Anita L. Allen on Law and Feminism
Who’s Anita L. Allen? She’s only one of the nation’s foremost experts on how privacy and ethics intersect with the law. Whether she’s writing articles, books, or her popular column in the Newark Star Ledger (called “The Moralist,” no less), Allen speaks her feminism plainly and widely.
It’s no wonder this super-smart lady (a J.D. from Harvard; philosophy Ph.D. from the University of Michigan) has not only taught at universities around the country, but she’s frequently consulted as an expert source on television and in print. These days, she’s based at the University of Pennsylvania. Allen is also a board member for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children, and the Hastings Center for Bioethics.
In her spare time, this former “military brat” is an active elder in the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.
Allen was one of the first three Black women to achieve a Ph.D. in philosophy; and she’s the very first Black woman hold both a Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree.
Now, if you’d kindly remove your jaws from the floor, here’s Anita L. Allen’s insights on law and feminism:
Why did you choose to make your life in law?
Law brings together my interest in values, politics and philosophy. Being a lawyer makes me feel useful.
How does your background in philosophy and health come to bear in your legal work?
Law is an expression of philosophical values; philosophical values critique law. We are our bodies; nothing is more important than keeping the human vessel healthy and strong so that we can live meaningful and productive lives. I am very interested in the role law can play in allocating health resources and autonomy.
You have written a book on an uncommon topic: “Feminist Reflections on Personal Accountability.” Some people would contend that feminism is, inherently, a form of accountability to a sexist culture. But where our gaps?
What do we have to learn? Women have been treated as men’s inferiors. They have lived overly accountable lives. Yet feminists have stressed the importance of collective action and caretaking, for which high degrees of accountability are required. I have tried to illuminate the norms of accountability that are consistent with freedom for men and women, along with appropriate, non-repressive accountability for both sexes.
How has the intersection of privacy and women been affected by recent increases in abstinence-only education funding and last summer’s ban on an abortion procedure?
The Supreme Court has opened the door to regulation of abortion that threatens to make the decision to bear a child less personal and private. The grounds of interference are paternalistic and maternalistic: women should bear children and they should do so on the terms set for them by others, Social conservatives have an unrealistic notion that we can talk people out of sex, out of their bodies, and into moral virtue.
You do a great deal of writing on legal matters, both as articles and books. Many people envision social change happening in the very visible stages of the street or the courtroom. What do you have to say about how research and academic writing as vehicles for social justice?
Research and writing can be very divorced from social justice. We known that texts can occasionally make a big difference, but most of what we academics write is never read. Few of us turn out to be Karl Marx or Adam Smith.
You also write a column called “The Moralist” for the Star-Ledger. What does that column mean for you? How does it compare to your other work?
I enjoy an opportunity to respond to current events. Writing the column helps me sort out my ideas. I often outline arguments in my column that I expand on in my scholarship. Sometimes I use the column to state more simply ideas that I have detailed in my scholarship. The column is also a way to engage the general public on issues of morals and legal justice in a forum that is lively, but informed by scholarship. I am told by my readers that that the columns help them think through difficult questions and share ideas with their families.
One man told me he gave his teenage my essays as models of essay writing.