Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Legal Historian's First Book, Part VII: Restructuring and Introducing Characters


After responding to the outside reviewers’ reports (see Part VI), it was time for yet another round of revisions. At this point, the manuscript included twelve chapters (almost twice as many as my book proposal had forecast), and about 180,000 words—40,000 words more than my contractual limit. I had not yet written an introduction or a conclusion, and my footnotes were of varying lengths and formats. Every chapter needed significant substantive work.

I began to think of the book as having two parts: the first would chronicle the rise and fall of race-sex analogies as a dominant feminist legal strategy, and the second would recover the creative ways that feminist advocates regrouped, as well as the often chilly reception their efforts received in the Supreme Court and elsewhere.

My first task was to streamline the book’s structure. The first three chapters became one, shorn of material that was well-covered in other works, including one of my own law review articles. I would try in this chapter, eventually titled “The Rebirth of Race-Sex Analogies,” to explain why “reasoning from race” became such an appealing legal strategy in the 1960s. Central to this story is Pauli Murray, who compared sex to race in an effort to heal rifts between civil rights and feminism, and to place African American women at the center of both movements. The chapter would now end in 1970 with feminist advocates united behind a “dual strategy” for constitutional change (Fourteenth Amendment litigation and Equal Rights Amendment advocacy) that depended heavily on parallels between sex and race.

I also began to think more carefully about where and when to introduce various characters. Murray, a central figure in the first half of the book, necessarily debuts in the first chapter. Chapter 2, “Women and Minorities,” features a larger cohort of African American feminist advocates—most prominently NOW President Aileen Hernandez and then-New York Human Rights Commission chair Eleanor Holmes Norton. Hernandez and Norton joined Murray’s crusade to challenge the prevailing view among liberals--including many civil rights leaders--that racial progress depended upon the restoration of African American men to their rightful positions as primary breadwinners. Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes the first of many appearances in this chapter, as she begins to implement a Fourteenth Amendment litigation strategy that drew upon both the race-sex analogies and the vision of egalitarian male-female partnerships advanced by Murray, Norton, and their allies.

My book treats 1973-74 as a turning point for feminist advocates, and I wanted the structure to reflect that. The Supreme Court’s decision in Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) eventually became the climactic (and anti-climactic) moment of Chapter 2. The Supreme Court’s partial and somewhat unsatisfying embrace of an abstract race-sex analogy in that case, decided the same year that the Court grounded abortion rights in privacy rather than equality, foreshadows many of the crises feminists would confront in at mid-decade. Poignantly, this is also when Murray exits the stage. Her race-sex analogy--with its rich account of interconnections as well as parallels--altered almost beyond recognition, she leaves the law and her hard-won academic post at Brandeis to pursue a calling to the priesthood.

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