10 Most Important Intellectual Moves in 21st Feminist Legal Theory (So Far)

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What are the most important trends/questions/ideas/theoretical moves in feminist legal theory since the year 2000?

That’s the question two friends and I discussed today as we were car-pooling to a conference.  Here is a back-of-the-envelope list that comes out of that conversation.  The items are listed in no particular order — I cobbled this together as my mind wandered during the conference.

Some of the items contradict each other; others overlap.  They are all malleable.

(1) Are there classifications based on something other than sex that would explain persistent inequalities in American law and society?

(2) To what extent are identity-based classifications inadequate explanations for persistent inequalities that have been attributed by some 20th century feminists to sex and/or gender?

(3) How can/does/should feminist theory reckon with the challenge by transgender theory to gender binarism embraced by [some] transgender theory? [revisions in blue suggested by Darren Rosenblum and gladly accepted — au.]

(4) How does Lawrence v. Texas extend/inform/complicate/benefit a feminist (and queer) analysis of marriage, and what are the theoretical limitations and opportunities presented by current political battles over same-sex marriage?

(5) How and why have international human rights laws failed to protect women?

(6)  What do the principal methods and ideas of third-wave feminism mean for the law?

(7)  What is the nature and extent of the commercialization/commodification of human reproduction?  What are the consequences?

(8)  In applying feminist theory to more and more areas of the law, what do we learn about those areas of the law?  What do we learn about feminist theory’s limitations?

(9) How can feminists overcome a post-modernist reductionism that results from an extreme application of anti-essentialism?

(10) Other than anti-discrimination, what models are there for understanding how to effect legal change?

I intentionally leave out the names of scholars or specific works associated with each item, because I thought that might distract from the questions themselves.

When I make a different mental list of the feminist legal scholarship that has compelled my attention in the last 9 years, each falls into at least one of these categories.  Corrections?  Suggestions?  Refinements?

-Bridget Crawford

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6 Responses to 10 Most Important Intellectual Moves in 21st Feminist Legal Theory (So Far)

  1. benjaminadam says:

    “transgender theory” has hardly embraced a binarism. this is a strange transphobic flashback to some types of second wave feminism for an article purporting to be about 21st century feminist theory.

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  3. vertigo29 says:


    I am planning on starting law school September of next year, I am interested in focusing on question number 5, “How and why have international human rights laws failed to protect women?”. I would like to start reading on the topic and the only name of the top of my head is Prof. Catharine MacKinnon. Are there other names that you would recommend me?

    thanks in advance.

  4. Bridget Crawford says:

    Thank you, bengaminadam, for that comment. I have added “some” to modify transgender theory because I think *some* trans theory has challenged or rejected gender binarism but other trans theory embraces it, even if by implication.

    I welcome comments, additions and refinements to the list.

  5. Barbara Burke says:

    Response to Vertigo29:

    I would start with the UN documents and treatises. Go to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and you will find many resources. You can also click into the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. There is a section entitled Women and Human Rights: The Basic Documents.

    Katerina Tomasevski is a great resource also. You can find many other names in the footnotes . . . from there the possibilities are endless.

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