Two Perspectives on Feminism and the Legal Academy

Two recently published pieces caught my eye, and might be interesting to read in tandem.  The first is An Inconstant Affair: Feminism and the Legal Academy, by Margaret Thornton (Australian National University).  Here is the abstract:

Drawing on the Australian experience, this chapter shows how the fortunes of feminist legal theory (FLT) are closely imbricated with those of the state. The trajectory of the discomfiting liaison between feminism and the legal academy is traced over three decades to highlight the contingent nature of FLT, particularly the sensitivity to the prevailing political climate in which the pendulum swing from social liberalism to neoliberalism induces uncertainty and instability. It will be shown that under social liberalism, FLT received a modicum of acceptance within the legal academy but began to contract and then wither with the onset of neoliberalism. This has not only been disastrous for FLT, but it has also subtly brought about a remasculinisation of the academy.

The full paper is available here.

The second is Spaces and Challenges: Feminism in Legal Academia, by Susan Boyd (UBC).  Here is the abstract:

Women now make up at least 50 percent of students in the entry classes in most Canadian law schools. In some law schools women constitute about 50 percent of the tenured or tenure stream professoriate – a marked change from the early 1990s. This feminization of legal education is not the result of affirmative action but rather the increased acceptability of a legal education for women, the removal of formal and informal barriers to women’s admission to law school, and women’s strong academic records.

Despite the fact that legal academia is now populated by virtually equal numbers of women and men, and despite the greater visibility of women (including feminist women) in positions of power, there remains a critical need for feminist presence, analysis, and critique in the 21st century.

Feminism is also important because women continue to encounter barriers in gaining access to justice for reasons related to gender, in addition to other factors such as poverty.

This essay draws partly on the author’s own experience as a law student and law professor over the past 35 years, as well as the experience of students with whom she has engaged over that period. Her argument is that although many important changes have taken place in legal academia, and spaces made for individuals who were previously excluded, serious challenges remain, making it essential that a feminist presence and voice and a commitment to social justice be central. The author ends by briefly considering whether and how that feminist voice is changing in the 21st century.

The full paper is available here.

For anyone interested in women in legal education, I think it could make a cool review essay, or even a student paper, to read the two articles together.

-Bridget Crawford

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