Gender Justice v. The “Invisible Hand” of Gender Bias in Law and Society

Hypatia 31 (3):668-686 (2016)
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How does so much gender inequality endure in an era when many laws and policies endorse principles of gender equality? This essay examines this dilemma by considering Susan Moller Okin's criticism of “false gender neutrality,” research on implicit bias, and the shifting relation of gender bias to American law. I argue that these are crucial elements of the modern cycle of gender inequality, enabling it to operate through a perverse “invisible-hand” mechanism. This framework helps convey how underlying gender bias influences individual behaviors that generate, legitimate, and mask broad patterns of inequality. Contemporary legal conflicts reflect many of these dynamics, which appear in controversies over gender-based violence, gender discrimination in pay and promotion, and women's reproductive health care benefits. This analysis advances our understanding of how the contemporary cycle of gender inequality operates, the complex links between individual behavior and structural bias, and the difficulty of pursuing gender justice through prevailing frameworks of law and liberalism. It also underscores the continued importance of feminists' collective work to address “invisible” as well as visible biases.



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Elizabeth Beaumont
University of Minnesota

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