Gender in American Politics and Law

U253191 - Topics in American Politics: Gender in American Politics and Law
Washington University Fall 2004
Mondays 7-9:30p.m.
Lopata House 16

Instructor: Denise Lieberman
Legal Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri

Course Website:


Course Description

This course examines the influence of gender in politics and the law. Students will analyze current legal and political debates on gender by studying the influence of womenís participation in politics and the role of the judiciary in shaping the status of women. We will cover the principles of feminist legal theory and the substantive issues of gender discrimination, reproductive rights, affirmative action, poverty, Title IX, pornography, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, the interaction between race and gender movements, as well as the Supreme Court¥s interpretation of the equal protection clause as it relates to gender. Students will also examine women candidates and womenís issues as they are emerging in the upcoming 2004 election cycle. Through these issues, the course will examine the continued relevance of feminism and feminist jurisprudence and reflect on whether policies based on equality under law or fairness will best advance gender equality. Note: Accelerated (ACTRAC) option: qualified University College students have the option of taking this class for 4 units. For more information, contact University College (314) 935-6700,

Required Texts:

Lynne E. Ford, Women and Politics: The Pursuit of Equality, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2002

Chamallas, Martha, Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory, 2nd Ed., Aspen Publishers, 2003

Harriett Woods, Stepping Up to Power: The Political Journey of American Women, Westview Press 2001

Additional readings, excerpts and articles as posted on the class website and assigned in class

Recommended: Kleindienst, Kris, This is What Lesbian Looks Like, Firebrand Books, 1999


1. Class Attendance and participation in discussion (20%): You are expected to attend class prepared to discuss the readings with your fellow classmates. During class we will also discuss current controversies so you should be prepared to extend the readings to new situations and participate in the discussions. Class attendance and active participation is critical to the development and understanding of the issues discussed in class.

2. Presentation to class (10%): Each student make a presentation to the class corresponding with the issues in the syllabus. Your presentation will be based on the readings for that class date, and include your perceptions, analysis and critiques of the readings. In addition, your presentation should include questions to the class designed to facilitate a discussion of the issue. On several subjects, two students can sign up to present the issue in the form of a debate examining competing perspectives on the topic. A sign up will be distributed in class.

3. Two short papers (20% each):You will be asked to research and prepare 2 short (5 page) papers, one relating to the impact of political participation and one relating to the impact of the courts and the law on gender. You will be asked to discuss your findings in class. Detailed paper descriptions and suggested paper topics will be distributed in class and will be on the class website. Click here for information on paper 1. Click here for information on Paper 2.

4. One Final Paper(30%): In this longer paper (approximately 10 pages), you will analyze the political and legal implications of a policy or law that impacts gender. This can be a local or national issue or current legal debate. Provide the history and background of the issue, its legal status and how courts have interpreted gender equality in this area, and the role of women as elected officials and/or as activists in advancing the issue. Does the issue best described under the Fairness Doctrine or the Equality Doctrine? Which is the more effective philosophy for understanding the issue? Describe the tactics and strategies used by the womenís movement in advancing the issue. If applicable, how did the issue play out in the Nov. 2002 elections? What was the impact of gender on the issue. How did women impact the issue? What obstacles existed to their participation? What were the differences in how men and women perceived the issue? Paper topics must be approved by the instructor.

Standards on writing papers:

Grades will be based on an average of the above as follows:

100 A+
94-99 A
89-93 A-
86-88 B+
83-85 B
79-82 B-
76-78 C+
73-75 C
69-72 C-
66-68 D+
63-65 D
59-62 D-
0-58 F

Policy regarding academic dishonesty: This course will follow Washington University's policies concerning academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty will result in failure for the assignment in question and/or referral to the college's Academic Integrity Office, which has discretion to impose a stricter penalty. While academic dishonesty includes cheating on exams and quizzes, it also includes plagiarism in written assignments. Plagiarism is not only passing off someone else's work as your own, but also giving your work to someone else to pass off as their own. It also includes submitting work from another course. While I strongly encourage you to discuss your work with each other in and out of class, and while you may research issues together, your writing should be your own. The papers you submit must be your work alone, and must include citations to all references in your work. Please include the url for internet articles. Information on academic dishonesty and how not to plagiarize:

Accommodation of disabilities: Washington University is committed to providing accommodations and/or services to students with documented disabilities. Students who are seeking support for a disability or a suspected disability should contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 5-4062 in Gregg Hall. ( The DRC is responsible for approving and arranging all accommodations for University students.

Course Outline

I. Overview of Law & Policy Making; Introduction to the Judicial Process; Models of Equality

a. Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory

b. Equal Protection

II. Historical Gender-based Movements: Notions of Equality

a. History of Womenís Rights Movement

b. Suffrage

c. Equal Rights Amendment

III. Gender in Politics: Womenís Participation in politics

a. Women as leaders, candidates, law-makers, activists & participants in electoral politics

b. Impact of women's groups and organizations in shaping policy and elections

IV. Gender in Law & Policy

a. Family

b. Abortion/Contraception/Politics of privacy & sexuality

c. Education: Title IX

d. Employment: Equal Pay, Affirmative Action, Sexual Harassment

e. Poverty & Economics: The feminization of poverty

f. Pornography, Violence, Prostitution

g. Gay Rights: LGBT rights; queer politics

h. Impact of race in gender politics; Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality

V. Feminist Jurisprudence & the future of Feminism

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