Thinking about Feminism, Social Justice, and the Place of Feminist Law Journals: A Letter to the Editors

By Goldberg, Suzanne B. | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Thinking about Feminism, Social Justice, and the Place of Feminist Law Journals: A Letter to the Editors


Goldberg, Suzanne B., Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


Dear Editors:

You, like the editors who came before you, have staked a place in an invigorating and challenging conversation about the transformative potential of feminist approaches to social justice. (1) As you envision and edit your journal, fundamental questions about the purpose of feminist scholarship and the value of retaining an autonomous space for feminist jurisprudence loom large.

Not surprisingly, The Bluebook will provide little guidance on these topics. Instead, consistent with the feminist enterprise, (2) you will need to search out sources, both within and outside of the law school library, to spark your critical thinking. Ideally these will ensure that, through the daily editorial grind, you keep in mind multiple perspectives regarding the journal's overarching mission. More specifically, you will likely find yourself asking what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you might accomplish.

With these questions in mind, this essay offers a framework for thinking about the project of a feminist law journal. (3) The framework builds on two central beliefs about our journals. First, feminist law journals have a self-consciously normative and transformative purpose. That is, feminist law journals deliberately set out, at a minimum, to advance views that will challenge sex and gender stereotyping and other barriers to women's equality. (4) Second, this overt commitment to a vision of social change distinguishes feminist law journals from many others (5) and has important effects on the journals' styles and contents. To build on the observation of Emma Coleman Jordan, feminist law journals play an insubordinate role in response to the subordinating effects of legal academia. (6) My argument is that this role, in turn, plays a part in shaping the journals themselves.

Specifically, the journals' commitment to feminist visions of social justice affects who is writing for the journals, how we are writing, and what we are writing about. The essay will look at each of these in turn.

First, consider how the transformative, feminist aim affects who the journals consider to be among their body of potential authors. An admittedly unscientific survey of journal mission statements suggests that although feminist journals characterize their goals in somewhat different ways, almost all dedicate themselves to creating a forum in which practicing lawyers and others whose lives or work are affected by the law can advance their perspectives alongside legal scholars, judges, and law students. (7) This overt embrace of non-academics differs substantially from the strong preference of most other journals for the scholarly work of law professors and, to a limited extent, judges and law students over the work of lawyers in practice. (8)

Second, we need to consider the ways in which the feminist commitment to ending subordination based on sex (and often other characteristics, such as gender identity, race, ethnicity, class, physical ability, and sexual orientation) (9) affects how writers speak in feminist law journals both in terms of their language use and their writing styles and formats.

With respect to terminology, the journals have provided a leading model for the use of non-sexist language. Although many different types of journals now have style manuals that prefer non-sexist language, the earliest volumes of feminist law journals had the opportunity to play a critical role in influencing others' language use. In remarks on the creation of the Wisconsin Women's Law Journal in 1985, Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, now Chief Justice, reinforced the potential for this type of contribution. She observed that the journal had "a valuable opportunity to accustom its readers to language that is gender-free and to use words that reflect the realities of society today and reinforce the aspirations of tomorrow." (10) For example, she wrote, the journal could "call homemakers unsalaried, not unemployed.

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Thinking about Feminism, Social Justice, and the Place of Feminist Law Journals: A Letter to the Editors
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