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Introduction to Feminism And Feminist Legal Theory: Readings

January 27, 1998:

January 29: Leslie Bender. "A Lawyer's Primer on Feminist Theory and Tort." Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations. Ed. D. Kelly Weisberg. Temple University Press, 1993. 58-74

Written Assignment (due January 29): (answer all questions; when referring to the readings, cite properly, including page numbers)

  1. A recent newspaper article stated, "If time has won anything for feminism, it appears to be ingratitude. Three quarters of the women who responded to a recent CBS News poll said that the status of women had improved in the last 25 years, but fewer and fewer women want to call themselves feminists" (Sarah Boxer, "One Casualty of the Women's Movement: Feminism, The New York Times, 14 December 1997: WK 3). How would you have defined and responded to feminism prior to taking this course? Explain any changes in your ideas after our initial discussion and readings on this topic.
  2. Use Sandra Bem's concept of the lenses of gender to discuss Leslie Bender's article. Point out specific points that Bender makes which illustrate the operation of gender lenses, particularly the lens of androcentrism.
  3. What does Bender's critique of negligence and tort law reveal about the general legal principles we discussed in the first week of class? Describe your personal reaction to the examples Bender gives. Do these examples help you to understand the way that legal reasoning may differ from what we might call "common-sense reasoning" or ethical reasoning?

February 3: Sandra Lipsitz Bem. "Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality." The Lenses of Gender. Yale University Press, 1993. 176-196

February 5: Kimberle Crenshaw. "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics." Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations. Ed. D. Kelly Weisberg. Temple University Press, 1993. 383-395

Written Assignment (due February 5): (answer all questions; when referring to the readings, cite properly, including page numbers)

  1. Explain what Sandra Bem means when she states the following about the legal principle of gender neutrality: "as a strategy, it was helping only those few women who were similarly situated to men" (179). Give a concrete example that you think would illustrate this point. Explain the alternative strategy often called "special protection" or "special benefits"? What problems do you see with this as a legal strategy?
  2. When you read Kimberle Crenshaw's article, do not be put off by the somewhat abstract theoretical language she sometimes uses (e.g. "intersectionality"). If you read carefully and pay close attention to the concrete examples she discusses, you will see that sentences such as the following make a very important point: "I will center Black women in this analysis in order to contrast the multidimensionality of Black women's experience with the single-axis analysis that distorts these experiences" (383). She is stating that she will use the feminist strategy of making the "other" the subject, of looking at various situations through the eyes of the disadvantaged rather than the dominant party--in this case Black women. Through this perspective, she says, it becomes clear that the situation of these women cannot be analyzed solely as a matter or race or solely as a matter of gender but as a complex interaction of the two. With this in mind, explain your reaction to the case she discusses, DeGraffenreid vs. General Motors. Why was the plaintiffs' complaint of sex discrimination dismissed? Why did the plaintiffs refuse to consolidate their case with another race discrimination case against General Motors? What does this case illustrate about the difficulty of using law and the courts as the sole weapon with which to combat discrimination? Give an example of another situation (not necessarily a legal case) in which the discrimination experienced by women from other racial/ethnic backgrounds might be quite different from that experienced by middle-class white women.

Women and Law Syllabus
revised January 1998