Feminist Jurisprudence

Feminist Jurisprudence- the doctrine of law based on the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes- aims to evaluate law by examining its relationship with gender and sexuality.

Feminist jurisprudence is a burgeoning school of legal thought that encompasses many theories and approaches to law and legal issues. Each strain of feminist jurisprudence evaluates and critiques the law by examining the relationship between gender, sexuality, power, individual rights, and the judicial system as a whole. It is a term coined by Ann Scales during the planning process for Celebration 25, a party and conference held in 1978 to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first women graduating from Harvard Law School and the term was first published in 1978 in the first issue of the Harvard Women's Law Journal.

Feminist jurisprudence intersects with a number of other forms of critical theories, most notably critical race theory and the study of gay and lesbian rights. Moreover, the form of feminist thought that focuses on legal theory draws from feminism in other disciplines, including sociology, political science, history, and literature.


The primary objective was to outlaw biased treatment and provide laws that allowed women equal opportunities with men. “Law has developed over time in the context of theories and institutions controlled by men and reflect their concerns. Historically law has been a public arena and its focus has been on those public concerns. Traditionally women belong to the private recesses of society, in families, in relationships controlled and defined by men, in silence”-wrote Robert W. Woodruff. Therefore the evolutionary nature of feminist jurisprudence, as it stands today, concerns with women’s poverty, financial dependency, motherhood, sexual accessibility, healthcare and all other related issues. The thematic centerpiece of the philosophy is the dignified humane existence backed by law.

The feminist political movement began in the nineteenth century with a call for female suffrage. At a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, a group of women and men drafted and approved the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. This document, modeled on the language and structure of the Declaration of Independence, was a bill of rights for women, including the right to vote. Throughout the late 1800s, feminist leaders SUSAN B. ANTHONY and ELIZABETH CADY STANTON were persistent critics of male society's refusal to grant women political and social equality. In the mid-nineteenth century, many state legislatures passed married women's separate property acts. These acts gave women the legal right to retain ownership and control of property they brought into the marriage. Until these enactments a husband was permitted to control all property, which often led to the squandering of a wife's estate. Finally, when the NINETEENTH AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920, women gained VOTING RIGHTS in the United States

The modern feminist movement began in the 1960s. In 1966 BETTY N. FRIEDAN, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), organized the first meeting of the NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN (NOW). In 1968 NOW staged a protest at the Miss America Pageant. By 1970 Robin Morgan had enough material on feminism to publish a popular anthology, Sisterhood Is Powerful. Women who had become CIVIL RIGHTS and antiwar activists in the 1960s soon turned their attention to gender discrimination and inequality. The decision in ROE V. WADE, (1973), which defined the choice of ABORTION as a fundamental constitutional right, became a touchstone for feminists who argued that women must have reproductive rights. Nineteen years after Roe, feminists rallied to support the decision when the Supreme Court reconsidered its decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, (1992). Although the Court permitted certain restrictions upon abortions, it held intact the fundamental right of choice announced in Roe.

The 1960s and 1970s also saw a revival in the interest in adopting a constitutional amendment to provide greater protection of women's rights than those in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT, which was originally conceived in the early 1920s, was introduced to the states in 1972. The text of the amendment read: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." Supporters of the amendment believed it would overcome weaknesses in federal statutes and judicial interpretations of the Constitution with regard to the protection of women's rights. The proposal eventually failed to garner the necessary votes from three-fourths of the states.

Legal standards of reasonableness are another area where feminist philosophers of law strive to reveal male norms. In areas of the law from criminal law to tort law to contract law to employment reasonableness standards play a major role in law .traditionally, the standard was that of the average reasonable man, a formulation that overtly indicated its gendered nature. Today, the standard is more likely to be formulated as that of a reasonable person, but feminists continue to demonstrate how this standard reflects male norms. A particular area of current controversy is interactions with the police, where feminists join with many others such as the Black Lives Matter movement or disability rights groups to reveal the biases in what is judged reasonable for police to do and what responses to police conduct are thought to be reasonable. Feminists have also proposed the standard of an average reasonable woman, which achieved one success in court

While the different camps of feminists in legal theory have focused upon different agendas, feminist jurisprudence has changed the way legislators and judges look at issues. By asking the "woman question," feminists have identified gender components and gender implications of laws and practices that are claimed to be neutral. Moreover, this school of thought has brought needed changes in the law to protect certain rights of women that have not been protected adequately in the past.





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