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What Is Feminist Jurisprudence?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 13 June 2014
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Feminist jurisprudence is an approach to legal scholarship and practice that views the law through a feminist lens to examine the impact of current and past legal trends on the lives of women. Scholarship in this area began in the 1960s, although pioneers agitating for the women's right to vote and other important steps for equality began working much earlier. Numerous law schools offer coursework in feminist jurisprudence, and the field has several academic journals.

One aspect of feminist jurisprudence involves looking at legal history to examine how the law impacted women's lives. Topics of interest include emancipation of women, slavery, and forced sterilization. Many scholars want to see how laws played a role in social attitudes and vice versa at various points in history. Historians as well as legal scholars apply feminist jurisprudence to their examination of historic trends in law, with a special eye to shifts in mainstream legal theory to see how and why they may have occurred.

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People also examine the current legal framework from a feminist perspective to determine whether it provides equal and fair treatment for all people under the law. Feminist legal scholars study topics like child custody and workplace discrimination laws to see how legislators respond to social problems. Feminist jurisprudence in this area also includes the study of the judiciary, examining the demographic composition of courts to see how many women play an active role in interpreting and shaping the law. Some are also interested in women legislators and politicians who may shape or make the law.

This area of study also includes pedagogy techniques and the demographic makeup of law schools. People who study feminist jurisprudence want to see who is teaching the next generation of attorneys and what kinds of lessons instructors provide. In discussions about pedagogy, academics think about ways to get female students to participate more in class and also discuss issues like discrimination against pregnant and breastfeeding law students who may have difficulty completing their courses.

The scope of feminist jurisprudence is very broad. Feminism is a large movement, and scholars may approach legal topics from a variety of perspectives. In addition to foregrounding women's issues when looking at legal topics, scholars may also tackle topics like race, class, and disability in the law, as these often touch upon women. Examining inequality in the law allows people to provide suggestions for overhauling existing laws, improving legal education, and creating new laws with more equitable goals in mind.

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