Our Lives before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence

Our Lives before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence

Our Lives before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence

Our Lives before the Law: Constructing a Feminist Jurisprudence


According to Judith Baer, feminist legal scholarship today does not effectively address the harsh realities of women's lives. Feminists have marginalized themselves, she argues, by withdrawing from mainstream intellectual discourse. In Our Lives Before the Law, Baer thus presents the framework for a new feminist jurisprudence one that would return feminism to relevance by connecting it in fresh and creative ways with liberalism.

Baer starts from the traditional feminist premise that the legal system has a male bias and must do more to help women combat violence and overcome political, economic, and social disadvantages. She argues, however, that feminist scholarship has over-corrected for this bias. By emphasizing the ways in which the system fails women, feminists have lost sight of how it can be used to promote women's interests and have made it easy for conventional scholars to ignore legitimate feminist concerns. In particular, feminists have wrongly linked the genuine flaws of conventional legal theory to its basis in liberalism, arguing that liberalism focuses too heavily on individual freedom and not enough on individual resp


This book was born out of anger and hope. the anger comes from my observations of the lives women live and from the failure of contemporary feminist scholarship to deal with the conditions women endure. the hope comes from my belief that theory can explain situations and practice can improve them. These beliefs persist in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. But acting on them has worked for me often enough to inspire these efforts to reground and redirect feminist jurisprudence.

This is a contrarian book. I reject much of the conventional wisdom about feminism and American society. I believe that the worst mistake feminists have made is to be too nice. the effort to be nice has corrupted and weakened both feminist theory and feminist practice. Far from bashing men, we have labored to avoid offending them. We have too often pulled our punches when discussing male aggression, male irresponsibility, male indolence, and male privilege. We have wasted time and energy criticizing feminists who refuse to moderate their message. Far from trashing fulltime homemakers, pink-collar workers, or any women who lead lives different from those we want for ourselves, we have been so eager to praise women for the work they do that we have let it stay women's work. This kind of accommodation may or may not be good politics, but it is never good scholarship. the desire to please must not master the pursuit of truth.

Feminist failures of nerve arise partly from the fact that feminists tend to come from at least one of two groups of people who are trained in kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and guilt. These groups are women and liberals. (And I venture a guess that male feminists are even more likely than women to be present or former liberals.) As critical as feminists are of both gender stereotypes and liberalism, we too often act like lady liberals. Femininity and liberalism share certain habitual attitudes. Guilt is one; another is what might be called asymmetrical solicitude.

Liberals learn to respect other people's points of view, but not to expect these others to reciprocate. Feminists often behave the same way. They extend to their opponents the rights to act and the immunities from interference which are central tenets of liberalism, but they hesitate to claim these benefits for themselves. For example, supporters of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and of reproductive freedom have gotten frequent reminders that many women disagree with them, that they do not speak for all women. Anti-ERA and antichoice women do not hear similar admonitions, although the same applies to them. Habits of courtesy, defer-

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