Verna L. Williams and Kristin Kalsem, “Social Justice Feminism”

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Abstract:
For the past three years, women leaders from national groups, grassroots organizations, academia and beyond have gathered to address dissonance in the women’s movement, particularly dissatisfaction with the movement’s emphasis on women privileged on account of their race, class, or sexuality. At these meetings of the New Women’s Movement Initiative (NWMI), advocates who no longer want to do feminism have articulated a desire for social justice feminism. This article analyzes what such a shift might mean for feminist practice and legal theory.

Drawing on history, specifically the work of the women behind the Brandeis brief in the Muller v. Oregon workers’ hours’ restriction case and the National Women’s Conference of 1977, this article takes initial steps at broadly defining social justice feminism as that which is productive, constructive, and healing. Moving from practice to theory, it suggests a new way of articulating and understanding the feminist work that is being done in this current stage of feminist jurisprudence, after the path-breaking interventions of anti-essentialism and intersectionality. This article also sets forth certain methodological tools for doing social justice feminism and then uses them to examine the recent Supreme Court case, Long Island Care at Home v. Coke, a case upholding the lack of wage protections for certain domestic workers.

With this article, we hope to advance the conversation that has already begun, both in the world of practice as evidenced by the work of the NWMI, as well as the world of feminist legal theory. Social justice brings to feminism a particular emphasis on fairness and transformation; it is a modification that signals change. At this critical time, with efforts to exacerbate the divides of race and gender, social justice feminism provides a new paradigm for talking about and examining these and other issues that threaten movements dedicated to dismantling oppression and bettering people’s lives.

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