On Friday, October 14, the WLA’s Women’s Issues Committee hosted the first of a series of “Feminist Perspectives” events, which aim to explore the 1L curriculum from non-traditional perspectives.
We were lucky enough to have as moderators two esteemed teachers and experts in the field of criminal law: Professor Carol Steiker and Judge Nancy Gertner. To get the discussion started, Professor Steiker noted that, as a student at HLS, she heard Judge Gertner speak at a WLA event. Now, she said, she found herself coming “full circle” — joining Judge Gertner not as a student or audience member, but as a colleague.
The proceeding discussion was spontaneous and lively, with Professor Steiker and Judge Gertner fielding questions from students and often elaborating on each others’ responses.
When asked which reform in the criminal law most affected women, Professor Steiker mentioned rape law, but then initiated a more in-depth discussion of the law of self-defense. Judge Gertner drew on her experiences as a defense attorney, considering how the law of self-defense has developed to account for the characteristics of a male, but not a female, defendant. Because women are less comfortable with, and less accustomed to, using physical force, Judge Gertner noted, they are more likely to fire multiple gunshots into the body of their aggressor, or stab him numerous times–far more than needed to kill him. Therefore, what some judges might interpret as a sign of murderous intent could instead be understood as a valid, gender-specific response. The moderators also shared reflections on their practices as criminal lawyers, and on the state of women in the legal profession.
Look out for “Feminist Perspectives on Tort Law” with Professor Maria Chamallas on November 8, and more events in the spring semester. The “Feminist Perspectives” series is generously supported by Paul Hastings.
–Amy Chmielewski, Women’s Issues Committee