AALS Workshop on “Women Rethinking Equality”

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The AALS 2011 Workshop on Women Rethinking Equality will be held June 20-22, 2011 at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Here is the official “Why Attend?” pitch:

Women seeking equality in America today face an uneven prospect. Women are represented in record numbers in all branches of government, yet also struggle in unprecedented numbers below the poverty line, and they remain notably absent from many corporate boardrooms. Two more women have been appointed to the Supreme Court, including the first Latina justice; yet the popular debate and confirmation hearings were marred by race and gender stereotypes and by homophobia.

Advocates of same-sex marriage and new reproductive technologies have challenged the traditional family, yet they have been met by efforts to re-naturalize marriage, childbirth, and the place of women in the private sphere. These same contradictions mark women’s role in legal education. Women comprise a majority of students in many law schools, yet women are not equally represented in the professoriat. A recent AALS Report revealed a “tenure gap” affecting all women, which was particularly wide and increasing among women of color. The predominance of women in lower-paid, lower-status positions without job security in the legal academy mirrors their relative absence from top positions in law firms, law schools, and other highly paid legal positions. As we address the unfinished business of equality, women confront complex challenges. Some impediments stem from a public perception that the central problems of women’s equality were solved a generation ago. Other obstacles – which women are often reluctant to confront – arise from the heterogeneity of the group itself.

We are heterogeneous first in the ways we experience our lives as women: women share commonalities based on sex, while also differing along lines of race, ethnicity, class, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. In the cities and rural areas of this country, as in the halls of law schools, these stark variations can give women widely different experiences of gender and sharply different stakes in its continued political amelioration. Women also vary in our conceptualizations of the challenges we face. Some continue to emphasize “sex discrimination” as the social and institutional dynamic that produces the inequality of women. Other theorists and activists have focused on the pressures to conform to bifurcated gender norms: expectations of cross-sex sexual desires or the fulfillment of these desires within marital, nuclear, reproductive families. Finally we are heterogeneous in our personal and professional aspirations: Many women may not analyze sex or gender in these explicitly politicized ways, or may not use more formalized constructs to discuss them. These women may want to focus efforts not on analyzing gendered dynamics in a theoretical way, but on developing practical strategies for confronting them in daily lives or individual workplaces. This variation is hardly surprising in a group that includes more than half of the human race. Yet if women fail to understand and negotiate this heterogeneity in a self-aware, reflective way, we may end up chasing an elusive unity, or diffusing our efforts with unnecessary friction.

The 2011 Workshop on Women Rethinking Equality will address these challenges, in the broader society and in the specific context of legal education. In analyzing the remaining barriers, we will think specifically about how to understand and to bridge the heterogeneity our group reflects – by glimpsing our shared stake in struggles of particular subgroups, and by focusing on the immediate institutional environment that we all share. We will also ask how we might use many kinds of connections among women – networking, mentoring, sharing of information – to secure greater opportunity, and transform the institutional settings in which we live and work.

“Women Rethinking Equality” will appeal to a full range of teachers and scholars in all subject areas. It will challenge us to think about the meaning, contours and status of equality for women: in legal, social, and institutional settings – and in the specific context of legal education. In the law school setting, discussions will focus on women’s scholarship, teaching concerns and professional development. We have particularly sought to reach out to a wider and more varied group of women faculty, through calls for presentations on substantive legal questions implicating gender, and for works-in-progress by junior and other scholars seeking commentary and discussion. The substance and format of the program, in general, will offer opportunities for networking and small-group discussion. We welcome participation by all AALS members, and particularly all women, whether or not their scholarship includes a gender focus.

The registration brochure and additional details are here.

-Bridget Crawford


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