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Women's Work is Never Done

Women’s Work is Never Done: Employment, Family, and Activism

Inaugural Symposium
Joint Degree Program in Law and Women’s Studies
University of Cincinnati
“[T]he fault line between work and family [is] precisely where sex-based overgeneralization has been and remains strongest.”

--Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs

View Photo Gallery from 2004 Women's Work is Never Done Symposium


“I don’t know how she does it” is repeated more and more these days. The question captures the wonder and doubt that’s triggered regarding the many women who balance family responsibilities – such as a partner, children, extended family members – with those in the workplace. There’s no asking why she’s responsible, just how she does it. However, now that the Supreme Court has decided that workers can sue state employers who violate the federal law that guarantees job security for time off to care for family members, that question may be modified.

By holding that the Family and Medical Leave Act is part of a larger umbrella of laws designed to combat sex discrimination, the Court essentially has identified the constellation of work/family issues as one of the important civil rights matters of our day. Still, important questions remain about the scope of protection available to workers and, significantly, the potential for using the law as a tool for social change in this area.

The University of Cincinnati College of Law will sponsor a symposium on April 8, 2004, designed to invite the best thinking and legal strategizing on this and related issues. This important event will feature a keynote address by American University’s Joan Williams, a panel discussion with noted scholars Nancy Dowd and Peggie Smith, and a “Working Lunch,” which will engage symposium participants in a dialogue designed to elicit strategies for change.

The Symposium

The Keynote. Joan Williams, a leading scholar in the area of work/family issues and author of Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict and What to Do About It, will open the symposium with an address discussing the need for a new statute forbidding discrimination against workers with family care responsibilities. A professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, Williams founded and currently leads the College’s Program for Gender, Work and Family. This research and advocacy center is dedicated to decreasing the economic vulnerability of parents and children by restructuring workplaces around the values people hold in family life. To achieve this goal, the program seeks to change societal, governmental, and workplace norms and practices to better enable parents and other family caregivers to simultaneously pursue economic stability and family care goals. Williams also co-directs the Project for Attorney Retention.

Professor Williams has written over forty scholarly articles. She has been widely quoted in publications as diverse as Time, Business Week, The New York Times, Parenting Magazine, Working Mother and O. She teaches courses in property, feminist jurisprudence and women’s legal history.

The Panel Discussion. The conversation on work/family issues will continue with a panel featuring two groundbreaking scholars, Professors Nancy Dowd and Peggie Smith. Professor Dowd will focus on important structural workplace issues that impact workers’ time and income in light of income/poverty statistics and the range of family forms. Professor Smith will examine some of the pitfalls of using an anti-discrimination approach to address work-family issues, and will discuss the need to develop a framework that can address worker concerns that extend beyond parenting.

Nancy Dowd is the Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law at the University of Florida and an Associate Director of the Center on Children & the Law. Her published books include Beyond Essentialism: A Reader at the Intersections of Race, Class and Gender (2002), Redefining Fatherhood (2000) and In Defense of Single Parent Families (1997). She also has written extensively on a wide variety of work/family issues. Professor Dowd teaches courses on employment discrimination, feminist jurisprudence, gender and the law, domestic violence, and a seminar on work and family policy.

Peggie Smith is a Professor of Law at the University of Iowa. She has written extensively about the legal implications caused by the separation between race and gender, home and work, and work and family. Her publications highlight the interlocking roles of race, gender, and class in the historical development of labor standards and explore legal models that can help workers forge an acceptable balance between work responsibilities and family obligations. A former visiting fellow at Cornell’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, Professor Smith teaches courses on employment relationships and gender and work.

The Working Lunch. Scholars Williams, Dowd and Smith will set the tone for a larger discussion and strategy session, a “Working Lunch,” concerning how the Hibbs decision and other initiatives can launch a movement for social change to better the lives of workers and their families. Facilitators from various disciplines and from inside and outside the academy will promote discussion with the audience about how to effect real change in the real world.

Published Papers. The events of this important day will be memorialized in papers to be published in the University of Cincinnati Law Review.

The Joint Degree Program in Law and Women’s Studies

The Symposium arises under the auspices of the University of Cincinnati’s joint degree in Law and Women’s Studies. The first of its kind in the nation, the JD/MA in Women’s Studies Program has provided students with a unique opportunity to engage in a rigorous, interdisciplinary study of the law. At the College of Law, students take
courses in such areas as Feminist Jurisprudence and Gender and the Law. Through the UC’s Center for Women’s Studies, students study such courses as Feminist Theory and Women and Diversity. They also research, prepare, and defend a Master’s project. As a result of this four-year Program, students have made significant contributions to the study of gender and the law. Research projects have included exploring the role of women of color in the movement to stop racial profiling, positing a model for successful passage of family medical leave acts, and exploring new ways for judges to consider sex and gender in cases involving post-operative transsexuals.

For additional information about the conference, please contact Professor Kristin Kalsem or Professor Verna Williams.