Live Blog Report from the University of Baltimore’s Feminist Legal Theory Conference

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Today the University of Baltimore School of Law hosts the conference, “Can You Hear Us Now: How New Feminist Legal Theories and Feminisms Are Changing Society?”   Currently under way is the day’s fourth and final panel, “Culture and Third Wave,” with these  presentations:

    • Taunya Lovell Banks (Maryland), “Here Comes the Judge: Distortion in the Courtrooms: Gender and Race in Contemporary Television Reality Court TV Shows;”
    • Bennett Capers (Hofstra), “Cross Dressing and the Criminal;”
    • Naomi Cahn (George Washington) and June Carbone (UMKC), “Sex, Class and Education;” and
    • Ann Bartow (South Carolina), “Copyright Law and Pornography: Reconsidering Incentives to Create and Distribute Porn.”

The other day’s other panels were “Crossing the Waves of Feminist Legal Theory,” “Third Wave Feminist Legal Theory and Social Justice,” and “Third Wave – A Movement in Action.”   Abstracts and paper drafts are available here.   The conference will conclude with a keynote address by Gloria Steinem.  

The conference has been a great way of meeting many of the scholars whose work I read and admire, as well as a source of many new questions for me.   I was struck immediately by the engagement with participants’ (mostly) uncritical engagement with the label “third-wave feminism.”   Gone was the defensiveness (or “us” vs. “them”) that complicated intergenerational feminist dialogues in the first half of the decade.   There was little desire by the participants to declare their affiliation (or lack thereof) of a particular “wave” of feminism.  

A few of the papers hinted at  what third-wave feminist legal theory might look like.   The Honorable Carol A. Beier (Kansas Supreme Court) and Larkin Walsh discussed applications of Kansas law presumptions regarding parentage – one that respects the ability of both women and men to enter into contracts around insemination and surrogacy.   This is consistent with the third-wave construction of individual agency.   Women (and men) are fully capable of making their own decisions, free from a prescribed  gender paradigm.   In the case of “non-traditional” (my label) conception, parental rights can (and should) be fixed ex ante by contract.

Is third-wave feminism a legal theory or is it a cultural critique?   Can it be both?   What would lawyers and law professors need to do in order to enrich legal analyses with the insights of third-wave feminism’s culture work?   Where are the feminist lawyers?   Has “feminism” become such a loaded term, even to young women who identify with the “third-wave” label?   Have feminist lawyers and and scholars are dispersed into fields and disciplines that are not explicitly “feminist,”  but feminist nonetheless?   Kristin Kalsem  (Cincinnati) suggests that this may be the case, and we might more accurately describe the state of feminism(s) today as “Social Justice Feminism” and not “third-wave” feminism.

I will leave the conference envigorated and engaged.   Congratulations, UB, especially Margaret Johnson and Leigh Goodmark, on a great conference.

-Bridget Crawford

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