Law &


Professor Susan E. Gallagher

Coordinator of Gender Studies

Political Science Dept.

UMASS Lowell

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This course explores legal constructions of gender by examining Supreme Court cases, federal legislation, historical documents, news stories, and scholarly essays on sexual inequality in the United States. Topics include the evolution of the family as a legal (and illegal) reality; political regulation of reproduction and sexual activity; feminist critiques of economic inequality; the rise and fall of affirmative action; the changing role of gender in class consolidation; and ongoing debates about the relationships between public and private life.

You can find extracts from all of the Supreme Court Cases listed below, as well as links to the full texts of opinions and background information on The Supreme Court Page .


Note:  You must bring all of the readings marked "print" with you to class.  You must also print out and bring in the study questions for each section of the course.


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The Public/Private Dichotomy in American Society


Required Readings:

Movie: 12 Angry Men

Questions for reading and discussion:

  1. How has the Bill of Rights shaped the development of American democracy?

  2. When we talk about equality in American society, what do we usually mean?

  3. Why would the term "gender" be more useful than the term "sex" in describing the different roles and rights assigned to men and women in the history of American law? 

  4. Why was Myra Bradwell forbidden from practicing law?

  5. Specify reasons why concerns about privacy first developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  6. Whose right to be left alone did Louis Brandeis defend?

  7. Describe the role of gender in the making of the Eighteenth Amendment (1919).

  8. Describe the inconsistency between Lochner v. New York and Muller v. Oregon.

  9. Describe the consistency between Muller v. Oregon and Bradwell v. Illinois.

  10. How did ideas about gender shape the historical development of claims to rights to privacy in the U.S.?

  11. Describe some of the assumptions made about class, gender, and ethnicity in Twelve Angry Men.


First-Wave Feminism:

A Struggle for

Admission to the

Public Sphere

Visit the National Women's

History Museum


Required Readings:

Patriot Radio, Norman Bel Geddes, 1940

Movie: Rosie  the Riveter

 Questions for reading and discussion:

  1. Which resolution caused the most controversy at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848?

  2. Describe the relationship between the woman suffrage movement and the temperance movement.

  3. Describe the relationship between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments.

  4. Describe the role of race in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

  5. Describe some of the arguments people have used to discount the value of "women's work."

  6. When was the Equal Rights Amendment first proposed?

  7. How did the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War Two change American ideas about the purpose of government?

  8. How was women's participation in the paid labor force described during World War Two?  How did attitudes change after the war? 

  9. Connect women's experience during World War Two with the development of women's liberation movement of the 1960's and 1970's.



Second-Wave Feminism:

A Struggle for Personal Liberation


Required Readings:

 Questions for reading and discussion:

  1. What was the socio-economic status of the founding members of the National Organization for Women?

  2. Describe some of the parallels between first-wave feminism and second-wave feminism.

  3. Describe some of the differences between first-wave feminism and second-wave feminism.

  4. What is problematic in the Supreme Court's decision to locate abortion within the "zone of privacy" implicit in the Constitution?

  5. Is sex a legitimate basis for discrimination in the United States?

  6. Are you registered for the draft?

  7. Who suffers when sexual difference is used as a basis for social classification?

  8. Who suffers when sexual difference is not used as a basis for social classification?

  9. Specify reasons why many people have concluded that second-wave feminism has faded.

  10. Did the women's liberation movement succeed?

Gender at the End of the 20th Century


Now You See It

Now You Don't


Required Readings:



Questions for reading and discussion:

  1. When are social classifications "inherently suspect" in the eyes of the Supreme Court?

  2. Describe William Rhenquist's theory of sexual difference.

  3. Does Rostker v. Goldberg explain why men and women occupy different positions in the U.S. military?

  4. Upon what grounds did the Supreme Court uphold anti-sodomy statutes in Bowers v. Hardwick?

  5. Does Bowers apply to heterosexual couples?

  6. Contrast the Supreme Court's ruling in J.E.B. v. Alabama with the opinion issued in Rostker v. Goldberg.

  7. Compare Bowers v. Hardwick with Romer v. Evans.

  8. Why did Antonin Scalia define the struggle over gay rights as a cultural issue in Romer v. Evans?

  9. Why would 70's activists tend to downplay concerns about gay marriage?

  10. Specify reasons why gay marriage became a controversial issue during the 1990's.

  11. What does the policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell have in common with Roe v. Wade?

  12. Who is protected by Don't Ask; Don't Tell?

  13. What does Don't Ask; Don't Tell have in common with the Defense of Marriage Act?


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Shadows Of A Princess: An Intimate Account by Her Private Secretary

The Globalization of Intimacy

BBC: Diana On The Net


Required Readings


Questions for Reading and Discussion

  1. Why have men historically tended to defend privacy rights while women generally have not?

  2. Describe the balance of power between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.

  3. If Anita Hill's testimony had been shown to be absolutely true, would the outcome of the Senate hearings have been different?

  4. Describe Bill Clinton's views on sexual privacy.

  5. What evidence did Bill Clinton cite to show that he had never encouraged anyone to lie about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?

  6. Describe Bill Clinton's characterizations of Monica Lewinsky in his Starr Grand Jury testimony.

  7. If everyone adopted Bill Clinton's conception of sexuality, what would happen to sexual harassment law?

  8. Describe the parallels between Bill Clinton's views on rights to privacy and the perspective adopted by Brandeis and Warren in 1890.

  9. If you were a '70's feminist, how would you respond to Bill Clinton's testimony?

  10. Describe the balance of power between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

  11. Would you mind if your boss were carrying on a relationship such as that between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky? 

  12. Why do you think that Bill Clinton's popularity increased during the revelations concerning his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?

  13. Do you perceive a new sense of intimacy in the tone of American journalism?

  14. Specify ways in which pop psychology has invaded American politics and law.


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