Nikki is a doctoral student at Durham Law School, Durham University. She is co-creator and editor of Inherently Human.
Elizabeth M Schneider & Stephanie M Wildman (2011) Women and the Law Stories (Foundation Press)
Women and the Law Stories is a wonderful collection which tells the litigants’ tales that are a part of, but are typically excluded from, the legal history of landmark US cases which focus on women’s rights. Chapters explore and evaluate feminist critiques of the relevant case, area of law and legal concepts in light of and in relation to these stories. The editors introduce the collection explaining that the telling and hearing of women’s stories (and, more generally, those of the powerless, disadvantaged or oppressed groups in society) has been a cornerstone of feminist method, practice and theory. Or as put by Ann C Dailey, ‘the use of storytelling reflects a belief that personal and situated narrative is central to a proper understanding of justice’. However, storytelling is not just a means to an end; it has an important normative dimension which reflects the idea that all voices, all storytellers, are equal and yet diverse and unique in many ways. Embracing and following this storytelling tradition, the book reveals the ‘less well known’ personal narratives which ‘deserve wider recognition’. In so doing, it challenges the dominant stories of these cases, and the ‘conventions of legal scholarship and institutional histories’. To this end, the last chapter is a ‘hidden’ story, an ‘everyday’ case, which highlights ‘women’s experiences of anonymity and invisibility in the legal system’ and legal literature and mainstream scholarship. While the stories are therefore valuable in themselves, the chapters also reflect on and interrogate feminist debates, approaches and concepts – such as ‘gender stereotyping’ (Chamallas), equality (Bartlett) equal versus special treatment (Wildman), access to healthcare and abortion (Copelon and Law) – exploring the implications for today and potential ways in which to move forwards in feminist legal theory and law reform. As such, although some UK-based readers may not be as familiar with some of the cases, the book covers shared ground, themes and concepts and is no less enjoyable without having prior detailed knowledge of US law. The book is also well suited to students studying law, women’s studies or similar courses, and there is also a useful companion site for those who teach and study.
The first chapter draws on the significant case United States v Cruikshank (1875), and Rebecca Hall and Angela Harris reveal and tell the stories of black women’s resistance to the violent murders of black men, and their role in legal reform. They illustrate the gendered stories that are overshadowed by what is seen as the issue of primary significance, interrogating some of the ways in which oppression on the grounds of gender and race (among other identity characteristics) overlap.
The next three chapters focus on sex discrimination and equality. Serena Mayeri explores the equal protection jurisprudence and the judicial interpretation of American constitutional law in relation to Fronterio v Richardson (1973). Martha Minow interrogates Vorcheimer v School District of Philadelphia (1977), unpicking conflicts in feminist approaches to single-sex public education, the current state of such schools and the often contradictory justifications for them. In United States v Virginia (1996) Katherine Bartlett investigates the way in which equality was conceptualised in this challenge to women’s exclusion from the Virginia Military Institute ( a state supported single sex school), taking an approach based on a more nuanced interpretation of equality than the traditional same or difference approaches.
Reproductive freedom is then explored in two chapters. Lisa Ikemoto investigates Relf v Weinberger (1977) and the problem of involuntary sterilizations, particularly of minority and low income women. From here, she broadens and situates the Relf sisters’ stories in a context in which women’s reproductive freedom was restricted in many ways. In relation to Harris v McRae (1980) Rhonda Copelon and Sylvia Law critique the denial of funding for abortions deemed medically necessary and the effect on the health and lives of many women, which is significant in contemporary debates around health care in the US.
The next topic covered is discrimination and subordination in the workplace. Stephanie Wildman explores California Federal Savings and Loan v Guerra (1987) and social norms of motherhood and the relationship to employment. She looks in particular at the feminist debate over equal and special treatment, and the barriers that remain today for women and restrict their choices. Martha Chamallas tells of Ann Hopkins’ fight to become a partner at Price Waterhouse in Price Waterhouse v Hopkins (1989), and examines the concept of sex stereotyping.
In the context of family law, Patricia Cain and Jean Love explore the meaning of marriage through the lens of same sex couples and the tensions within feminist theory in relation to the landmark Supreme Court decision In re Marriage Cases (2008) which protected same-sex marriage, but which was overturned by California voters in Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a heterosexual couple. Castle Rock v Gonzales (2005) is explored by Zanita Fenton who focuses in sexual violence, the complexities of state responsibility and the possibilities and role of international human rights in this context.
Women in the legal profession is the final topic of the collection. Cynthia Grant Bowman exposes Blank v Sullivan & Cromwell (1975), a case which is not so well known as it was settled, telling of the activism of law students in the litigation that forced Wall Street law firms to hire women. She uses it as a reminder of the early obstacles that faced women who tried to enter and did enter the legal profession, and to exemplify the role that attitudes rather than rules or ‘official’ practices play in excluding women in the legal profession today. Lastly, Stacy Leeds writes of Unknown Woman, unreported case, an ‘everyday’ case involving domestic violence which illustrates the tensions that confront women in the legal profession, the impact of law on the everyday lives of women, and the chapter brings together many of the themes of the book.
Overall, the chapters work well together, covering similar themes and topics, raising contemporary issues and reframing what may often be seen as ‘old ground’, all the while telling untold tales which reveal that bit more about women’s relationship with the law and social change.
 For example see Kathryn Abrams (1991) ‘Hearing the Call of Stories’, California Law Review 79: 971; Richard Delgado (1988) ‘Storytelling for Opportunists and Others: A Plea for Narrative’, Michigan Law Review, 87: 2411; and Women and the Law Stories, p 1.
 Anne C. Dailey (1993) Feminism’s Return to Liberalism, 102 Yale L J 1265, p 1277.
 Toni M Massaro (1989) ‘Empathy, Legal Storytelling and the Rule of Law: New Words, Old Wounds?’, Michigan Law Review, 87: 2099, p 2106.
 Women and the law Stories, p 1.
 Rosemary Auchmuty (2010) ‘Whatever Happened to Miss Bebb?’, Legal Studies, 31: 119, p 228.
 Women and the law Stories, p 17.