Women in Law: Book Review
7 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2016
Date Written: 2000
Much dispute surrounds questions of women's "special" experience in the legal profession. This issue has become a lightening rod for the "sameness/difference" debate in feminist legal academia. Feminist scholars such as Carrie Menkel-Meadow have made the case for women lawyers' special perspectives'; equally respected theorists have cautioned against such arguments.These arguments have taken place mostly within the realm of theory, with some borrowing from social psychology studies by Carol Gilligan and others. Sociologists who have sought empirical verification of women's special lawyering perspectives by studying contemporary legal workplaces have reached conflicting results. Far too little work has approached the question of women's experiences in the law from a careful, historically sensitive perspective.
J. Clay Smith's Rebels in the Law, which examines the perspectives of leading black women lawyers from the 1890s to the present, and Virginia Drachman's Sisters in Law, which studies women lawyers' experiences from the 1860s to the 1930s, both make significant contributions in remedying this deficit. What these two books reveal, especially when read together, are the ways in which women's perspectives on their professional lives and on the law are both deeply shaped by their experiences of gender and race in particular social milieus and historical periods, and, at the same time, variable and unpredictable. The women lawyers on which Smith and Drachman focus largely agree that their perspectives have been shaped in important ways by sex, race, or the combination of both, but describe vastly different conclusions based on those experiences. And although some part of the great range of perspectives presented in these two books can be accounted for by differences in historical period and social situation, significant variation remains that can only be attributed to the idiosyncrasies of individual personality. We thus walk away from these books convinced equally that sex and race have mattered a great deal to lawyers' lived experiences in the law, and that the ways in which these factors have mattered are in many respects not amenable to broad-brush generalizations.
Keywords: women in th legal profession, legal history
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