Feminist Law Profs has posted a brief interview with Professor Martha Fineman, Emory University, about her career and the founding of the Feminist Legal Theory Project in 1984. She is the author of The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency (The New Press, 2003) and The Neutered Mother, and The Sexual Family and other Twentieth Century Tragedies, (Routledge,1995), among other titles. Her recent article “The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition” appears in the Yale Journal on Law and Feminism (click here to read it.)
When I was a second-year student at the University of Chicago Law School the only woman law professor I knew – Soya Metchnikoff Soia Mentschikoff- left to become Dean at the University of Miami. The few women students at the school petitioned requesting that another woman be hired. We were told that “there is not a woman in the country qualified to be a law professor at the University of Chicago.”
She comments on the obstacles to her advancement as a junior faculty member:
My tenure decision at the University of Wisconsin was delayed a year when one of the [liberal] senior professors pulled his letter of support from my file because I published an article arguing that formal equality was not the model to use for family law reform. He was outraged that I rejected liberal precepts. He later changed his mind and apologized. Another colleague condescendingly told me that even if I questioned formal equality he knew I didn’t want any “special treatment” simply because I was the single mother of four children. I told him I didn’t want special treatment, but perhaps deserved some recognition that I had managed to meet all the tenure requirements while balancing family circumstances that probably would have defeated many others on the faculty (I meant him, with his stay-at-home wife who not only raised the children, but also edited his papers). Those and other encounters taught me there was a real need for a supportive environment to encourage feminist work, particularly of the kind that challenged traditional assumptions and received wisdom, and was based on women’s lived experiences.
The myth of the “liberal” state? Kind of like the myth of how “liberal” academia is! Hell hath no fury like a so-called “progressive” man who can’t stand being out-lefted by his feminist colleagues. Thanks, jerks, for reminding me why I’m here and why I do what I do. And thanks to Prof. Fineman for her tenacity and perseverance. (Count me among those who would have been “defeated” by her family circumstances!)