Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Reviewed: Mossman's Comparative Study of First Women Lawyers

THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF GENDER, LAW AND THE LEGAL PROFESSIONS, by Mary Jane Mossman (Hart Publishing, 2006) is reviewed in the Law and Politics Book Review by Jennifer Woodward, Department of Political Science, SUNY University at Albany. Woodard writes, in part:
THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS shows the roles that individual women (and to a lesser extent men) played in the establishment of gender equality within the legal professions....Mossman begins by asking “to what extent did women become lawyers without challenging the gender premises of the law and the legal professions?” (p.7). Her answer, demonstrated through the stories of the first women lawyers in the United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, India and Europe, shows that the extent varied. However, certain legal arguments and approaches are found in common among these jurisdictions. For instance, a majority of these women identified themselves as lawyers first, and women second, thus placing many of them in a position where their individual victories ran counter to the larger struggle for women’s equality occurring around them during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries....
Mossman also adds to the debate regarding judicial activism by demonstrating how gender reform was often not obtained through the judicial process (despite some decisions, particularly in the lower courts) and required legislation for women to gain formal recognition. Repeatedly, institutional constraints these women faced were often only overcome through legislation. Interestingly this legislation frequently allowed women to be admitted to the bar ‘on the same terms as men’ which served to further the male norms institutionalized into the legal professions (p.72). Cases, often based upon the interpretation of words such as “person” and whether the term “male” included females, point to debates over issues such as textualism, legislative intention and use of precedent (both foreign and domestic). Despite various methods of decision-making, case results showed consistent judicial restraint to maintain male dominance of the legal professions.

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