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Gender Bias: From Classes to Courts, 45 Stanford Law Review 2195 (1993)


I encountered gender bias early in my teaching career. When I started teaching in large law school classes in the late 1970s, a colleague gave me what he took to be very kind advice. He said:

Be careful. Don't teach in any areas associated with women's issues. Don't teach family law; don't teach sex discrimination. Teach the real stuff, the hard stuff: contracts, torts, procedure, property. And be careful—don't be too visible on women's issues.

At that time, I was working on articles about procedure, habeas corpus, and women in prison. I taught and wrote about all three topics. After a few years, I had to admit that my colleague's remarks were descriptively close to the mark. My virtually all-male colleagues were more interested in my work on procedure and federal courts, and less interested in my work on women in prisons. It was clear that, in those days, being a "player" in the legal academy meant playing in the "big time"—and the big time did not include issues associated with women.

I have told this anecdote before, and by its telling learned that my experience is neither idiosyncratic nor a tale particular to any law school in the United States. Unfortunately, this description is also not only of historical interest. In 1990, as chair of the Section on Women in Legal Education of the American Association of Law Schools, I repeatedly heard about the risks of being identified with "women's issues." Within the academic community, examples are legion of disinterest as well as hostility to feminist scholarship and commentary.

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