On Being A Female Law Student—and Puerto Rican #2 Gender and Race

Gender and Race

There’s a method to my madness as a teacher, especially of 1Ls. Like I said, when I taught at Iowa I intentionally avoided meeting my Contracts students until the first day of class, and I didn’t want to know their  life narratives, their subtexts, on that day.

But that was the first day of class. Little by little, as the semester progressed, I would introduce aspects of gender, race, class, and other identities that informed the cases we studied.

This probably surprised and confused most, if not all, of the students, at least initially. They came to my course expecting they would learn how contracts are made and enforced, coming to know and understand the technical stuff such as “consideration,” “unconscionability,” or the “parol evidence” rule. I did teach them that stuff so they would be awesome technicians.

But if that’s all I taught, the course would be exceedingly narrow and dry. Students could easily skip all of the classes and pick up on the technical content through commercial outlines. I would die out of sheer boredom. I would even use PowerPoint. God no! Somebody kill me now!

To stay alive, I began engaging the students in uncovering the life narratives of the parties to the contract, and how those narratives collided with each other in litigation. I started pointing out how the life narratives developed within broader social narratives that prevailed at the time. I also threw into the mix the life narratives of the judges in the cases.

What made the classes even more complex and compelling was how the students’ life narratives informed how they interpreted the cases, and how, given their narratives, they interacted with each other as we discussed the cases.

Here I begin a series of excerpts from Kristymarie’s article as they relate to the life narrative she brought to the classroom. This post deals with the complexity of race and gender.

“In Spanish, gendered adjectives are obligatory; the descriptor and the object’s gender are inseparable. My gender and my racial identity are similarly intertwined and cannot be separated for dissection or analysis without one taking a chunk off of the other on its way out. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw was the first to formally introduce the theory of intersectionality to address this juxtaposition. Intersectionality is “the predicament of women of color and others who sit at the intersection of two or more categories.” This theory exposes how analyzing a woman of color’s experience, either through the gender looking glass or the race looking glass without joint consideration, invariably leads to an incomplete analysis, leaving women of color unprotected when legally determining whether there has been discrimination.

For individuals at the intersection, like myself, a discussion of race will automatically be gendered, and any discussion of gender will automatically be racialized. There is no such thing as a “monolithic ‘women’s experience’ that can be described independently of other facets of experience like race, class, and sexual orientation.” Essentialism, or assuming there is a uniform racialized or gendered experience, strips members of that group from the expression of other facets of their identity.

More specifically, as Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol explains, the intersectionality of Latinas’ ethnicity and sex may lead to a sense of otherness within and outside the majority community. For example, when a Latina fails to conform to an ethnic stereotype within the majority community, she may face the same isolation she would face if she were to fail to adhere to the gender stereotype within her own Latino community.

Because of these intertwined identities, many racialized and gendered law candidates may struggle to identify which facet of their identity is creating the sense of otherness in any given interaction. It may also further complicate decisions as to how to portray, downplay, or exploit these different facets to achieve the law candidate’s ultimate goal: employment.”


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