubenfeld and Amy Chua Just Jumped It

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If he didn’t jump the academic shark with that rape-by-deception article (see here), then Jed Rubenfeld certainly did with his new book, co-authored with wife Amy Chua.  Even the New York Post senses that something is not right in Rubenfeldville:

In “The Triple Package,” Chua and her husband, co-author Jed Rubenfeld, gather some specious stats and anecdotal evidence to argue that some groups are just superior to others and everyone else is contributing to the downfall of America.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese Chua and the Jewish Rubenfeld belong to two of the eight groups they deem exceptional. In no seeming order of importance, they are:

  • Jewish
  • Indian
  • Chinese
  • Iranian
  • Lebanese-Americans
  • Nigerians
  • Cuban exiles
  • Mormons

These groups — “cultural,” mind you, never “ethnic” or “racial” or “religious” — all possess, in the authors’ estimation, three qualities that they’ve identified as guarantors of wealth and power: superiority, insecurity and impulse control.

If you have never clicked through to a New York Post article before, this one (here) is worth it.  But then again, what do I know?  My people aren’t exceptional.

-Bridget Crawford

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Online Harassment and Silencing

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Over a period of weeks, law professor Nancy Leong posted several short, informal essays about cyber harassment and discrimination. The first post, entitled “Identity and Ideas,” is available here. The second post, “Anonymity and Abuse,” is available here, with a short addendum here. The third post, “Privilege and Passivity,” is available here. The fourth post, “Consequences and Conclusions,” is available here.

The posts are provocative, and it was not unexpected that some readers might disagree with her. What was unpleasantly surprising was the vitriol in this post, entitled “Law professor tries to leverage phony claims of racial victimization into better job.”

In the post author Paul Campos refers to “Leong’s almost completely imaginary “victimization”” and her “wholly false accusation of racism,” and further accuses her of being the true wrongdoer, writing: “Indeed, in what appears to be a classic case of projection, the only actual harasser in this context appears to be Leong herself, who, after tracking down her critic’s identity, both emailed him and called him at his place of employment, demanding that he have a telephone conversation with her, and threatening to “out” him if he refused. When he declined her offer, she decided to file the bar complaint.” He also writes: “Leong is giving off every sign of trying to get out of Denver faster than the protagonist of a Bob Seger song, so I tend to interpret her decision to try to make a huge deal out of Dybbuk’s comments as a tactical career move (Oppressed Woman of Color Fights the Power — “the power” here being a couple of scamblogs of all things).” As it was likely intended to do, this post is drawing a large number of comments that echo the scathing discourse tone set by Campos.

I don’t know where Paul Campos draws the line between phony and legitimate claims of racial victimization, but one thing that seems clear from his post is that he does not have all of the information in front of him about this issue. He admits this himself in the post, noting: “Per JDU posters some offensive comments were scrubbed by the administrator from at least one of the JDU threads. So the links probably don’t give a complete picture of the extent to which Leong was the target of sexist or racist comments.”

My understanding is that Nancy Leong believes her bar complaint was justified. There are neutral parties who will sort out the facts, and decide where justice lies. After they weigh in, it might or might not be appropriate to accuse people of lying or leveraging. It certainly isn’t when you do not have all the information about a dispute. I do not know what it was that motivated Paul Campos to write that ugly post, but a search for truth seems unlikely.

Update NB: I must also add that the post refers to another law professor, Brian Leiter, as a “cyber-stalker extraordinaire.” Basically Campos is accusing Leiter of engaging in gross criminal behavior, without any evidence, just because he can. This is not very professional, to put it lightly. It’s sad and it is wrong.

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Posted in Feminism and Law, Feminism and the Workplace, Feminists in Academia | 2 Comments

Gay polygamy in Utah?

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mUX_twETB9XdG_75sgCSB3ABy now you’ve heard the news. A federal judge in Utah just ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This follow on last week’s ruling, from a different judge, that portions of Utah’s polygamy statute were also unconstitutional.

What does it mean? Obviously, it means the advent of gay polygamy!! It won’t stop until everyone is married to everyone else, in one giant gay-polygamous-mega-wedding. Let the festivities begin!

Okay, maybe not. Let’s go through the rulings, piece by piece, to see what they say, and what their effects may be. Continue reading

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Catharine A. MacKinnon Wins Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award

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The AALS Section on Women in Legal Education is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2014 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award is Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon. Professor MacKinnon is Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, long-term James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and an internationally-acclaimed scholar and lawyer.

The award will be presented at the Section Luncheon on January 3 at 12:15 p.m. at the New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York.  Advance ticket purchase is necessary.  Tickets may be purchased by conference registrants only at on-site registration until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 2.  The price is $85.  The award will also be announced at the Section’s Business Meeting to be held on January 3, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at the same hotel.  There is no cost to attend the Business Meeting.

According to the award criteria, “[T]he purpose of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award is to honor an individual who has had a distinguished career of teaching, service, and scholarship for at least 20 years. The recipient should be someone who has impacted women, the legal community, the academy, and the issues that affect women through mentoring, writing, speaking, activism, and by providing opportunities to others.”  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the first recipient of the award that is now named in her honor.  This is the second time the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education is making its most prestigious award.

Professor MacKinnon’s nominators cited her groundbreaking scholarship and her legal activism that has made it possible to address sexual harassment and violence against women as forms of sex inequality.  Professor MacKinnon will also be recognized for her inspiration of several generations of law students toward creative careers in a variety of legal and policy pursuits.  As one nominator said, “No one in our field has had more impact on women’s rights, possibilities, and self-respect.  Professor MacKinnon’s leadership and co-operation with peers has opened doors and inspired hope in women everywhere.”

Please join us at the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education to honor Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon’s outstanding career of law teaching, scholarship, and service.

Questions or comments about the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award may be directed to Dean and Professor Cynthia Fountaine, cfountaine@law.siu.edu.

-Bridget Crawford

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Consequences and Conclusions

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This is the fourth and final blog post in a series that discusses discrimination and harassment in cyberspace, its perpetrators, and its consequences.  The first post, “Identity and Ideas,” is available here.  The second post, “Anonymity and Abuse,” is available here, with a short addendum here.  The third post, “Privilege and Passivity,” is available here.

In my final post, I’ll discuss some of the options for people targeted by identity-based online harassment.  I intend this post to complement the broader social responsibilities I outlined in my previous post.

One of my starting premises is that there isn’t a “right” way to respond when you are the target of identity-based online harassment.  People who experience such harassment have a range of legitimate reactions, and differences in individual circumstances may dictate the best approach for a given individual.  I’ve tried a number of these options myself, and I’ll share my experiences–not as a definitive assessment of the merits of each option, but simply as a way of highlighting some of the potential advantages and disadvantages.

Before I do that, I want to address a point with which some readers seem to struggle.  By calling attention to identity-based online harassment, I am not denying that some people who engage in such harassment, and who have engaged in such harassment of me, also have substantive things to say.  What I am saying is that the mere fact that people have something substantive to say doesn’t entitle them to engage in identity-based harassment, nor does it excuse them from turning a blind eye when others do so in threads they start or on blogs they administer.  Lots of  infamous people have had lots of substantive things to say–Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, is one example.  That doesn’t mean these people should be excused for the hateful ideas intertwined with their substantive ones.  My point is obviously not that anonymous online harassment is equivalent to, for example, a nationwide bombing campaign.  The point is that having substantive things to say doesn’t give you a free pass to spew racism and misogyny, and that criticizing people for refusing to engage substantively in forums that tolerate such harassment is a weak attempt to deflect attention from the harassment itself.

With that said, I’ll move on to some strategies for dealing with identity-based online harassment.

1. Ignore.

Many harassers have short attention spans, and will move on if you ignore them.  Certainly this has happened with respect to some of the people who have posted racist and sexist comments about me.  Sometimes, however, for whatever reason, one or more harassers becomes really fixated on you.  I waited for over a year for my most persistent harasser to move on.  He showed no sign of doing so.  That’s when it might be time to take other action.

Even if you ultimately find it impossible to completely ignore pervasive harassment, there are ways of limiting its salience to your daily life.  As a colleague suggested to me, one can ask a trusted friend or family member to monitor the forums where harassment takes place.  I found this advice very useful.  Alternatively, one might choose to visit certain sites only occasionally to check for statements that contain an imminent threat.

I want to emphasize that it’s not a sign of personal weakness or mental frailty if you’re unable to ignore identity-based online harassment targeted at you.  The claim that women and people of color are “too thin-skinned” when they don’t overlook racist and misogynistic remarks is an old standby, but that doesn’t make it true.  Perhaps it would make things easier if everyone could ignore the bad things said about them.  But when ignoring is impossible, there are other options.

2. Engage.

Other people find engaging with harassers to be empowering, productive, and even enjoyable.  Bina Shah, for example, offers useful advice for smacking down trolls on twitter.   Linda Tirado, who writes about poverty under the name Killer Martinis, often takes a different approach, responding to hysterical commenters with dignity and empathy (see here for an example, particularly the first comment and response).

My own limited experience with engaging with harassers have been mixed.  The reality is that, like many people, I have minimal time to engage with anonymous and pseudonymous purveyors of hate speech in poorly-read forums.  As something of an experiment, I posted two brief comments in one forum, which produced an entertaining outburst of juvenile rage.  (One of my favorites:  “Lady Leong, this isn’t Afghanistan!  You can’t come in here, drop a few bombs, and then leave!”)  The downside, of course, is that harassers get angry when someone calls out their unacceptable behavior, and that can produce more harassment.

3. Use the law.

As I discussed in my previous post, we need a legal mechanism that wholly addresses the problem of identity-based online harassment.  Right now, such a mechanism doesn’t exist.  There are, however, various other legal doctrines that can address some of the harms of identity-based online harassment.  None of this is meant as legal advice, but here are some legal options that may be worth considering in individual situations:

First, if online harassment includes credible threats to your safety or the safety of those close to you, it becomes a matter for law enforcement.  I am fortunate that I have not experienced this firsthand, with the exception of one arguably threatening phone call from a blocked number, but other people certainly have experienced awful threats of rape and other violence.

Likewise, many states either have criminal cyberstalking or cyberharassment statutes that may cover identity-based online harasssment, and when laws specific to cyberspace are unavailable, more conventional criminal stalking and harassment statutes may apply.  A recently-updated list of such statutes appears here.  The scope of such laws varies considerably, so it’s important to examine the particularities of your jurisdiction, but some of them are quite useful.   Moreover, it is not necessarily an obstacle if a harasser is in a different state than you; many statutes explicitly provide that if an electronic transmission is either sent or received in a particular state, the statute applies.

Copyright law can provide another vehicle to address identity-based online harassment.  I succeeded in having a blog composed of pictures of me taken without permission from various online sources removed on the ground that it violated my copyright.  I also succeeded in having thread containing a 1000-word cut and paste of my writing, with no additional commentary, removed from a website where it provoked an outburst of racist and sexist vitriol.  I accomplished this by sending take-down notices, which non-lawyers can read more about hereFair use is, of course, a defense, but it would likely be unavailing in situations where, for example, harassers simply copy and paste photographs or large portions of written material and there is nothing transformative about the use of the material.  Moreover, website administrators will sometimes remove content even when fair use is debatable if the use in question is racist, sexist, or otherwise harassing.

And finally, defamation law can provide recourse if the statements about you are false and harmful to your reputation.  (“She slept with someone to get her job” is an example.)  Defamation law is notoriously slippery, and there are various practical obstacles to lawsuits that one must overcome.  But in some situations it may be the best alternative.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a useful brief summary of defamation law that can provide a starting point for someone who thinks that she has been defamed.

4. Investigate.

A lot of harassers are anonymous, but others write under pseudonyms.  Sometimes pseudonymous harassers and abusers build up entire personalities around their pseudonymous identities–for example, Violentacrez on Reddit, the instigator of popular subreddits “Creepshots” and “Jailbait”, later unmasked as Michael Brutsch.

Many pseudonymous people who engage in identity-based online harassment are trying to have it both ways.  That is, they are trying to have the benefits that come with having a known identity–the community recognition; the ability to form relationships with others; the claim to speak authoritatively on certain topics–as well as the benefits associated with anonymity–namely, the ability to avoid any consequences for racist and misogynistic comments in real life.

I encountered several such pseudonymous individuals in my own experience with online harassment.  Once I began paying attention to the various repeat players, certain rather disturbing preoccupations emerged.  For example, one pseudonymous commenter stated the following* about a recent female law graduate:

Slipper

I hope I don’t have to explain why fantasizing about exploiting a recent law school graduate’s financial vulnerability to perform a violent sexual act is profoundly troubling.  Likewise, in previous posts, I’ve already referenced one of this particular commenter’s remarks about me, and noted that such a comment would constitute harassment in the workplace:

Undressing

This specific comment is just one example; I’m making no effort to publicize all of them.  Over the course of about fifteen months, this particular harasser commented about me approximately 70 times on at least five different websites, frequently remarking on my physical appearance.  He started several derogatory threads devoted exclusively to me, in which other commenters also targeted me with racist and sexist harassment.  He wrote two lengthy plays about me.  The threads he started often attracted dozens or even hundreds of comments.  His sustained attention to me also incited other pseudonymous members of a blog where he often posts to author lengthy racist and sexist posts about me, which, again, often attracted large numbers of comments about me, including comments from him.  Moreover, he wrote offensive profiles of a dozen other law professors who were–so far as I could tell, with one exception–all women or people of color or both.  And, of course, these were just the comments under his pseudonym.  It would not surprise me to learn that some of the many anonymous comments about me were also by him, although I haven’t taken the time to investigate this.  This sustained attention and the ideas it contained became increasingly disturbing to me, and eventually I decided to figure out who he was.

Many people underestimate the ease with which they can be linked with their anonymous or pseudonymous comments on the Internet.  Kashmir Hill has described how to bait and catch a troll using a blog and IP address tracker–a relatively straightforward process even for someone with only limited technological capabilities.  For many people who experience online harassment, such techniques could provide a viable option.

With respect to my various harassers, even this rudimentary technique turned out to be unnecessary.  The pseudonymous individual I mentioned above had posted specific information about his alma mater, the city where he lived, his job, various professional organizations to which he belonged, and other miscellaneous information.  It took fifteen minutes to find out who he was using google and other publicly available databases.  The result was troubling in itself: he was a public defender in his late forties who apparently has nothing better to do than harass an untenured professor.

It was equally easy to identify a few other people who posted about me.  Indeed, someone had created a website dedicated to identifying one of them two years before he first crossed my radar.

There are a few lessons here.  One is that even in the online world harassers often feel compelled to develop continuous and stable personalities, perhaps as a way of compensating for the social deficiencies in their actual lives.  Another is that a lot of harassers are repeat offenders–that is, if someone is harassing you, odds are that you aren’t the first.

Particularly if identifying a pseudonymous harasser is minimally time-consuming, it can be a reassuring exercise.  I was glad to know that none of the pseudonymous harassers I identified were people who I had met or who lived anywhere near me.  Investigating and identifying a harasser is also valuable because it opens up other possibilities for addressing the situation, to which I will now turn.

5. Confront.

After I discovered the identity of my most persistent harasser, I decided to give him a call, which is something that adults do when they have a disagreement to discuss.  I did this for several reasons.  One was that I wanted to talk to him so that I could try to understand why an untenured professor he had never met could become the subject of a year-plus obsession.  Another reason was pure curiosity.  I have always been interested in what causes people to hate one another–or, at the very least, to write hateful things about other people, especially those they have never met.  But the main reason was simply that I truly wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.  People’s lives are complicated by mental illness, loneliness, personal hardship, and grief.  Although I have tried without success to find a definitive source for the saying “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” the words resonate with me and I try to live them.  My hope was that the person who had written so many hateful things about me was a good person who–prompted by difficult personal circumstances–had made a mistake.

To my regret, my harasser refused to speak to me.  I called him at his office (once) and left a message with the person (not him) who picked up the phone simply leaving my name and number and asking him to call me.  He didn’t call back.  A few days later I emailed him (once), explaining that I had identified him and that I wished to discuss his Internet posting activities.  The email was difficult to write.  It triggered emotions relating to an experience confronting a person who abused me many years ago.  I did my best to keep the email polite and professional and–to the extent I could–I tried to express some sympathy for circumstances in his life of which I might not be aware.  If anyone finds themselves in similar circumstances, they are welcome to borrow any of the language of my email (larger image available here):

email

Of course, I can only guess at the real reason my harasser refused to speak with me.  Was he really afraid to speak with an untenured professor nearly fifteen years his junior who had already explicitly stated that she wished to give him the benefit of the doubt?  If so, why?  His refusal leads me to think that perhaps John Kang’s assessment is correct.  But I may never know the answer.

6. Elevate.

Sometimes harassers are subject to various sources of discipline besides the law itself.  A number of professions, ranging from doctors to mental health providers to lawyers, are bound by profession-specific rules of conduct.  A few of my harassers turned out to be attorneys.  An examination of the rules of professional conduct in the states where one of them is licensed–followed by consultation with a couple of legal ethicists and an attorney staffing the ethics hotline–suggested that this attorney was in violation of multiple ethics provisions.  And so I decided to file a formal complaint with the bars in the states where he is licensed.

I don’t know what will happen as a result of my complaint.  Many state bars hesitate to stir up controversy, and attorney discipline is relatively rare.  But I do feel that it is important for others closer to his situation to have knowledge of his online behavior so that they can make an informed decision about what to do.

7. Expose.

Disclosing the identities of anonymous or pseudonymous Internet posters–also known as “outing”–is one of the most controversial issues confronting the Internet today.  One line of thinking is that cyberharassers deserve to live with their online behavior in the light of day.  A contrary position is that we have a strong social interest in anonymous speech, and that a regular practice of outing would chill such speech.

I think there are particular ethical concerns associated with using technological means to expose an individual, particularly if you administer a website that ostensibly does not log IP addresses.  In the interest of time, I’m not going to address that issue here, although I hope to write more about it later.  It’s a completely different issue when a pseudonymous person has disclosed so much information about himself online that ignoring his real-life identity would involve willful blindness on the part of anyone who knows how to use google.  It amazes me that someone who engages in racist and misogynistic behavior online would attempt to claim that the very people he is harassing owe him an ethical or moral duty to refrain from exposing him.  Such an argument is intellectually incoherent.  That is, I think it is ethically permissible to expose the name of a person who has engaged in unacceptable behavior online.

I thought about publishing the names of some of my harassers.  Several colleagues, both within and outside the academy, urged me to do so, particularly with respect to my most persistent harasser, and particularly after they learned that he was a public defender.  As one eloquently explained:  “This person is a public servant with a very important job. His work has a very direct effect on the lives and freedom of his clients. Even if this person is struggling with a mental illness, if that illness is manifesting itself as bigotry, then it’s important that his clients, the courts and his employer know that.”  Another agreed: “Out his ass. He is an officer of the court with duties and obligations to his ENTIRE community. People have a right to know. You do not control what is done with the information thereafter.”  And another:  “Public defenders have an incredibly important job and need to be held to incredibly high standards.”

I struggled with this decision for a long time.  Ultimately, however, I decided against publishing the person’s name for the reasons I have already described.  Without full information, I hesitate to expose someone else’s life to the permanent censure of the Internet.  I see a fairly obvious irony in the situation: I am protecting the online reputation of someone who has shown nothing but contempt for me and many other women and people of color, and who has polluted my google search results with hateful and disparaging statements.

But ultimately I found Leo Traynor’s riveting account of his decision not to report an awful troll to the police enlightening.  Justice is important, but so is mercy.  And I would much rather someone improve his behavior and learn from his mistakes than the alternative.

I have enjoyed blogging about these important issues, and am grateful to the Feminist Law Professors blog for providing a platform for me to do so.  I’ll continue to write about identity-based harassment, discrimination, and other issues both here and on my personal website.

* I have chosen not to link to, or to identify, the sources of the material I reference in this post because I do not want to drive traffic to websites that tolerate racial and sexual harassment.  If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

 

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CRR-CLS Fellowship Opportunity – Deadline Extended!

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The deadline for the 2014-2016 Columbia Law School – Center for Reproductive Rights Fellowship (CRR-CLS Fellowship) has been extended to February 28, 2014!

The CRR-CLS Fellowship is an exciting opportunity for recent law school graduates who are interested in careers in teaching law. Please keep your eye out for promising scholars and keep in mind that experience in reproductive rights is not required. You can download the application here.

Here is our track record thus far:

Here is a little more information about the Fellowship:

The CRR-CLS Fellowship is a two-year, post-graduate fellowship offered by the Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) and Columbia Law School (CLS). Those committed to women’s rights and/or human rights would be a great fit for this fellowship – although we don’t require experience in these areas. More than anything, this is a fellowship for serious emerging academics. Fellows will be affiliated with the Center and CLS, and will participate in the intellectual life of both programs. Applicants do not need to be graduates of Columbia Law School to be eligible for this program and do not need prior experience in reproductive rights.

The deadline for applications for the 2014-2016 cycle is now February 28, 2014.

If you would like to learn more about CRR’s Law School Initiative, which supports the Fellowship, please visit our website here; email the Senior Director of the Law School Initiative, Diana Hortsch, atdhortsch@reprorights.org; or email Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, gender_sexuality_law@law.columbia.edu.

We would be grateful if you could forward these materials to your colleagues and to promising recent graduates interested in academic careers.

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CFP: Transnational Queer Activism

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From the FLP mailbox, this CFP:

Transnational Queer Activism

Janice Irvine and Jill Irvine, eds.

This call for papers seeks contributions to an edited volume on transnational queer and LGBT politics, movements, and activism. This volume will feature work that bridges theoretical and empirical methodologies, and that is located within both disciplinary and interdisciplinary frames. Drawing upon current research on a broad range of cases, it aims to provide a comparative analysis of queer politics both within countries and across regions.  We are particularly interested in the notion of queer as it has traveled around the globe and the opportunities and/or obstacles it presents for various types of activism, movement building, strategic action, and identities. In addition, we are interested in articles that address the following questions:

1.) What political strategies have queer and LGBT movements pursued?  How have these strategies been shaped by factors such as nation, religion, gender, and other axes of difference?

2.) How do LGBTQ activists frame issues? How do global discourses, norms, and languages shape local issues and how, in turn, do local issues and frames shape global discourses?   Do queer politics versus LGBT politics create alternative or mutually reinforcing sets of issues and political demands?

3.) What alliances do LGBTQ movements and activists build locally, regionally and  internationally?  What factors have caused rifts or fissures in queer or LGBT movements? To what extent does queer activism intersect with other forms of activism/resistance?

4.) How have activists disrupted or been shaped by geographical and other binaries, such as east/west, north/south.  Are there different variants of queerness as it is understood and applied in transnational contexts?

Paper proposals of no more than 250 words should be submitted to Jill Irvine at Jill.Irvine@ou.edu and Janice Irvine at irvine@soc.umass.edu by April 1, 2014.  Proposals will be reviewed quickly and authors will be notified by May 15, 2014.   Draft papers, approximately 8,000 words in length, will be due January 15, 2015.

-Bridget Crawford

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Why Does This FindLaw.com Reporter Find Street Harassment and Indecent Exposure So Funny?

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According to the website of an Indianapolis, Indiana television station, a man was arrested for exposing himself to two women on the street.

An Indianapolis man is facing charges after reportedly “swinging” his genitals at two women on the street.

Shawn Harvell, 34, of Indianapolis, was arrested Tuesday afternoon on charges including public indecency, resisting law enforcement, criminal confinement and battery.

Police said a Metro officer driving on 38th Street near Lawndale Avenue was flagged down by two women.

One woman, 29, told the officer that Harvell approached her on the sidewalk from behind and grabbed her by the arm.

The woman said the man has his penis out of his pants and was “swinging it about in a rotary helicopter motion,” the police report said.

Read the full story here.

It’s an unusual story in terms of the method of exposure, but harassment of women is no laughing matter.  Unfortunately, Brett Snider, Esq., a reporter for FindLaw.com, seems to find extraordinary humor in the incident, reporting here that the alleged perpetrator “dangled his doodle” and swang “his fantastic phallus,” opining that the alleged perpetrator’s ” ‘helicopter’ move was likely a gyration that was all in the hips,” and that the man was engaged in “puppetry of the penis.”

Really, Mr. Snider? I just don’t see what’s funny about a man exposing his genitals to women on the street and pulling a gun on them.  Then again, I’m a humorless feminist.

-Bridget Crawford

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Travel Grants for Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

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From the FLP mailbox, this notice of grants for travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke:

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, announces the availability of Mary Lily Research Grants for research travel to our collections. The Sallie Bingham Center documents the public and private lives of women through a wide variety of published and unpublished sources. Collections of personal papers, family papers, and organizational records complement print sources such as books and periodicals. Particular strengths of the Sallie Bingham Center are feminism in the U.S., reproductive rights, prescriptive literature from the 19th & 20th centuries, girls’ literature, zines, artist’s books by women, gender & sexuality, and the history & culture of women in the South.

Mary Lily Research Grants are available to any faculty member, graduate or undergraduate student, artist, or independent scholar with a research project requiring the use of women’s history materials held by the Sallie Bingham Center. Travel and living expenses while pursuing research at the Rubenstein Library will be reimbursed up to the grant amount after completion of travel. Applicants must live outside of a 100-mile radius from Durham, NC. The maximum award per applicant is $1,000.

The deadline for application is January 31, 2014 by 5:00 PM EST. Recipients will be announced in March 2014.

For more information and to apply, please visit:
http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/bingham/grants/

-Bridget Crawford

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Women in the Media: A Year in Review

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Via Upworthy, here. H/T Joan Gaylord.

-Bridget Crawford

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Privilege and Passivity

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This is the third in a series of four blog posts that discuss discrimination and harassment in cyberspace, its perpetrators, and its consequences.  The first post, “Identity and Ideas,” is available here.  The second post, “Anonymity and Abuse,” is available here, with a short addendum here.

Suppose you run a website, and the anonymous commenters on your site start hurling racial and sexual slurs at someone they’ve targeted.  Or suppose you start a thread in an online forum, and you notice that the commenters are engaging in identity-based harassment of someone–either a participant in the thread or otherwise.  Or suppose you didn’t start the thread, but you went to the site and you read it.

For anyone new to this series, when I talk about identity-based harassment, I’m talking about comments like the ones below, which are all comments about me:

Twatsicle

Or this:

Charlatan

Or this:

Goofy

Or this:

Comeliness

I confess that I am not particularly concerned with what “shithead” and “froyolo” think of me.  Their comments, however, helpfully provide a concrete context for my opening questions.  Suppose you encountered these comments.  What should you do?  Framed more broadly, what are the social and legal responsibilities triggered by identity-based online harassment?

I’ll start with the social responsibilities.  These are things you should do, not (necessarily) because they’re legally required, but as part of being a good person.  My definition of being a good person includes actively opposing racism, misogyny, and other forms of identity-based abuse.  If you disagree with this definition, I’m afraid the rest of this post may be difficult for you.

Here are some social responsibilities:  If you start a website and it turns into a rancid cesspool of racist and misogynistic vitriol,  it’s your responsibility to clean it up.  If you start a thread and the comments turn ugly, it’s your responsibility to intervene.  And if you read a thread and see the commenters abusing someone, it absolutely is your responsibility to call out the abuse.

Opposing racism and sexism is inconsistent with passivity in the face of online abuse.  Nobody gets to sit on the sidelines.  If you administer a website, you don’t get to sit back and play clockmaker god while your creation devolves into a racist monstrosity.  If you start a thread that turns into a misogynistic cybermob, you don’t get to shrug your shoulders and look away.  Or, to put it differently, of course you can do these things, but you can’t do them and still hold tight to your moral authority.  Your privilege–the privilege that you enjoy because the comments aren’t about you–doesn’t entitle you to blameless passivity.  I’m reminded of this message from a law firm partner to an administrator of the infamous AutoAdmit website:  “We expect any lawyer affiliated with our firm, when presented with the kind of language exhibited on the message board, to reject it and to disavow any affiliation with it. You, instead, facilitated the expression and publication of such language.”  In other words, we have a responsibility to act when we see identity-based online harassment.  This is particularly true for attorneys, and even more so for attorneys who represent vulnerable populations.  (I’ll have more to say about this in my next and final post.)

I am well aware that what I am proposing is a significant departure from current online norms.  Most people don’t call out racist and sexist comments–even people who would never make such comments themselves–because they prefer not to have to deal with the consequences. To justify their passivity, they hide behind platitudes, like “there will always be assholes on the Internet,” or “don’t feed the trolls,” or simply “it’s not my problem.”  But this is exactly my point.  You can decide it’s not your problem, or you can oppose racism and sexism.  You can’t do both.

I am also well aware that some of the things I posit as social responsibilities are arguably difficult to do.  For example, website administrators may find it burdensome to monitor comments.  But plenty of websites–from the New York Times to Jezebeldo manage to maintain a commenting environment largely free of targeted racism and misogyny, which suggests that the problem is not ability but effort. And even websites noted for awful comments are making progress in the right direction.  Moreover, technological tools are in the works that can make the task of moderation easier for everyone.  And if it’s really that difficult for a particular website to eliminate identity-based online harassment, perhaps that site should simply close down its comments.

Likewise, individuals may find it psychologically burdensome to call out identity-based online harassment, either in threads they started or in threads they read.  Obviously there are practical limits–everyone has only so much bandwidth to call out harassment–but I think it should be a shared burden, distributed evenly among everyone.  If you have the psychological wherewithal to start a thread–or read one–then surely you can also write a one-sentence comment calling out identity-based harassment.  It’s true that lengthy, detailed responses, might, in some circumstances, perpetuate a tornado of race- or gender-based abuse.  But even a short anonymous statement such as “This is sexist and I disagree” has many positive benefits.**  Such a statement lets the target know he or she is not alone.  It forces other readers to acknowledge the comments for what they are.  And sometimes it may shame the authors of such comments into silence.

Depending on the circumstances, calling out harassment might sometimes require a more involved response–including, for example, contacting the target to see whether he or she has a preference about the way the harassment should be handled.  The larger point is that good people don’t sit and scroll and sip their coffee and watch an online mob savage someone else’s life without doing anything about it.

Some people become enraged at the mere notion of moderating or closing down comments.  Some people become defensive at the idea that they have an affirmative duty to intervene in instances of identity-based online harassment.  But the alternative is to require women and people of color (among other marginalized groups) to bear a vastly disproportionate burden.  My previous posts have explained why, if we really care about having a robust marketplace of ideas, this disparate burden should be unacceptable to us.

On that note, I’ll turn to the legal implications.  Everything I have mentioned to this point involves private actors and therefore doesn’t implicate the First Amendment.  But I also think that–following the model of Title VII–Congress could legislate narrowly to proscribe online behavior whose purpose is to harass a specific person on the basis of traditionally protected categories including but not limited to race, gender, national origin, and religion.  As I have already mentioned, Title VII proscribes such targeted harassment in the workplace.  Cyberspace, of course, is not the workplace.  But it is a space where many of us do a lot of our work, and for many of us it’s a space that’s inextricable from our professional identities.

Other scholars have already devoted a great deal of time and careful thought to identity and online harassment.  In a previous post, I mentioned Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum’s anthology The Offensive Internet, which includes several essays that address these themes.  Daniel Solove’s outstanding monograph The Future of Reputation examines privacy, reputation, rumor, and freedom in cyberspace.  Jerry Kang’s work “Cyber-Race” examines the way that racial identity functions in online ecosystems.   And Danielle Citron emphasizes the notion of “Cyber Civil Rights“–the idea that identity-based online harassment “ought to be understood and addressed as a civil rights violation.”  I won’t retread ground that other commenters have already covered.  As a scholar of identity and discrimination, however, I would like to add an illustration of why we should think of identity-based harassment as a civil rights violation.  Consider the following three statements:

Statement One:  “Leong didn’t get that law professor position on her own merit.”

Statement Two: “Leong slept with someone to get herself a law professor position.”

Statement Three:

LeongTime

All three statements are false and defamatory.  Whether they are actionable is, of course, a different question, as there are various doctrinal and practical obstacles to defamation suits.  But my focus here is on whether the doctrinal mechanism, at least in theory, captures the injury.  The idea behind defamation nicely captures the problem with the first statement.  It’s a false statement that, if believed, would damage my reputation.  Defamation falters, however, with respect to the second statement.  It is defamation, but there’s more to it than that.  The statement no longer treats me as an individual, but instead applies offensive stereotypes about women’s presumed incompetence.  I simply could not have gotten that position on my own merit, I must have slept with someone, because however else could a mere woman get a law professor position?  And the third statement adds a racial dimension to the prior injuries of defamation and misogyny by very cleverly coupling my last name with a phrase that Asian women supposedly say, according to some white guys who make movies.  Asian women are stereotyped as sexually available: that’s why there are books like this, and songs like this atrocity, and documentaries like this, and AMA performances like this one.

It’s a simple point, but worth repeating: defamation doesn’t address the identity-based harms suffered by historically marginalized groups.  And this is why we need a civil rights regime for the Internet, not unlike the one we have in the workplace: to capture the unique identity-based harms that take place here.  Ignoring the fact that some identity groups enjoy greater privilege ignores reality.  As Louis CK explains, “I’m a white man!  You can’t even hurt my feelings.”

My final post will discuss the various avenues that people targeted by identity-based online harassment can pursue.

* I have chosen not to link to, or to identify, the sources of the material I reference in this post because I do not want to drive traffic to websites that tolerate racial and sexual harassment.  If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

**UPDATE: A thoughtful reader suggested the wording “This is sexist and unacceptable.”  I like that suggestion very much, and probably more than my original wording.

– Nancy Leong

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Did Jed Rubenfeld Jump the Academic Shark with that Rape-by-Deception Article?

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Jed Rubenfeld’s Rape-by-Deception article (previously blogged here) is the subject of four formal responses in the Yale Journal Online:

Tom Dougherty, No Way Around Consent: A Reply to Rubenfeld on “Rape-by-Deception”

Deborah Tuerkheimer, Sex Without Consent

Patricia Falk, Not Logic, but Experience: Drawing on Lessons from the Real World in Thinking About the Riddle of Rape-by-Fraud

Gowri Ramachandran, Delineating the Heinous: Rape, Sex, and Self-Possession

The Yale Law Journal Online also includes a response by Professor Rubenfeld to his critics.

-Bridget Crawford

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Anonymity and Abuse: An Addendum

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In recent weeks I have begun a series of four blog posts that discuss discrimination and harassment in cyberspace, its perpetrators, and its consequences.  The first post, “Identity and Ideas,” is available here.  The second post, “Anonymity and Abuse,” is available here.  Given the upcoming holiday, today’s short post simply provides a few additional thoughts about anonymity.  The third and fourth posts will appear after the holiday.

I appreciate the thoughtful comments that my previous posts generated.  My purpose today is to respond to two reactions relating to anonymity.

First, many people claim that they need absolute anonymity in order to speak freely.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I have no inherent problem with anonymity; indeed, I think it can often serve a valuable function.  My issue lies with those who use anonymity as a means to engage in identity-based online harassment of the kind that silences historically marginalized groups.

Having said that, I tend to think that many people overstate their need for anonymity.  As I have throughout this blog series, I’ll use myself as an example.  I write under my own name.  I’m an untenured professor.  That means I have no long-term job security.  I don’t have an extensive financial safety net.  I graduated from law school with over $200,000 in student loans, which I will be paying back for decades.  Every time I post something on the Internet, there’s backlash in the form of crude comments, emails, and phone calls.

By writing under my own name, I expose myself to criticism from other people, including other legal academics, who disagree with me.  Many of them have the power to shape my career.  By writing under my own name, I experience tangible personal consequences.  These range from hateful phone calls to the persistent and disquieting idea that the author of an aggressively sexual comment could be someone who attends my school or lives in my apartment complex.  I am well aware that my personal circumstances make me more fortunate than many people, and for that I am grateful.  The fact remains that writing under my own name has risks and downsides, and yet I still do it.

It’s certainly true that if you hide behind your anonymity to engage in identity-based online harassment, then there may indeed be costs to posting under your real name.  If your contribution to online discourse consists of statements like “haha man i’d love to facefuck that AZN bitch,” then, yes, your employer, family, and any real-world friends you might have probably would not be particularly impressed with either the style or substance of what you have to say.

Of course there are people who have good reasons for anonymity.  Those expressing political dissent within totalitarian regimes provide one example.  Avoiding the real-world repercussions of saying sexist and racist things is not, in my view, a good reason.  And as I’ll discuss in my next full post, it’s possible to protect the former without sheltering the latter.

Secondly, I have encountered an argument that goes something like this: we should tolerate anonymous racist and sexist speech online because, to quote an acquaintance, “it’s good to know how much sexism and racism is out there.”

I understand the abstract appeal of this line of reasoning.  But in practice it’s a remarkably privileged argument to pursue.  Most women and people of color already know there’s plenty of sexism and racism in the world.  So saying “it’s good to know how much sexism and racism is out there” is really a demand for those of us who are targeted by sexism and racism to put up with its damaging consequences in order to educate the blissfully ignorant folks who will never have to put up with identity-based attacks themselves.  Such an argument minimizes the harm to targets of identity-based harassment while privileging an alleged benefit to people who are oblivious to discrimination — and who are apparently too lazy to educate themselves in any other manner than by passively observing anonymous online slurs.

I might find this argument marginally more persuasive if there were any evidence that the only way to raise awareness of racism and sexism was by passive observation of online harassment, or that those who gained awareness subsequently devoted themselves to activism against such harassment.  I know of no such evidence, and so, as an empirical matter, I remain unconvinced.

After the holiday, my next full post will continue with a discussion of appropriate social and legal responses to identity-based online harassment.

– Nancy Leong

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Sex-Positive Law

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Sexual pleasure is a good thing. It’s not just moral philosophy that supports the value of pleasure (although much of it does); it’s common sense. We value pleasure simply because it is pleasurable. People devote significant time and money to baffling pastimes ranging from to Twilight fan fiction to Farmville, and there is a sizeable portion of the population that is inexplicably obsessed with kale. Sexual pleasure is certainly no odder or less valuable than these pursuits.

In a Washington Post op-ed out this weekend, I argue  that, despite the inherent value of sexual pleasure, legislatures and courts continue to view it as having negligible or negative value. The piece is a reflection of a larger work I’ll be publishing this Spring in NYU Law Review called “Sex-Positive Law.” In particular, I look to obscenity law, the criminalization of BDSM, and constitutional law pertaining to sexual freedom to demonstrate that courts and legislatures routinely rely on the unwarranted assumption that sexual pleasure is valueless or even harmful. This blind spot leads to bad law and bad policies.

Truly progressive legal reform needs to acknowledge that sexual pleasure is a good thing even when engaged in for its own sake. This would require us to rethink and improve our approach to several areas of law, from obscenity to sex toys to rape law. Valuing sexual pleasure doesn’t mean we must value it above all else—we regularly regulate things that bring us pleasure. We value the pleasure derived from art, but we don’t allow people to steal Picassos or force artists to paint for their pleasure. But recognizing the value of sexual pleasure requires us to have a more honest discussion about what we choose to regulate, what we fail to regulate, and our justifications for these choices.

The Washington Post op-ed is available here:

“Sex-Positive Law” will appear in the 87th volume of the New York University Law Review in April 2014.

-Margo Kaplan

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Anonymity and Abuse

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This is the second in a series of four blog posts that discuss discrimination and harassment in cyberspace, its perpetrators, and its consequences.  The first post is available here.

Last week I wrote about the way that people attack women and people of color online by demeaning their identity rather than engaging with their ideas.

Thanks to the Internet, harassment happens in real time.  Shortly after I put up my post, an unknown person started a blog* consisting solely of derogatory racial and sexual statements about me, accompanied by pictures of me copied without permission from various online sources.   Again, this helpfully demonstrates my claim that harassers use identity to avoid engaging with ideas:

tumblr1

The creation of this blog also aptly illustrates Slate columnist Katy Waldman’s thoughtful discussion of my previous post, in which she hypothesized that when men are harassed, they are treated as “less than men,” while when women are harassed, they are treated as “only women.”  There are, of course, other dynamics at play as well.  But the blog’s attempt to reduce a law professor acting in her professional capacity to a sexualized object for visual consumption readily demonstrates Waldman’s conception of harassment as reduction to identity as “only a woman.”

Although online harassment is nothing new to me, I was still surprised by how many people that I know personally revealed to me after my previous post that they had experienced such harassment.  A half dozen other professors disclosed that they used to blog and had either stopped or curtailed their blogging in response to harassment and — in some cases — threats of rape or other violence.  Another friend told me that the reason she gave up a prestigious job with a news organization was the relentless online harassment she experienced.  One of my students told me that she used to write for a feminist blog, but stopped after online harassers posted comments about her and even started a thread on Reddit that disclosed details such as her address.  Another student explained that she had been invited to post on a well-known blog, but had declined the opportunity because she was unwilling to expose herself to the blog’s aggressive and frequently sexist commenting environment.

All of the people who shared these stories with me were women, and several were women of color.  Although — as I said in my previous post — I don’t think that identity-based online harassment is limited to women and people of color, these groups are often the targets of online harassment.

What is it about the Internet that brings out this ugliness?  Some have hypothesized that the lack of face-to-face contact loosens normal social inhibitions.  A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Why We Are So Rude Online,” credits MIT Professor Sherry Turkle with the insight that “[b]ecause it’s harder [online] to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other.”  Or, as Louis CK puts it, the Internet keeps us from building empathy.

Online anonymity worsens the empathy deficit.  Unsurprisingly, evidence suggests that people behave in antisocial ways when granted anonymity.  Research such as this classic study has long implicated anonymity in group antisocial behavior, thus explaining the way that anonymous posters often seem to encourage one another.  And Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum’s excellent anthology The Offensive Internet explores the role of anonymity from a range of perspectives.  (Of course, anonymity is far less ironclad than some posters seem to think — indeed, I was easily able to discover the identities of a few of my harassers using google, one in less than ten minutes. I’ll discuss this further in a future post.)

Intuitively and from this research, most people conclude that anonymity has something to do with online abuse.  Yet some refuse categorically to question whether anonymous speech is inherently valuable.  For example, anonymous commenters sometimes point to the Federalist Papers as a paradigmatic justification for anonymous speech.  I happen to like the Federalist Papers a lot, so let’s take a look at an excerpt from one of my favorites, Federalist #51, written by James Madison under the pseudonym Publius:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Now let’s compare Federalist #51 to a few anonymous and pseudonymous comments that were made about me in threads relating to my scholarship about race.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m using myself as an example because I don’t want to draw attention to the harassment of other people.  But such comments are typical of identity-based online harassment.

So for example, there’s this comment:

Ass-reamed

And this:

Cockroach

And this:

hapa

And this:

Doable

Most of us can see the difference between Federalist #51 and these crude comments.  Federalist #51 explains the need for a government involving both separation of powers and checks and balances — a framework that fundamentally informed the system of government that our founders developed.  These contentions implicate the core structures of a democratic society.

In contrast, the various anonymous comments about me have no purpose other than to harass and no content other than racially and sexually demeaning language.  And the reason they’re anonymous is obvious.  The commenters want to make racist, sexist, and sexually harassing comments without having to suffer the consequences of engaging in such speech in real life.  Such speech contributes literally nothing to discourse.  And to briefly retread ground I covered in my first post, it’s worth noting that each thread I’ve referenced above started out as a thread at least nominally about my scholarship and my ideas, but quickly shifted to comments about my identity.

The claim that anonymity inherently promotes First Amendment values thus makes little sense in a world of race- and gender-based online harassment.  To be clear, I have no problem with anonymity per se — indeed, I agree with the Supreme Court’s statement in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission that “[a]nonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”  When people write anonymously, but do so in a way that contributes to discourse, it seems to me that the choice to withhold one’s name is up to the individual.  Indeed, anonymity might empower some marginalized speakers to engage in discourse who would otherwise remain silent.

But when anonymity facilitates harassing and abusive speech directed at marginalized identity groups, society has a strong First Amendment interest in regulating anonymity.  Harassing and abusive speech results in a net loss to the marketplace of ideas.  Online racial and gender harassment silences the speech of many women and people of color, diminishing the diversity of perspectives represented in online discourse and impoverishing the “free trade in ideas” within “the competition of the market” that Justice Holmes first discussed in his famous dissent in Abrams v. United States.  If we really care about the marketplace of ideas, we should care about eliminating online racial and gender harassment.

Some argue that racial and gender harassment are part and parcel of participation in online discourse.  As one white man commented on my prior post:  “Welcome to the jungle . . . . If you want to have a voice . . . just do what we have been doing for over a decade and laugh it off.”  (In context, “we” meant “white men.”)  Of course, it’s easy to talk about “laughing it off” when, because of your status as a white man, you’re virtually never the target of identity-based harassment that deploys historically subordinate or marginalized status as a silencing tool.

But in 2013 our social norms don’t actually condition having a voice on putting up with identity-based harassment.  Suppose that I gave a presentation at an academic conference, and that during my presentation a member of the audience began shouting racial and sexual epithets, or announced loudly, “I’m undressing you with my eyes!”  Would we laugh it off?  Of course we wouldn’t.  We’d remove him.  So why do some people insist that the norms applicable to anonymous online speech should be different?

In my view, they shouldn’t be different.  I think that the reason we would restrain a workplace harasser from certain racial and sexual comments (as, indeed, we do, under Title VII) is the same reason we should strive to prevent anonymous online abuse including the same content.

In my next post, I’ll outline some of the ways that we should engage in eliminating this type of harassment.  Socially, I think there is a much greater role for website administrators to play.  And legally, I think that we can draw a doctrinally sound distinction between anonymous speech that should receive First Amendment protection and abusive anonymous speech involving identity-based harassment.

* I have chosen not to link to, or to identify, the sources of the material I reference in this post because I do not want to drive traffic to websites that tolerate racial and sexual harassment.  If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.
- Nancy Leong
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Identity and Ideas

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This is the first in a series of four blog posts that discuss discrimination and harassment in cyberspace, its perpetrators, and its consequences.

Women and people of color are under-represented in online discourse.  As of August 2013, 87% of Wikipedia contributors were men.  Women are under-represented on the opinion pages of major news sources, and the number of people of color who write for newspapers is both low and declining.  Across disciplines, the most well-known bloggers are predominantly men.  The Freakonomics website notes that women economists rarely blog.  Closer to home, the regular contributors to many well-regarded group law blogs, such as the Volokh Conspiracy and PrawfsBlawg, are predominantly white men.    Why does this racial and gender disparity in online discourse exist?

One reason for the disparity is race- and gender-based online harassment.  Many outstanding scholars have already addressed this phenomenon.  One example is Danielle Citron’s influential article “Cyber Civil Rights.”  My intention with this series of posts is not to break new theoretical ground.  Rather, I’m writing because it’s worth reiterating that such harassment is a serious social problem that deserves attention.  In particular, I want to look closely at the technology of race- and gender-based harassment — that is, the way that internet harassers focus on identity rather than on ideas as a specific strategy for excluding women and people of color from online discourse.

Rather than draw additional and perhaps unwanted attention to the harassment of other people, I am going to use as examples things that people have said about me.  I write about race and gender discrimination (among other things).  A while ago I wrote an article called “Racial Capitalism” that was published in the Harvard Law Review.  It’s a controversial article.  A lot of people disagree with some of it or all of it.  And that’s fine.  I’m glad that the article prompted discussion of important issues.  I’ve enjoyed participating in some of the discussions.  For example, Richard Ford wrote a response to “Racial Capitalism” that appeared in the Harvard Law Review’s online forum (short version: he’s skeptical).  Then I wrote a reply to his response, which is available here and will soon appear in the Harvard online forum as well.  Other discussions were more informal.  For example, just a few days ago, the author of the very interesting Opus Publicum blog, who writes about religion, law, politics, and various other topics under the name Modestinus, wrote a brief review (short version: he’s skeptical).  I offered a few thoughts in the comments and he responded.

These are examples of different situations in which I was glad to engage with a thoughtful person who had read my work and taken the time to respond my ideas, regardless of whether that person agreed with me.  This is how discourse should take place, both online and offline.

Unfortunately, that kind of discourse is often not the norm for women and people of color in cyberspace.  Other responses differ in kind from mere disagreement.  The pattern is this:  When people don’t like what women and people of color are saying, they express that dislike in gendered and racial terms.  Here are some examples* of people responding in this way to “Racial Capitalism” and some of my other articles about race:

LuauTrain

This comment reveals an important point about the strategies that some people (usually self-identified men) use to attack women and people of color.  Rather than explaining why (for example) he thinks that the racial capitalism framework is analytically flawed, the first commenter disparages my Native Hawaiian background with a reference to the “luau train.” He then attempts to undermine my intellectual contribution to an academic conference by claiming that the reason for my presence is to serve as an object of sexualized attention for a presumed heterosexual male audience.  That kind of comment would not be tolerated in any workplace.  It’s worth asking — at least as a normative matter, if not a legal one — why the internet should be any different, especially when a lot of us do a substantial portion of our work online and when the racial and gender harassment directly targets our work and our professional identities.

Here are some more comments about me:

LeongTime

Again, notice that rather than engaging in a substantive critique of my ideas, both commenters reflexively attack my identity.  The former comment attributes my professional achievements to gendered physical attributes.  The implication is that a woman simply could not have earned success through intelligence or hard work.  The latter comment—in addition to being defamatory and utterly false—also invokes tired stereotypes about Asian female sexual availability that pervade the media.  The latter comment also provides a useful example of the unique harms that women experience in cyberspace.  People rarely allege that a man achieved status within his profession by having sex with someone.  Successful women hear those accusations all the time.

Here’s yet another:

Charlatan

The phrasing of the post is different than the previous ones, but the strategy is identical.  Rather than offering a substantive critique of a person’s ideas, it attempts to diminish that person by reference to identity.   Put another way, it disparages my accomplishments by sexualizing them.  Moreover, the vulgarity and aggression of this post and others like it is a tactic to exclude women and people of color from discourse.  Again, it’s worth asking why, when so many of us do much of our work online, people often shrug their shoulders at a comment that would be grounds for termination in any workplace.

Here’s another, lengthier comment:

Beneficiary

This comment provides a particularly useful example of the way that online critics grasp at identity rather than engaging with ideas.  First, the commenter replaces substantive critique of my article with a critique rooted in my presumed race and gender.  With respect to race, he begins with an entirely unsubstantiated claim that—as a woman of color—I must be a beneficiary of affirmative action.  Moreover, he suggests that Chinese people are poor spokespersons for racial justice because they don’t suffer discrimination, seemingly oblivious to both historical and contemporary evidence to the contrary, as well as to the irony that the very existence of his post contradicts his claim.  And he concludes with a factually erroneous statement that fails to contemplate the possibility that my background is, in fact, Native Hawaiian.  Likewise, the commenter focuses on my personal life—who I marry, the race of my partner—rather than my ideas.  In so doing, he invokes well-worn stereotypes about Asians women desiring white men and other indicia of the status associated with whiteness.  His response attempts to situate me as women have historically been situated—that is, in relation to men, rather than as autonomous agents.

I could provide literally hundreds of other examples of racial and sexual comments just about myself, although this seems like enough for now.  The examples reveal an important phenomenon.  Many posters (mostly self-identified men) use identity as a basis for disparaging women and people of color rather than engaging substantively with their arguments.  This practice is a thinly-veiled attempt to “put women in their place” or to “put those minorities in their place” by focusing on identity rather than ideas.

I chose to use these examples because they are about me, rather than granting additional exposure to the harassment of someone else.  But troubling as these comments are, they are far less so than those directed at many other women and people of color.  I am hesitant to draw more attention to incidents that have not already received publicity.  But for those who remain unconvinced that this is a widespread phenomenon, Soraya Chemaly has documented many such instances of harassment here, and another recent article provides additional examples.

Why do men, and especially white men, engage in this specific version of hostility and harassment when confronted with the ideas of a woman of color?  In many instances I suspect the strategy arises from insecurity triggered by the success of the target of harassment.  It’s much easier on the ego to believe that a woman of color is more successful than you because of her identity, rather than her intelligence or her work ethic.  And so posters choose to direct attention to identity rather than ideas.

With that said, the anxieties and insecurities of anonymous internet bloggers are considerably less interesting to me than the consequences of the way that these anxieties manifest themselves.

The result of gender and racial harassment is that many women and people of color withdraw from cyberspace.  Friends and colleagues have told me that they stopped blogging, or never started, or avoided certain topics, because they felt that they simply could not deal with the online harassment that they would draw.  And beyond my own anecdotal evidence, there are many documented instances of women withdrawing from online discourse after identity-based harassment is directed their way.

To be clear, I’m not saying that men never experience identity-based online harassment.  Many of them do—particularly men who are (or are presumed to be) members of other disfavored groups, such as poor people or queer people, as well as men who promote unpopular ideas.

My point is simply that online harassment disproportionately affects women and people of color, as well as members of some other groups, and that this phenomenon helps to explain the absence of those groups from online discourse.  The loss of such perspectives is a loss to discourse.  My point isn’t the essentialist one that women or people of color have any particular perspective.  Rather, it’s that women and people of color tend to have different life experiences in a society that’s neither race nor gender blind, and that, in the aggregate, different experiences lead to different perspectives.  If we think it is a problem that some perspectives are under-represented in online discourse, a good first step is to do away with the serious obstacles that race- and gender-based harassment create to online participation.

*I have chosen not to link to, or to identify, the sources of these comments because I do not want to drive traffic to websites that tolerate racial and sexual harassment.  If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

– Nancy Leong

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Posted in Academia, Employment Discrimination, Feminists in Academia, Race and Racism, Sexual Harassment | 2 Comments

Dance As If Your Life Depends On It

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San Francisco-based OB-GYN Dr. Deborah Cohan had breast cancer surgery on Tuesday. Before going under anesthesia, she and her surgical team did something unexpected: they danced to Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied.”  Dancing is good for the soul no matter where you do it. Dr. Cohan was discharged Wednesday.  As Lee Ann Womack says, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/ I hope you dance.” Check on Dr. Cohan’s recovery  here.

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Posted in Feminism and Medicine, If you're a woman | Comments Off

Another Thoughtful Take on “Leaning In,” This One By bell hooks, and Called “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In”

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Read it here at The Feminist Wire. Below is an excerpt:

Sandberg’s definition of feminism begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged. And she makes it seem that privileged white men will eagerly choose to extend the benefits of corporate capitalism to white women who have the courage to ‘lean in.’ It almost seems as if Sandberg sees women’s lack of perseverance as more the problem than systemic inequality. Sandberg effectively uses her race and class power and privilege to promote a narrow definition of feminism that obscures and undermines visionary feminist concerns.

Contrast her definition of feminism with the one I offered more than twenty years ago in Feminist Theory From Margin To Center and then again in Feminism Is For Everybody. Offering a broader definition of feminism, one that does not conjure up a battle between the sexes (i.e. women against men), I state: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within the existing patriarchal structure. We must understand that challenging and dismantling patriarchy is at the core of contemporary feminist struggle – this is essential and necessary if women and men are to be truly liberated from outmoded sexist thinking and actions.

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Posted in Academia, Activism, Feminism and Culture, Feminism and Economics, Feminism and Law | Comments Off