course logo HON303/WMS303:
Daniel McCarthy
Barbara F. McManus
Course Syllabus, Spring 2000

Description: An examination of legal theory and the contemporary American legal system from a feminist perspective; a consideration of the effects of the law on women's lives. Topics include women's participation in the legal profession and their varied roles in relation to the legal system, as well as feminist challenges to mainstream legal thought and processes. The course will examine in detail several controversial issues to exemplify and clarify the nature of these challenges in more depth.


  1. comprehension of the fundamentals of the legal system in contemporary America
  2. understanding of gender as a social and cultural construction that interacts with other constructions such as race, ethnicity, and class to exert a frequently unacknowledged influence on the structure and interpretation of laws
  3. ability to use the perspectives of feminist theory to analyze and critique contemporary legal theories and practices
  4. comprehension of the feminist critique of several controversial legal issues that strongly influence the lives of women in contemporary America, with special attention to changes that might improve the situation of women vis à vis the law
  5. comprehension of a number of alternative viewpoints from which scholars and lawyers critique feminist challenges to legal theory
  6. understanding of the nature and scope of women's participation in the contemporary American legal profession


Required: D. Kelly Weisberg, ed. Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women's Lives: Sex, Violence, Work, and Reproduction. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Recommended: Martha Chamallas. Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1998.

Additional readings from primary and secondary sources (see topics, notes, assignments).


Class Participation: As an Honors Seminar, this course is both interdisciplinary and discussion based, requiring no prior knowledge of legal theories and practices or of feminist theory. In order for this course to succeed, it is essential that students complete all readings in a timely fashion, attend class regularly, and participate fully in class discussions. Therefore, any student who misses more than 2 classes without an approved excuse will lose 3 points on the class participation portion of the grade for every class missed. [all course objectives]

Weekly Written Assignments: After the first week, there will be one written assignment per week (e.g., written responses to several questions relating to the readings; analysis of a case from the perspective of the readings; comparison of two theoretical perspectives on a given topic; etc.). Every student may omit two of these assignments in the course of the semester; she may choose which two assignments to omit based on her own priorities and time constraints, but she must turn in a statement that she wishes to omit a particular assignment when that assignment is due. [objectives 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

Instructions: Students should hand in a paper copy of the assignment in class on the due date. After class, they should also post their paper at the appropriate table in the McManus and McCarthy course studio of the Speakeasy Cafe so that their classmates may read it. Simply copy all the text from your word processing program and paste it into the writing window at the speakeasy table (be sure that the Simple Text option is selected). These assignments will not receive letter grades but will be marked with a check (assignment handed in on time and fully answers all the questions), check plus (assignment handed in on time and answers all the questions in an exceptionally thorough and insightful way), or check minus (assignment late and/or does not fully answer all the questions).

Debates: Each student will participate in a formal debate centered upon one of the specific issues covered in class; every student will also post reactions to at least two of the other debates at the appropriate table of the Speakeasy Cafe (see detailed instructions for the debate). [objectives 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Critical Essay: Every student will write one critical essay, due April 27 (see detailed instructions). [objectives 2, 3, 4]

Panel: In conjunction with the course unit on women in the legal profession, students will be required to attend a panel of CNR alumnae who are currently in law school or practicing law in the metropolitan area; this panel will be held on Monday, May 8. [objectives 2, 3, 6]

Final Examination: During finals week, all students will complete a take-home examination. [all course objectives]


Office Hours:

Daniel McCarthy
Castle 217NW, ext. 5582 Mon 10-12:00; 1:30-2:30 Tues & Thurs: 2-3:00
Barbara McManus
Castle 315N, ext. 5399 Tuesdays: 2-3:00 other times by appointment

Useful Legal Web Sites

Legal Super Sites

Legal Sites for Non-specialists

Feminist Legal Sites

Daniel McCarthy <>
Barbara F. McManus <>
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revised May 2000