Suzanna Sherry

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Law and Inequality

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Feminine perspective




The breadth and variety of the topics discussed at the 1985 NAWJ Convention raise a troubling question: is there any longer a need for an association of women law judges? While a few of the discussions center around "women's issues,"1 most do not. Such diverse papers as Judicial Performance Evaluation and Management of Complex Litigation would be equally appropriate for a symposium of gender-unspecified judges. This suspicion of obsolescence is not limited to an association of women judges; I have heard similar observations about various formal and informal associations of women law professors and women lawyers, and I suspect that the same question arises in any field women have recently but successfully integrated. As long as women are a beleaguered minority, all-female associations are easily explained and justified by the need to share the special concerns that arise from minority status. As those concerns diminish, however, such associations become apparently more difficult to justify. An association of women judges is defensible, however, if women judges differ significantly enough from male judges to provide a unique asset to the judicial enterprise. That uniqueness can then be nurtured by the give-and-take of annual meetings, and the participants might then continue to contribute even more when they return to the community at large. This essay suggests that women judges are identifiably distinct from their male cohorts in three ways. Women judges make a unique contribution to the legal system by their presence, their participation, and their perspective. The first two of these aspects of the feminization of the judiciary may decrease in significance as discrimination wanes, but the influence of a feminine perspective is independent of the existence of gender discrimination. Thus, I will briefly discuss the contribution women judges make by their presence and their participation, and then address in more depth the feminine perspective. By the "feminine perspective," I do not mean the political agenda associated with feminism, but rather a distinctly feminine way of looking at the world. A feminist perspective is an ideology that encompasses the belief that men and women should have equal roles in society, but does not necessarily reach other aspects of the social or political structure. A feminine perspective, on the other hand, encompasses all aspects of society, whether or not they affect men and women differently.

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