Campus & Community

‘Voices of Public Intellectuals’ speak up

3 min read

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study launched its fifth annual “Voices of Public Intellectuals” lecture series Thursday night (Feb. 6) with the first of three explorations of women and the law. Linda Kerber, a professor at the University of Iowa and a current Radcliffe Fellow, spoke on the “Asymmetry of Citizenship.”

“The rights and obligations of citizenship have been differently invoked for men and for women, with class and race playing associated roles,” she told the audience at the Cronkhite Graduate Center.

Against the backdrop of worldwide events that focus a new intensity on citizenship and loyalty, Kerber’s talk used three specific legal cases – about working conditions, privacy, and legitimacy of birth – to illustrate the asymmetry of citizenship. The contemporary merger of the personal with the political, she said, has its roots in a time when a married woman’s relation to the state was filtered through her husband.

“I would argue that this asymmetry is not a matter of chance or unreflective stereotype,” she said. “Deep in American legal tradition and practice has been the conviction that married women’s obligations to their husbands trump their civic obligations to the state.”

Kerber’s talk and the two that follow it (see sidebar) in the “Voices of Public Intellectuals Series” exemplify Radcliffe’s commitment to make its ideas and intellectual resources public.

“From the beginning of the shaping of the Institute, it was clear that Radcliffe should … not retreat into being an inward-looking ivory tower but instead have strong tentacles out into the community,” says Phyllis Strimling, director of educational programs for Radcliffe.

“Voices of Public Intellectuals,” she adds, “is our opportunity to take public policy issues to the public.” Through distribution of recordings to public radio stations from Alaska to Alabama, the lectures have an ongoing impact that goes far beyond their audiences in Cambridge.

And, in keeping with Radcliffe’s mission to focus, in part, on women, gender, and society, the lecture series tends to look at policy issues through a gendered lens. Past years’ topics have included “Feminisms, Family and the State in Transition,” “Feminisms and Science in Civil Society,” and “Feminisms and the Practice of Democracy.”

Tonight (Feb. 13), “Voices of Public Intellectuals” continues with Brooklyn Law School Professor Elizabeth Schneider, whose talk is called “Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking.” She’ll discuss how, since the 1960s, when the harm of domestic violence was first legally recognized, feminist activists and lawyers have brought it to public attention, leading U.S. lawmakers and the United Nations to address the issue.

And next Thursday (Feb. 20), Yale Law School professor and former Radcliffe Fellow Vicki Schultz will probe sexual harassment law and the extreme ways in which many firms are punishing employees for sexual conduct – even workplace dating – in the name of compliance.