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Legal Scholars Topic Du Jour: Menstruation

[Correction: Midway through this post, I misidentified Ann Althouse as the author of this post at Feminist Law Professors when it was actually Ann Bartow. My apologies to both and my thanks to Ann Althouse for pointing out my error.]

It all started, as best as I can tell, with a post by University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse, Stemming the Red Tide, in which she noted the FDA's approval of a birth-control pill that stops menstruation. UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh picked up on Althouse's post, taking issue with one commenter who contended that it is not "right to sidestep" something that is "part of being a woman." Countered Volokh: "Why on earth should we want to accept natural but painful or unpleasant things?"

Volokh's remark elicited a comment from a male med student who equated menstruation for women with the types of "shared experiences" from which "humanity derives meaning." This commenter asserted: "Deleting one of the most universal and central of all female experiences can subtract perceived meaning from people's lives." To that, Volokh responded that, yes, humanity can derive meaning from some shared experiences, but others -- hangnails, nearsightedness and tooth decay, for example -- we can get by just fine without. Menstruation, Volokh conjectured, falls in this second group. But, acknowledging no firsthand experience, he issued an invitation:

"[L]et's hear from some people who actually menstruate, and have been pregnant. When you menstruate, do you feel that you're part of the 'in crowd'? ... Do you feel you derive meaning from the fact that you share menstruation as an experience with other women?"

With me so far? I hope so, because we're just getting started.

Althouse -- the one whose post started this ball rolling -- took Volokh's invitation as ludicrous. Writing at Feminist Law Professors, she promised to send Volokh a Judy Blume book describing a teen's first menstruation.

"Then, when he seems to have grasped the thirteen year old perspective, in a decade or so, I’m going to send him a package of Always and a bottle of Pamprin, and urge him to enroll in an introductory course in Women’s Studies. ... Eventually, I will put him in a dress, heels and make-up and force him to ride the subways in Chicago. There will be video, I promise." chimed in with equal ire, describing Volokh's post as condescending and patronizing. Belle Lettre at least gave Volokh the benefit of bona fides.

For his part, Volokh labeled Bartow's response as patronizing. He wrote:

"What sort of feminism is it that faults people for asking actual women about their experiences, and for trying to start a public conversation in which women's opinions are actively solicited, on the grounds that the questioner should instead have gone to the library or taken up the time of his colleagues?"

Meanwhile, some women bloggers took Volokh's invitation seriously and offered answers. At Conglomerate, for instance, Christine Hurt equated pregnancy and childbirth for women to "sports for men, or Dungeons and Dragons." And, back over in the male camp, one commentator called Volokh's invitation "an entirely reasonable response."

Having now read this exchange between these two noted legal scholars, my conclusion is this: Law professors have way too much time on their hands.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 25, 2007 at 06:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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