16 Colum. J. Gender & L. 679 (2007)
Perceiving Subtle Sexism: Mapping the Social-Psychological Forces and Legal Narratives That Obscure Gender Bias

handle is hein.journals/coljgl16 and id is 693 raw text is: PERCEIVING SUBTLE SEXISM: MAPPING THE
SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL FORCES AND
LEGAL NARRATIVES THAT OBSCURE
GENDER BIAS
DEBORAH L. BRAKE*
In early January of 2007, the AALS Section on Women in Legal
Education held a panel discussion on Subtle Sexism in Our Everyday
Lives at the AALS Annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Such discussions
about the barriers facing women in the legal profession often trigger a
fatigue with talking about gender and a denial by some that gender remains
worthy of attention.1 The denial of gender bias can occur at a collective
level, in which detractors urge getting past gender in setting an agenda,
and at an individual level, in which individuals deny the role of gender bias
(or gender privilege) in their own lives.2 The denial of gender bias at the
* Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law. A version of this
paper was first presented at the AALS Annual Meeting at a panel on Subtle Sexism in Our
Everyday Lives, sponsored by the Section on Women in Legal Education. Many thanks to
the participants at that program, and especially to my colleague Pat Chew for organizing the
program and for reading and commenting on a draft of this Article. I benefited from the
research assistance of Christopher Helms on this and related projects.
1 See, e.g., Deborah L. Rhode, Midcourse Corrections: Women in Legal
Education, 53 J. LEGAL EDUC. 475, 476 (2003) (discussing the conventional view of legal
education that 'the woman problem' has been solved and equal opportunity is an
accomplished fact, and the reality that our partial progress has itself become an obstacle to
further change); Judith Reskin, A Continuous Body: Ongoing Conversations About Women
and Legal Education, 53 J. LEGAL EDUC. 564, 568 (2003) (discussing skeptical and less
friendly reactions to ongoing conversations about gender in the legal academy, in which
skeptics urge participants to move on to other topics and critics even argu[e] that, by
calling attention to problems of inequality and by acting affirmatively to remedy them, we
create inequality). Participants in such conversations often feel compelled to justify the
ongoing significance of gender, acknowledging progress but pointing to the half-empty
glass. See, e.g., Deborah Jones Merritt & Barbara F. Reskin, New Directions for Women in
the Legal Academy, 53 J. LEGAL EDUC. 489 (2003) (discussing the progress women have
made in the legal academy since 1970, but also the persistence of disadvantages that block
the path to equality for women in the legal academy, and women of color in particular).
2 See Sylvia A. Law, Good Intentions Are Not Enough: An Agenda on Gender for
Law School Deans, 77 IowA L. REv. 79, 81 (1991) ([I]t is still quite common in American

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