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Feminist Legal Studies

1970 women's liberation march from Farrugut Square to Layfette Park

Feminism as a branch of legal studies, also known as feminist jurisprudence, has two main purposes:

  • to investigate how past legislation has oppressed, or encouraged the subordination of, women
  • to amend current legislation so that is no longer the case and ensure new ones promote equality as well

In order to achieve these objectives, feminist legal scholars must take all areas of law, and many aspects of sociology, anthropology, politics, religion, etc. into consideration. For this reason, few are solely feminist legal scholars - instead, practitioners and scholars from all fields of law - constitutional, labour, criminal justice, family, business, sports, property and more - will keep in mind these objectives when the need arises in their every day work. In addition, many give designated lectures on specific areas of feminist legal studies, and many universities' 'Law in Context' type survey courses have sections from the feminist perspective.

There are three main branches of feminism in legal studies1:

  • traditional/liberal - asserts that women and men are equally rational so aims to rid law of all gender-based distinctions and assumed male authority. Any tendencies as a gender toward one outlook or another are sociological constructs that should not legally restrict women or men.
  • cultural - believes there are marked differences in the genders, with women focusing more on interpersonal and emotional issues while men take more of a natural interest in logic. They aim for legislation to put equal weight on the former sort of issues to allow women a more comfortable footing.
  • radical - acknowledge differences between males and females but believe that women's rise from oppression by men must be built on these differences, using them as a source of empowerment rather than something to be accommodated.

As feminism is a recent development compared to the long history of law, this is a growing field. While much progress has already been made - women's suffrage, for example - as a result of the modern striving toward equality, there is still room for improvement, especially (though not only) in non-Western countries.

 

References:

1. Legal Information Institute (). Feminist Jurisprudence. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/feminist_jurisprudence. [Last Accessed 1/05/2014].

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