Form, Function, and Feminist Law Journals

Article excerpt

An inquiry into the function of feminist law journals needs to ask first: functions for whom? The answer must, it seems to me, vary depending upon whose perspective we take.

Let me single out for special emphasis the role of feminist journals for feminist law students. Journals provide one way to find like-minded souls and to infuse legal education with a perspective that many students find a ppallingly absent in classroom offerings. This magnet-like function strikes me as equally (if not more) important than anything else feminist law journals might do. I confess to being somewhat autobiographical here. As a law student in the early 1980s, the time I spent as an articles editor on the Harvard Women's Law Journal was among the richest parts of my law school experience. Through that journal work, I saw some tangible evidence of what it might actually mean to be a feminist lawyer--an idea that seemed to me, as a student, distinctly more abstract than concrete. But more importantly, I worked with a terrific group of women, several of whom today remain close friends and fellow travelers. We sometimes debated contentious issues about the feminist debate over pornography (a very hot topic at the time), the links between gender and race, the role of lesbians in the feminist legal movement, and other questions. I recall some passionate discussions engendered, so to speak, by several editors simultaneously taking an intensive January term Sex Discrimination class taught by the formidable Catharine MacKinnon. That class was as rich and provocative as anything I took in law school, but the discussions among Women's Law Journal staff members that spilled over into journal meetings added new dimensions and may have been where I, as a law student, most actively engaged the questions about equality that had brought me to law school in the first place.

There are, of course, many other perspectives we might take. For feminist lawyers and policy advocates, for example, feminist journals might provide guidance on new questions that have been relatively unexplored in courts or more conventional academic fora. (1) Likewise, feminist law journals provide a good place to publish for those seeking to influence ongoing debates in feminist theory. (2) And often, feminist journals provide engaging symposium questions that begin interesting conversations. (3) Today's topic is a good example of a provocative symposium question that has induced many of us to think about a question that might not otherwise appear on our radar.

Indeed, as I have been moved to think more specifically about the roles of feminist law journals, I have come to see how existential questions about feminist journals are emblematic of much larger issues facing academic activists. I include in this category many scholars working in women's studies, race studies, ethnic studies, queer theory, disability studies, and beyond--fields that I will call "difference studies" in this paper. I will suggest that, as we look at the forms and functions of feminist law journals, we can see broader themes about the sometimes uneasy intersection between academia and advocacy for social justice.

Prompted by this symposium, I spent some time perusing the "mission statements" of many feminist law journals, statements that are available in many cases on journal websites. (4) I wondered how these journals saw their own functions. Beyond their shared signature feature--the choice to engage the proverbial "woman question"--two broad commitments leapt out at me as particularly significant: commitment to scholarship that (i) is strongly committed to social equality; and (2) is both interdisciplinary and intersectional. These are not the only distinguishing features of the journals, but they are the two on which I would like to focus.

First, and unsurprisingly, feminist law journals generally embrace the mantle of social justice. The Texas Journal of Women and the Law captures this quite succinctly, with a logo that shows a women's sign with scales of justice hanging on either side of its vertical bars. …