Two new books on women and the law approach the subject from opposite ends of the spectrum. The first, "Redress for Success," by Dana Shilling, is billed as a "hard-hitting handbook, written from a feminist perspective," on taking legal action to obtain women's rights. The second, "Gender Justice," a combined effort of David L. Kirp, Mark G. Yudof and Marlene Strong Franks, is a philosophical treatise that suggests a new framework for gender-related policy in the United States.
Of the two books, Shilling's is by far the more useful. It is written to help a woman who is thinking about filing a suit to make an intelligent assessment of whether her grievance is legally enforceable, and if it is, how to be an informed client. It is chock full of detailed information on the law as it affects women's rights. Using fictionalized cases, Shilling examines recent gender-related legislation in sex discrimination, sexual harassment, non-employment discrimination (such as insurance suits, private clubs, sports discrimination), self-defense and domestic violence, women's health issues, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood (including the thorny problems of test-tube and artificially inseminated babies and other new reproductive technologies), sterilization and abortion. Each chapter begins with a description of the kinds of legal problems that have arisen, and goes on to talk about the "road to the courthouse" (state agencies, nonprofit organizations, unions and private law firms that can be of help), "the smoking gun" (what a woman must prove to win her case), and "remedies" (damages, back pay, injunctions--any kind of in-court or out-of-court settlement).
Shilling has a clear, penetrating analysis of the inadequacies of our legal system, and presents in every instance strong, convincing representative cases that elucidate the law for any layperson. She does all this without losing her sense of humor. In fact, her presentation is a bit too bouncy. The book is filled with jokes, cutesy phrases and cliches that interfere with the important information she is trying to impart.
Shilling also can't resist throwing in extraneous, cynical or nasty comments such as "You pays your money and you takes your choice," or, following a description of why an opponent's legal fees are paid by the loser, "take that, you swine!," and so on. These remarks, along with occasional bad grammar, unhappy sentence structure, and the overall sarcastic tone of the book make reading it a real chore. Shilling, who is a graduate of Harvard Law School, clearly understands the law, but she is badly in need of a good editor and copy editor to bring her manuscript under control.
Nonetheless, this book is helpful, and there may be those who would argue that the informal, joke-a-minute style is necessary when dealing with the complexities of our legal system. As Shilling says, "(t)he alleged purpose of law school is to teach a previously healthy person to think like a lawyer." If you agree with that statement, you may like this book.
"Gender Justice" has little to recommend it. The authors argue that "equality" is the wrong paradigm for development of gender-related laws and policies, for in demanding "equal rights," society may unwittingly force women (and men too) into new roles that will be as uncomfortable and unhappy as the ones in which we now find ourselves. The right paradigm, they suggest, is "liberty," which the authors claim will mean that each individual will be able to make choices more freely.
Unfortunately, this "liberty" paradigm is as problematic as the original equal-rights paradigm they want to scrap. First of all, what is liberty? The authors fall back on John Stuart Mill, who defines liberty in terms of individual choices made on the basis of self-interest. But women who have seen a battered wife stay in the home of the batterer have had to dig deeper than that.
The authors dismiss two decades of feminist scholarship and theory by lumping all feminist books and their authors in a category they call "leftist feminism," a sloppy, unacceptable term at best, an enormously offensive one at worst, and one that reveals the profound ignorance of the authors concerning feminist theory. The authors state that " . . . leftist feminists (do not) have much use for debates about policy." Since most of the gender-related policy that has emerged in the last 10 years has been a direct result of, and reaction to, the theories of sexual politics that were put forth by early feminists, this statement does a great disservice to the reader, and a greater disservice to the thousands of feminist academicians, lawyers, legislators, judges, philosophers, and social workers who have spent the last 10 years translating feminist theory into workable policy.
In the Acknowledgements to "Gender Justice," the authors declare that this book was more than a decade in the making. The footnotes, which refer mainly to books and cases from the early 1970s confirm that confession. Alas, in the area of gender-related policy, which has moved forward freely and with some furor, this book is already sadly out of date.