Feminist Legal Academics: Changing the Epistemology of American Law through Conflicts, Controversies and Comparisons


This book chapter describes the contributions to legal intellectual history of the first four generations of modern feminist legal theorists in the American legal academy (as part of an international project on gender in the legal academy). It traces the contributions, through the creation of new legal “memes”, concepts, causes of action, and theories of law (feminist jurisprudence), of several generations of the first feminist theorists in the legal academy (as distinguished from the first women law professors in the United States, who were not all self-proclaimed feminists, activists or theorists, but contributed to law making and law teaching in other ways). The chapter follows the conflicts, controversies and contributions of legal feminist scholars and feminist activist lawyers, by focusing on some key issues of both solidarity and conflict — equality and difference/cultural feminism, critical legal studies, post-modern feminism, critical feminism, critical race theory, critical race feminism, treatment of pregnancy, sexual harassment, rape, pornography, domestic violence employment, freedom of speech, sexual orientation and queer theory, poverty and welfare policy, and points to the increasingly contextualizing work of new generations of feminist legal scholars. The chapter recounts contributions made to classically “feminist” and women’s topics and issues in the law, but also focuses on feminist contributions to what are considered “mainstream” or traditional legal areas, such as contract law, taxation and corporate governance. The arguments and disputes about gender “binarism” and various forms of difference (gendered, raced, classed, and sexed) continue to produce deep, rich and contested theoretical work, now also informed by more explicitly empirical work located in many diverse settings, testing a rich set of hypotheses about the roles of gender in lawmaking, interpretation and legal education.

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