Gender Matters: Teaching a Reasonable Woman Standard in Personal Injury Law

10 Pages Posted: 21 May 2007

See all articles by Margo Schlanger

Margo Schlanger

University of Michigan Law School


In my first-year torts class, I ask my students to consider what tort law might look like if it treated a defendant's or plaintiff's gender as relevant to jury assessment of due care. What, that is, would it mean for the law to talk about reasonable women as well as men? This short article discusses some supplemental materials I use to teach this gender issue.

Perhaps the most interesting point that emerges is that where care is synonymous with skill, and women are thought to be less skilled than man, a reasonable woman standard might allow women to escape liability more easily than men. But often, care is actually caution. In that situation, far from privileging women's position or perspective, a "reasonable woman" standard, notwithstanding its rhetorical appeal, frequently enforces as well as reflects a masculine vision of female dependence and fragility.

Keywords: torts, feminism, gender, reasonable man, reasonable woman

JEL Classification: K13

Suggested Citation

Schlanger, Margo, Gender Matters: Teaching a Reasonable Woman Standard in Personal Injury Law. St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 45, p. 769, 2001. Available at SSRN:

Margo Schlanger (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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