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Visible on “Women's Issues,” 77 Iowa Law Review 41 (1991)


In the late 1970s, when I first started teaching large law school classes, 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. Don't teach trusts and estates. Teach the real stuff, the hard stuff: contracts, torts, procedure, property—and don't be too visible on women's issues.

I came to the large classroom setting after teaching in a clinical program. At the 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.

I have told this anecdote before, and by its telling learned that my experience is in no way idiosyncratic, nor is it a tale of any particular law school in the United States. Others have documented and described the problems women face as law teachers. The articles by Marina Angel, by Richard Chused, and by several participants in this symposium provide both qualitative and quantitative detail. Unfortunately, these descriptions are not of historical significance alone. In 1989, I was the chair of the Section on Women in Legal Education of the Association of American Law Schools. During that year, I repeatedly heard examples of the risks of being identified with "women's issues." In 1991, when writing and giving talks that invoke feminist theory, I continue to encounter disinterest in, and sometimes hostility to, feminist scholarship and commentary.

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