University of Maine. College of Law
The conference topic is feminism in the twenty-first century, a dialogue between academics and practicing attorneys. The first order of business will be to resist the millennium invitation to come up with evermore novel, overarching formulations of the mission and means of feminism. At the end of the twentieth century we know quite a bit about the problems presented by feminists and the problems within feminism. We have had a long history of insightful intellectual discourse on questions of equality and on the meaning of gender. We also know that it takes time to absorb and apply broad insights in particular contexts, and to reformulate and refine those insights ever-so-slightly, not just radically, in light of that contextual application. The challenging task is not to forget what we do know. To suggest that feminism in the twenty-first century needs a new overarching theory, a new paradigm, would suggest that its current insights have failed. It seems to me, instead, that one important aspect of the future of feminist legal approaches will be in asking how some of the debates we've already had apply to particular legal questions in light of the most detailed account we can make of the relationship between women's lives and that particular legal question. In other words, not every feminist legal academic needs to be creating a theory of feminism. We can instead be scholars of particular legal fields or of particular experiences common to some or all women and ask how the law responds to that experience. This is applied feminist legal theory. In my remarks, I'm going to explore two very familiar feminist debates: how to understand women's differences from men, and how to understand women's differences from one another. The exploration of these debates will be in the context of a particularly, though by no means exclusively, female experience: domestic labor or family care. I hope that our dialogue on this exercise may teach us something more about the feminist debates, but more, I hope it can assist in developing a more satisfying legal response to the substantive issue in light of feminist insights.
Katharine B. Silbaugh,
Grounded Applications: Feminism and Law at the Millennium
Maine Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/1674