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School of Law

Feminist legal theory

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

The first part of the course on feminist legal theory will introduce students to feminist methods of legal reasoning, analysis and critique.

The second part of the course will introduce students to the various schools of Anglo- American and postcolonial feminist legal theory, including, radical feminism, cultural feminism, materialist feminism, critical race feminism, dalit feminism and related areas of scholarship such as queer theory. We will engage in close readings of canonical texts from each of these schools of feminist legal theory while drawing on feminist theory more broadly to the extent necessary.

In the third part of the course, students will be introduced to the application of feminist legal theory to concrete feminist struggles for law reform. There will be three areas of focus including violence against women, the economic rights of women and issues of international law relating to women. Readings will be drawn predominantly but not only from legal scholarship. In studying violence against women, the course will address in particular rape, pornography, sexual harassment, caste-based violence and prostitution. In considering the economic rights of women, we will study issues of the care work of women, including housework and child care. With respect to international legal issues, we will look in particular on feminist legal reforms on war crimes and trafficking.

The fourth and final part of the course will deal briefly with the relationship of women’s movements and processes of law reform. We will investigate in particular conventional strategies for law reform such as litigation and lobbying for statutory law reform as well as emerging patterns of what has been labelled ‘governance feminism’.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The objective of the course is to enable students to become well versed in the canonical texts of Anglo-American and postcolonial feminist legal theory. Learning outcomes of the course are that students will be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the theoretical insights of different schools of feminist legal theory and their application to concrete feminist struggles for law reform.

The course will familiarise students with a range of theoretical perspectives covering the major schools of feminist legal theory including radical feminism, cultural feminism, materialist feminism, critical race feminism, postcolonial feminism and queer theory as applied to specific issues including violence against women, the economic rights of women (the care/work debates) and issues involving international law (war crimes and trafficking).

Students will not only gain a general understanding of the field of feminist legal scholarship but also write two substantial papers on a feminist legal issue of their choice.

Method of assessment

Assessment Weighting: 100% Coursework - Two essays of 5,000 words each

Suggested reading

Selected Readings - Articles and Chapters in Books
  • Bina Agarwal, “Bargaining” and Gender Relations: Within and Beyond the Household, Feminist Economics, 3:1 1997 1-51
  • Fareda Banda, Law and Human Rights: An African Perspective, Hart, 2005, preface and chapter 3
  • Kathleen Barry, The Prostitution of Sexuality, New York: New York University, 1995
  • Katharine T. Bartlett, Introduction to Feminist Legal Theories, 1998, chapter one
  • Mary Anne Case “How High the Apple Pie? A Few Troubling Questions About Where, Why, and How The Burden of Care For Children Should Be Shifted” 76 Chicago-Kent Law Review (2001) 1753
  • Charlesworth and Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis, Manchester, 2001 – Chapter One
  • Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright, ‘Feminist Approaches to International Law’ 85 American Journal of International Law, 1991
  • Drucilla Cornell, Feminism and Pornography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
  • Drakopoulou, 'Women's Resolutions of Lawes Reconsidered: epistemic shifts and the emergence of the feminist legal discourse' Law and Critique 11 (2000) 47-71.
  • Martha Ertman “Commercialising Marriage: A proposal for valuing women’s work through premarital Security Arrangements” 77 Texas Law Review (1998) 17
  • Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol.1, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley New York: Vintage Books, 1988
  • Nancy Fraser Justice Interruptus, Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist Condition” London: Routledge 1997
  • Janet Halley, Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2006
  • Linda R. Hirshman and Jane E. Larson, Hard Bargains: The Politics of Sex Oxford University Press 1998
  • Ratna Kapur (ed.), Feminist Terrains in Legal Domains Interdisciplinary Essays on Women and Law in India, Sage 1996
  • Duncan Kennedy, “Sexuality Abuse, Sexy Dressing, and the Eroticisation of Domination,” in Duncan Kennedy, Sexy Dressing Etc. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993
  • Nicola Lacey, ‘Feminist Legal Theory and the Rights of Women’ in Knop, Gender and Human Rights, 2004
  • Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.
  • Catharine MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: An Agenda for Theory” Signs 7, no.3 (1982): 515
  • Catharine MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence,” Signs 8, no.4 (1983): 635
  • Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourse on Life and Law Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987
  • Catharine MacKinnon, Towards a Feminist Theory of the State Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989
  • Sharon Marcus, “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention,” in Butler and Scott, Feminists Theorise the Political, 385-403
  • Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006
  • Robert Mnookin and Lewis Kornhauser, “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: The Case of Divorce” Yale Law Journal 88 (1979): 950
  • Frances Olsen “The Family and the Market: A Study of Ideology and Law Reform”, Harvard Law Review (1983) 1492
  • Otto ‘'A Sign of “Weakness”? Disrupting Gender certainties in the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325' 13 Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 2006, 113-175.
  • Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, The Scandal of the State: Women, Law and Citizenship in Postcolonial India Durham: Duke University Press 2003
  • Vicki Schultz “Life’s work” 100 Columbia Law Review (2000) 1881
  • Vicki Schultz “Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment” 107 Yale L. Journal (1998) 1683
  • Katharine Silbaugh “Turning Labour into Love: Housework and the Law” 91 Northwestern University Law Review (1996) 1
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Cam the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988, 271-313
  • Philomila Tsoukala, “Gary Becker, Legal Feminism, and the Costs of Moralising Care” (unpublished manuscript)
  • Robin West, Caring for Justice New York: New York University Press, 1997