Feminist Legal History roundtable at Big Berks

2011 June 17
by Shane Landrum

Yesterday on Twitter, I wondered:

Tweet conf social media

This post is an experiment in one way to keep the momentum of the Big Berks going: by fostering a more permanent record of what was said.

If you have thoughts for the Berks conference organizers on this or anything else about your experiences at the Big Berks last week, please leave a comment on the section of the website devoted to feedback. (You could comment even if you weren’t able to attend but learned about the conference events via Twitter. As I mentioned yesterday, they’re really looking to figure out what to do with their website and social media.)

And, with that, another Twitter recap post, this time from Saturday morning’s Feminist Legal History roundtable.

Roundtable on “Feminist Legal History”, June 11, 2011, 15th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women

Please note: This post is intended to preserve some of the key ideas from that session as I understood them. I have edited this transcript to remove factual errors made in the speed of the moment. As with most of Twitter, it prefers soundbite-style brevity to nuance. If I’ve misquoted or misrepresented what was said, please feel free to correct me in comments (or to expand on ideas you heard in the session.)

  • Someone who's going to CC 162 (radical women of color: new research), please tweet or share good notes. #Berks2011 ->
  • Torn between the feminist legal history session in CC 1001 & the African-American Women's Activism session in CC 904/908. #Berks2011 ->
  • In CC 1001, Leandra Zarnow, UCSB, recapping the state of feminist legal history; courses often team-taught by JDs & historians #Berks2001 ->
  • Constance Backhouse, current president of ASLH, is on this panel; yet recent Law & History Reviews are light on women's history #Berks2011 ->
  • Where is feminist legal history in legal history, & the law in women's history? Zarnow suggests ways we can broaden studies. #Berks2011 ->
  • The richest moments in feminist legal history are recognizing what our shared work is producing & how it's shaping our fields #Berks2011 ->
  • Jane DeHart, UCSB, intros Reva Siegel, Dean of Yale Law School, with a very long list of her (amazing) publications. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel is mentor of 2nd spkr, Serena Mayeri, UPenn, whose diss won Lerner-Scott Prize. #Berks2011 ->
  • Constance Backhouse, U Ottawa, works on Canadian women's legal history; New projects include a cohort bio of 100 feminist lawyers #Berks2011 ->
  • Joan Sangster, Trent U; Elizabeth Katz, writes on history of family law & works in law firm; both introduced by Zarnow. #Berks2011 ->
  • Reva Siegel: planning to talk about how she started doing history after her training in law school. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel went into law school at a time when the ERA was reintroduced, yet didn't think about it; but Nancy Cott was at Yale then. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel cites influence of historians Kerber, Cott, Bettina Aptheker, L. Gordon, C. Smith-Rosenberg, J. Jones, on her work. #Berks2011 ->
  • …all historians writing about law but not like lawyers do; Siegel was reading critical legal studies & thinking about history. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel started teaching law in the early 90s; she says these were the years of what Susan Faludi calls anti-feminist "backlash" #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel was interested in 19c efforts to reform marriage, grant equality; saw parallel btwn married wmn's earnings laws & present #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel Law works by "preservation through transformation"– which is why it's so hard to change women's status/rights with it. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel's been working on social-movement conflict & how it animated arguments over social stratification. #Berks2011 ->
  • Siegel: she's become skeptical that there's a systematic logic to the legal controversies & structures she writes about. #Berks2011 ->
  • Serena Meyeri begins: legal hist of feminism in 20c US, from perspective of having taught 5 yrs in a US law school. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: legal history has become receptive to interdisciplinarity: rise of the "law and ___" movements. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: influence of earlier scholars' work & their engagement with legal academy on purportedly "bigger" fields #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: this engagement helped legitimate feminist legal history. Social movements' conflicts generated intersectional theories. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: Feminist legal advocacy in 1960s-70s has been characterized as white, preoccupied w/formal equality; well, maybe. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: but intersectional analyses have a long history in law: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Holmes Norton. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: legal history of feminist activism pre-1960s requires looking back to non-"feminist" orgs like NAACP legal defense fund #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: RB Ginsburg argued that sex-based affirmative action might be a good model for thinking about race-based aff action. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: intersections btwn historical subfields & law. after SCOTUS rightward shift, feminist lawyers downplayed the connections. #Berks2011 ->
  • Meyeri: her students want to be feminist legal advocates; she's been thinking about how teaching legal history relates to this #Berks2011 ->
  • Constance Backhouse goes to the podium. Points out that 3 eminent Canadian feminist legal historians are in audience. #Berks2011 ->
  • Backhouse speaking on feminist legal biography: "women firsts" are a foil for observing relentlessly white male legal profession #Berks2011 ->
  • CB: we can watch men's resistance to "women firsts" lawyers/judges to understand their ideas of the true (male) nature of law #Berks2011 ->
  • CB writing bio of about Mme Justice ___ LaRue-DeBée (?) 2nd woman & 1st Quebecoise on Canada Supreme Court #Berks2011 ->
  • Backhouse describes LaRue-Debée's unconventional education in a live-in convent. Post-lawschool, worked for a man she l8r married #Berks2011 ->
  • Backhouse: Claire LaRue-Debée worked on divorce law & helped to legalize divorce in Quebec, but didn't identify as a feminist. #Berks2011 ->
  • Backhouse on her 2nd project in progress: cohort biography of 100 feminist lawyers, who graduated from lawschool in 1960s-70s. #Berks2011 ->
  • Backhouse started working on 25 interviews, & referrals to others snowballed. When she got to 100, she stopped. #Berks2011 ->
  • This project is about the generation of women following Mme. LaRue-Debée. "The collectivity dominated, not the individual stars" #Berks2011 ->
  • But there were so many- at least 1000 self-identified feminist activist lawyers in Canada then. a "revolution of lawyers" #Berks2011 ->
  • During this period, number of female lawyers in Canada multiplied 24 times over. This cohort describes hitting a brick wall. #Berks2011 ->
  • Brick wall: institutional sexism, racism, homophobia; sexist professors & legal texts; porn & strippers at lawschool events #Berks2011 ->
  • This generation also protested institutional discrimination in huge numbers: created community, worked hard, had fun. #Berks2011 ->
  • "Why did so many feminists choose law in this period, & how did their presence change law school?" & other interesting questions. #Berks2011 ->
  • I note that everyone so far seems to be talking about law in courts, not administrative law or legislation. #Berks2011 ->
  • Joan Sangster, Trent U, begins, speaking of feminist generations in law. "Many of us" trying to use laws to make social change #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster questions feminism's ability to change law; law is also a tool of legitimating class privilege & liberal individualism #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster: influence of social history's stress on wrkng-class agency; in Canada, First-Nations histories; less poststructuralism #Berks2011 ->
  • I'm loving the number of Commonwealth-nations scholars here; work on familiar-looking legal systems w/different cultures from US #Berks2011 ->
  • LEAF (feminist activist lawyers) used postcolonial feminisms to push 1st nations rights; worked on issues of criminalized women #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster refers to Constance Backhouse, Color Coded, on lgl hist of racism in Canada; K. Crenshaw's work very influential in .ca #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster: Questioning intersectionality: when arguing for criminalized women in .ca, intrsectnl arguments don't work in court. #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster: In .ca legal history, intersectionality also risks losing focus on class. She names scholars I didn't catch. #Berks2011 ->
  • Sangster: A lot of feminist legal victories have come not solely from courts but from the social movements around them. #Berks2011 ->
  • Elizabeth Katz: speaking on younger scholars "still thinking of joining this field"; JD, hasn't entered Ph.D. studies (yet). #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz speaks of her own questions about "am i a feminist legal historian? Do I want to be one?" #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz double-majored in Studies of Women & Gender/History. #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: working on a paper on Thompson v. Thompson, SCOTUS, 1910; domestic violence case; can a woman sue her husband for DV? #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: US courts restricted wife-beating not out of respect for women's bodily integrity but as men keeping other men in line. #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: most anti-DV groups in early 20th century US were made up of men– not women. #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz talking about "what is feminist legal history?"- feminist analyses? writing on sex & gender, can you *not* be a feminist? #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: the gendered history of auto insurance in the early 20th century, before mandatory-insurance laws. is that "feminist"? #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: "Is history 'feminist' based on whether the narrative it creates is used (or not) for contemporary political purposes?" #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: Feminist legal analysis is a method: looking for untold stories. eg, stories of men abused by wives in early 20c. #Berks2011 ->
  • Katz: how do advances in technology change how we can and should do feminist legal analysis? Fulltext newspaper databases! #Berks2011 ->
  • Elizabeth Katz is *sharp*. Also, if you want to talk about fulltext databases & feminist histories, come to my talk at 3:30. #Berks2011 ->
  • In CC 1001 (feminist legal history) going to Q&A and roundtable discussion. My tweets will be sporadic as I try to follow. #Berks2011 ->

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