In Search of Law in Women’s and Gender Studies: Toward Critical Womanist Legal Studies

Mark Kessler

Abstract


In the context of recent critiques of Women’s and Gender Studies’ (WGS) institutionalization within the academy, this article foregrounds the role that a transdisciplinary and critical womanist legal studies may play in addressing some of the most significant concerns. It discusses the contours of a research approach, building on previous work in WGS as it intersects with critical legal scholarship from other locations in the academy with similar goals, purposes, and commitments to social justice. It also assesses the extent to which legal studies are evidenced in current published works in WGS journals and emphasizes how an increased emphasis on such scholarship permits researchers to usefully explore significant concerns in the field, including the operation of power and privilege, possible interventions in dominant cultural discourses, and legal constructions of intersecting roles of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Further, the article suggests that transdisciplinary critical womanist legal studies may help to address concerns that the successful institutionalization of WGS has narrowed the field’s focus, blunted its critical edge, and separated academic work from grassroots communities and political action.

Résumé
Dans le contexte des récentes critiques de l’institutionnalisation des Études sur le genre et les femmes (EGF) au sein du milieu universitaire, cet article met en avant le rôle que peuvent jouer les études juridiques transdisciplinaires et critiques du « womanism » pour aborder certaines des préoccupations les plus importantes. Il discute des contours d’une approche de recherche, s’appuyant sur des travaux antérieurs en EGF et de leurs recoupements avec des connaissances juridiques critiques d’autres domaines du milieu universitaire ayant des buts, des objectifs et des engagements semblables envers la justice sociale. Il évalue également dans quelle mesure les études juridiques sont représentées dans les travaux actuels publiés dans les revues EGF et souligne comment une insistance accrue sur ce savoir permet aux chercheurs d’explorer utilement des préoccupations importantes dans ce domaine, y compris le fonctionnement du pouvoir et des privilèges, les interventions possibles dans les discours culturels dominants et les constructions juridiques des rôles entrecroisés liés à la race, au sexe, à la classe et à la sexualité. En outre, cet article suggère que des études juridiques transdisciplinaires et critiques du « womanism » peuvent aider à aborder les préoccupations que l’institutionnalisation réussie des EGF a rétréci la portée du domaine, émoussé son énergie critique et isolé les travaux universitaires des communautés de base et de l’action politique.


Keywords


field formation / institutionalization / legal studies / transdisciplinarity / women’s studies

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APPENDIX A

Law-Related Articles in Eight Leading Women’s Studies Journals, 2008-2013

Feminist Formations [2010-2013]

Halva-Neubauer, Glen A., and Sara L. Zeigler. 2010. “Promoting Fetal Personhood: The Rhetorical and Legislative Strategies of the Pro-Life Movement after Planned Parenthood v. Casey.” Feminist Formations 22 (2): 101-123.

Shehadeh, Lamia Rustum. 2011. “Gender-Relevant Legal Change in Lebanon.” Feminist Formations 23 (1): 210-228.

Strobl, Staci. 2011. “Progressive or Neo-Traditional? Policewomen in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries.” Feminist Formations 23 (1): 51-74.

Ahmed, Fauzia Erfan. 2013. “The Compassionate Courtroom: Feminist Governance, Discourse, and Islam in a Bangladeshi Shalish.” Feminist Formations 25 (1): 157-183.

Feminist Studies

García-López, Gladys, and Denise A. Segura. 2008. “‘They Are Testing You All the Time’: Negotiating Dual Femininities among Chicana Attorneys.” Feminist Studies 34 (1/2): 229-258.

Maddali, Anita Ortiz. 2008. “Sophia’s Choice: Problems Faced by Female Asylum-Seekers and Their U.S.-Citizen Children.” Feminist Studies 34 (1/2): 277-290.

Elmore, Cindy. 2010. “On and On, Over and Over: The Gender War in Child Support Enforcement Court.” Feminist Studies 36 (2): 397-403.

Evans, Jennifer V. 2010. “Decriminalization, Seduction, and ‘Unnatural Desire’ in East Germany.” Feminist Studies 36 (3): 553-577.

Myers, Polly Reed. 2010. “Jane Doe v. Boeing Company: Transsexuality and Compulsory Gendering in Corporate Capitalism.” Feminist Studies 36 (3): 493-517.

Moeller, Robert G. 2010. “The Regulation of Male Homosexuality in Postwar East and West Germany: An Introduction.” Feminist Studies 36 (3): 521-527.

Moeller, Robert G. 2010. “Private Acts, Public Anxieties, and the Fight to Decriminalize Male Homosexuality in West Germany.” Feminist Studies 36 (3): 528-552.

Basu, Srimati. 2011. “Sexual Property: Staging Rape and Marriage in Indian Law and Feminist Theory.” Feminist Studies 37 (1): 185-211.

Ludlow, Jeannie. 2012. “Love and Goodness: Toward a New Abortion Politics.” Feminist Studies 38 (2): 474-483.

Frontiers

Zeigler, Sara L., and Kendra B. Stewart. 2009. “Positioning Women’s Rights within Asylum Policy.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 30 (2): 115-142.

Genders

Shahani, Nishant. 2009. “Section 377 and the ‘Trouble with Statism’: Legal Intervention and Queer Performativity in Contemporary India.” Genders 50: 1-27.

Wlodarczyk, Justyna. 2010. “Manufacturing Hysteria: The Import of U.S. Abortion Rhetorics to Poland.” Genders 52: 1-40.

Springer, Kimberly. 2011. “Policing Black Women’s Sexual Expression.” Genders 54: 62-73.

Hypatia

Grebowicz, Margret. 2011. “Democracy and Pornography: On Speech, Rights, Privacies, and Pleasures in Conflict.” Hypatia 26 (1): 150-165.

Gauthier, Jeffrey. 2011. “Prostitution, Sexual Autonomy, and Sex Discrimination.” Hypatia 26 (1): 166-186.

Monahan, Camille. 2013 “The Failure of the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification in Cross-Gender Prison Guard Cases: A Problem beyond Equal Employment Opportunity.” Hypatia 28 (1): 101-121.

Denike, Margaret. 2008. “The Human Rights of Others: Sovereignty, Legitimacy, and ‘Just Causes’ for the ‘War on Terror’.” Hypatia 23 (2): 95-121.

Meridians

Sudbury, Julia. 2009. “Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the U.S. and Canada.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 9 (1): 1-29.

Lodhia, Sharmila. 2009. “Legal Frankensteins and Monstrous Women: Judicial Narratives of the ‘Family in Crisis’.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 9 (2): 102-129.

Meiners, Erica R. 2009. “Never Innocent: Feminist Trouble with Sex Offender Registries and Protection in a Prison Nation.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 9 (2): 31-62.

Price, Kimala. 2010. “What is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Redefining the Pro-Choice Paradigm.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 10 (2): 42-65.

NWSA Journal [2008-2009]

Ludlow, Jeannie. 2008. “Sometimes, It’s a Child and a Choice: Toward an Embodied Abortion Praxis.” NWSA Journal 20 (1): 26-50.

Lawston, Jodie Michelle. 2008. “Women, the Criminal Justice System, and Incarceration: Processes of Power, Silence, and Resistance.” NWSA Journal 20 (2): 1-18.

Schlesinger, Tract. 2008. “Equality at the Price of Justice.” NWSA Journal 20 (2): 27-47.

Block, Diana, Urszula Wislanka, Cassie Pierson, and Pam Fadem. 2008. “The Fire Inside: Newsletter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.” NWSA Journal 20 (2): 48-70.

Reynolds, Marylee. 2008. “The War on Drugs, Prison Building, and Globalization: Catalysts for the Global Incarceration of Women.” NWSA Journal 20 (2): 72-95.

Irving, Toni. 2008. “Decoding Black Women: Policing Practices and Rape Prosecution on the Streets of Philadelphia.” NWSA Journal 20 (2): 100-120.

Deeb-Sossa, Natalie, and Heather Kane. 2009. “Not Avoiding a ‘Sensitive Topic’: Strategies to Teach about Women’s Reproductive Rights.” NWSA Journal 21 (1): 151-177.

Slagter, Janet Trapp, and Kathryn Forbes. 2009. “Sexual Harassment Policy, Bureaucratic Audit Culture, and Women’s Studies.” NWSA Journal 21 (2): 144-170.

Gardner, Susan K. 2009. “Coming Out of the Sexual Harassment Closet: One Woman’s Story of Politics and Change in Higher Education.” NWSA Journal 21 (2): 171-195.

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society

Berger, Susan A. 2009. “Production and Reproduction of Gender and Sexuality in Legal Discourses of Asylum in the United States.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 34(3): 659-685.

Smith, Anna Marie. 2009. “Reproductive Technology, Family Law, and the Post-Welfare State: The California Same-Sex Parents’ Rights “Victories” of 2005.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society. 34 (4): 827-850.

Alexander-Floyd, Nikol G. 2010. “Critical Race Black Feminism: A ‘Jurisprudence of Resistance’ and the Transformation of the Academy.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 35 (4): 810-820.

Roggeband, Conny. 2010. “The Victim-Agent Dilemma: How Migrant Women’s Organizations in the Netherlands Deal with a Contradictory Policy Frame.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 35 (4): 943-967.

Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2010. “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 36 (1): 45-71.

Haney, Lynne A. 2010. “Working through Mass Incarceration: Gender and the Politics of Prison Labor from East to West.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 36 (1): 73-97.

Fadlalla, Amal Hassan. 2011. “State of Vulnerability and Humanitarian Visibility on the Verge of Sudan’s Secession: Lubna’s Pants and the Transnational Politics of Rights and Dissent.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 37 (1): 159-184.

Basu, Srimati. 2012. “Judges of Normality: Mediating Marriage in the Family Courts of Kolkata, India.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 37 (2): 469-492.

Koomen, Jonneke. 2013. “’Without These Women, the Tribunal Cannot Do Anything’: The Politics of Witness Testimony on Sexual Violence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 38 (2): 253-277.

Cho, Sumi, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Leslie McCall. 2013. “Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 38 (4): 785-810.

Carbado, Devon W. 2013. “Colorblind Intersectionality.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 38 (4): 811-845.

MacKinnon, Catharine A. 2013. “Intersectionality as Method: A Note.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 38 (4): 1019-1030.

Spade, Dean. 2013. “Intersectional Resistance and Law Reform.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 38 (4): 1031-1055.

Women’s Studies Quarterly

Jackson, Jessi Lee, and Erica R. Meiners. 2011. “Fear and Loathing: Public Feelings in Antiprison Work.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 39 (1/2): 270-291.

Miller, J. Hillis. 2011. “Resignifying Excitable Speech.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 39 (1/2): 223-227.

Loeb, Elizabeth. 2008. “Cutting It Off: Bodily Integrity, Identity Disorders, and the Sovereign Stakes of Corporeal Desire in U.S. Law.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36 (3/4): 44-64.

Sears, Clare. 2008. “Electric Brilliancy: Cross-Dressing Law and Freak Show Displays in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36 (3/4): 170-188.

Currah, Paisley. 2008. “Expecting Bodies: The Pregnant Man and Transgender Exclusion from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36 (3/4): 330-337.

Ratliff, Clancy. 2009. “Policing Miscarriage: Infertility Blogging, Rhetorical Enclaves, and the Case of House Bill 1677.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 37 (1/2): 125-146.

Culbertson, Tucker. 2008. “Law and the Emotions: A Conference Report.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36 (1/2): 331-339.


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