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Book Chapter

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Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas, and Verna L. Williams




Oxford University Press




Liberal feminism remains a significant strand of feminist jurisprudence in the U.S. Rooted in 19th and 20th century liberal and feminist political theory and women’s rights advocacy, it emphasizes autonomy, dignity, and equality. Liberal feminism’s focus remains to challenge unjust gender-based restrictions based on assumptions about men’s and women’s proper spheres and roles. Second wave liberal legal feminism, evident in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s constitutional litigation, challenged pervasive sex-based discrimination in law and social institutions and shifted the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause to a more skeptical review of gender-based classifications. Liberal feminists have developed robust conceptions of autonomy, liberty, privacy, and governmental obligations to promote gender equality, including in the family. Addressing internal feminist critiques, liberal feminism shows the capacity to evolve. Maintaining its focus on disrupting traditionally-conceived gender roles and fostering meaningful autonomy, it adopts more complex, nuanced discourse about sex, gender, and the gender binary and embraces new demands for inclusion and equality.

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