Remembering the founding of the Journal of Gender and Law.

AuthorFredrickson, Caroline

In my first year of law school, I felt baffled by the experience of legal education. I had spent three years working in politics--in campaigns and on Capitol Hill--and had entered law school to find a way to add intellectual depth to my instinctive progressive beliefs. But what I found, I perceived to be arid and counterfactual, with caselaw divorced from political context and history that had led legislators and judges to reach particular decisions. I was discouraged and briefly thought I had made a wrong turn on my life path, until I found a group of friends in the same intellectual and spiritual funk. (1) Together we decided to found a new journal, which became the Journal of Gender and Law (JGL).

Founding the Journal was a real starting point for me in thinking about gender, sexuality, economic empowerment, and racial justice as overlapping and yet distinct lenses through which to view the law. The group of students who came together shared the feeling that law school was a somewhat strange and alienating environment and didn't seem to provide us with what we were seeking. So we set out to fill that gap ourselves, resulting in the underlying philosophy of JGL: an interdisciplinary approach to the problems that continue to confound our society in terms of gender and race and the simultaneous disadvantages that affect women of color. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her introduction to our first issue, the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law sought to "portray today's feminist movement, not as unitaiy, rigid or doctrinaire, but as a spacious home, with rooms enough to accommodate all who have the imagination and determination to work for the full realization of human potential." (2)

The other element of JGL that I cannot overlook is the deep friendships that grew out of the Journal. It was a challenge to carve out time from law school, which included school work, of course, but also outside activities and projects, but JGL was an intense experience for us. We were focused on the content--what we wanted to say--but the process of getting a magazine together was also fundamental. How do we say it? We wanted the Journal to reflect feminist principles in both those ways, so much of our early discussion centered on what process of decision-making would reflect our values and also develop meaningful content. It was an incredible experience that established and strengthened friendships that are lasting and among those I most cherish. We bonded over our shared mission and the goal, which I am proud to say has been realized, that colleagues coming after us would make JGL a leading voice in scholarship and advocacy.

I had long been interested in issues of gender, sexuality, and economic empowerment. In high school, without really understanding that I was starting a journey, I found a family story that intrigued me and became the substance of my college applications and ultimately the introduction of my recent book, Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over. (3) My great-grandmother, Mathilda Olafsson, provides an interesting study in what has changed and what has remained the same for low-wage women. Mathilda left Sweden at eighteen to escape poverty, sailing steerage to Boston alone. She worked as a scullery maid, with days full of backbreaking labor. (4) Unsurprisingly, like other women at the time, she had no legal rights in the workplace and no right to vote, let alone control her reproduction.

As an aspiring college applicant, I found this a romantic story of a brave young woman striking out on her own, from a distant past so different from today. Sadly, I came to realize that the story is neither unique nor romantic--nor is it an artifact of history. In the course of my research for Under the Bus, I read about Sonia Soares, who lives in Boston today. Sonia testified in front of the Massachusetts state legislature that as a domestic worker she regularly worked fourteen-hour workdays, was subject to frequent sexual harassment and physical abuse, and that she was forbidden to see a doctor when she was sick. ? Despite her long days of backbreaking labor, she earned no overtime and wasn't even entitled to minimum wage. What I found shocking was that today domestic workers and workers in certain other jobs dominated by women have little more protection than did women like Mathilda doing the same jobs over one hundred years ago. (6) What shamed me was that even I, a former labor lawyer and congressional and White House staff person on labor and employment issues, was ignorant of the fact that these women had been left out of the law's protections. That most of those women are brown or Black, unlike Mathilda, has much to do with the stagnation of their rights and our neglect of the issue.

Writing the book brought me back to the early days with JGL, as I wrestled with how to connect what are often perceived as disparate issues to provide a compelling narrative of how women, and particularly women of color, have been disadvantaged by seemingly neutral laws--and even protective laws. I sought to make visible the overlapping discriminations Professor Kimberle Crenshaw called "intersectionality," just as we strived to do at JGL, although I was not able to do so as fully as I would...

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