Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp spoke at Emory Law School at “A Workshop on Labor and Employment Law,” which took place April 25-26 in Atlanta. The Workshop is part of a year-long celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Feminism and Legal Theory Project, which is directed by Emory Professor Martha Albertson Fineman. Professor Fineman began the project at Wisconsin Law School in 1984, then moved it to Columbia Law School when she joined that faculty, took it to Cornell Law School when she served on Cornell’s faculty, and moved it finally to Emory Law School, where she is a Robert W. Woodruff Professor.
The April workshop considered how issues affecting women should be analyzed and discussed at a time when laws against gender discrimination have been on the books for half a century, the problems of women workers are diverse, and the way people work has changed significantly. Professor Bisom-Rapp presented her paper “Navigating Gender Equality Deficits in a Post-Egalitarian, Intersectional World of Changing Work: The Case of Women’s Poverty in Retirement.” The paper sets out a model, which was initially developed with her frequent co-author Malcolm Sargeant, for understanding why the poverty rate of women 65-years old and up is nearly double that of men of the same age. She argues that to understand the forces that produce this unbalanced result, policy makers must pay careful attention to the lives of girls and women both in terms of the decisions they make and the obstacles they confront. However, in solving the problem, Professor Bisom-Rapp recommends an approach that recognizes gender problems but moves beyond them to craft solutions that address the vulnerability of male and female workers, and improve the lives of retirees overall.
Professor Bisom-Rapp met Professor Fineman in 1993 when the former began her doctoral work at Columbia Law School. Professor Fineman was chair of Professor Bisom-Rapp’s dissertation committee. While she was in residence at Columbia, Professor Bisom-Rapp worked for Professor Fineman as her assistant coordinator of the school’s Women in the Legal Profession History Project. After defending her dissertation in 1996, Professor Bisom-Rapp joined the Thomas Jefferson School of Law faculty. In 2004, at Professor Bisom-Rapp’s invitation, Professor Fineman, who had by that time joined the Emory faculty, agreed to travel to San Diego to give Thomas Jefferson’s annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture. In 2005, Thomas Jefferson’s Women and the Law Project joined with Emory’s Feminism and Legal Theory Project to co-host a two day conference in San Diego, “The Global Impact of Feminist Legal Theory.” Joining with Professors Fineman and Bisom-Rapp in organizing that conference was Professor Linda Keller, who now is Associate Dean at Thomas Jefferson.
“Martha has launched the academic careers of so many of her students,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. According to Professor Bisom-Rapp, the workshop brought together former students, who are now professors, from all phases of Martha Fineman's career, including a number of Professor Bisom-Rapp's good friends from her graduate school days at Columbia. “The gala dinner Friday night, in particular, provided an opportunity to toast a woman who taught us so much,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. “Martha taught me how to be a serious scholar, a great teacher, a wonderful colleague, and most importantly, a committed mentor. That she has done for so many others what she did for me is what makes her truly remarkable.”