Women in Law. Why I Write

March 6, 2019

academic law, Author Articles

Young woman finishing her work in airplane

“Changes have occurred that perhaps are not quantifiable, but I see them”

Laura Carlson is Professor of Law at Stockholm University, Sweden.

While discussing writing this piece with my 23 year old daughter, her reply was, ”Why do you have to write more on women and rights Mom, you have already written hundreds of pages?”

This very simple question captures so many of the nuances women academics face when writing about issues of discrimination. The first and perhaps most self-evident is why do we still need to write about discrimination? The simple answer is we must continue to write on these issues as discrimination is still so prevalent in our lives in so many different guises, the focus here being on women. Sweden is considered to be one of the top three countries in the world for closing the gender gap at 82%. However, my workplace mirrors a different reality. At my department of law, where women have been half the law students for decades and today are even sixty percent, we have ten women professors of thirty. Every woman I see coming up in the ranks is still outnumbered by at least two men. An expert evaluating my academic production with respect to a job application about ten years ago said it was strong, but that everything that needed to be written about discrimination law had already been written and nothing further was needed. Though discrimination legislation was part of employment law, it was considered a marginal topic that did not fit squarely into the Swedish labor law model.

Another part of my daughter’s question was why I had to write on these issues, which is a very good question and the answer to which lies in my childhood. We moved all over the United States when I was a child as my dad was in the military. The move from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, which in the 1970’s was still very much mired in its apartheid past, taught me at that very young age that truth was subjective, as were concepts of fairness and justice. Racism was inured in every aspects of our lives, particular in school. My Minnesotan parents placed us in the public schools despite our pastor’s generous and unexpected offer of scholarships to the church school (which we later learned were the all white private schools). The move after to Texas brought up issues of sexism, as I learned that girls and women had certain roles to play, and taking high school physics and not wearing makeup were not included in them. I eventually went to law school in Minnesota and learned how the law could be used as a vehicle for social change. The later move to Sweden brought home once again the subjectivity of truth, where again certain different types of behaviors were expected of women, who still are the primary caregivers in Swedish households. Studying law again (but now in Swedish) raised even different issues as the focus of the education was on training objective impartial judges without any inclusion of norm critical analyses. Heaven forbid you bring up the fact that no one is impartial, let alone judges. So I began my academic career analyzing the application of discrimination law by Swedish judges.

The third aspect of my daughter’s question has to do with being a mother. Writing at least for me is a selfish process. I don’t have a room of my own, but I think you need at least time of your own to write, which can come at the expense of those around you, children, spouses and friends. The other lure away from writing is teaching, and between the two, finding the time to write is a luxury.

So why will I continue to write hundreds of pages about discrimination? When I see how very little progress has been made over the ten years I have been researching and writing, particularly with respect to the enforcement of the discrimination law and the non-existent damages and sanctions, I have to admit that I, and not just my daughter, wonder why I have taken on this Sisyphean task. The impact I have made with my scholarship at times feels infinitesimal. But then I get together with other scholars writing in the field, and with my students who are interested in such questions, and the passion irrationally remains. Changes have occurred that perhaps are not quantifiable, but I see them. When I started teaching 15 years ago, the Swedish law students were all going to be judges or corporate lawyers. Now I have students interested in human rights, and willing to forgo perhaps more lucrative higher paid careers to help others instead, a huge paradigm shift. These are also the students who will become judges. I can also discern a trend with certain Swedish courts today beginning to apply discrimination protections as human rights and not just simply employment law issues. Finally, I look at my daughter, and I think of the world I want for her, which today still needs to be fixed in so many different ways in order for women to have the same chances, choices and respect as men, and I know then that I most likely will never stop writing.

2. Laura CarlsonLaura Carlson’s book “Workers, Collectivism and the Law: Grappling with Democracy” can be viewed here.

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One Comment on “Women in Law. Why I Write”

  1. Riya Says:

    Thanks for sharing such a useful information here. i have clear some doubt about legal rights for women keep it up with good work!!.


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