A Law of Her Own: The Reasonable Woman as a Measure of Man

A Law of Her Own: The Reasonable Woman as a Measure of Man

A Law of Her Own: The Reasonable Woman as a Measure of Man

A Law of Her Own: The Reasonable Woman as a Measure of Man

Synopsis

How does one capture the delightful irony of Edith Wharton's prose or the spare lyricism of Kate Chopin's? Kathleen Wheeler challenges the reader to experiment with a more imaginative method of literary criticism in order to comprehend more fully writers of the Modernist and late Realist period. In examining the creative works of seven women writers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Wheeler never lets the mystery and magic of literature be overcome by dry critical analysis.

Modernist Women Writers and Narrative Art begins by evaluating how Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, and Willa Cather all engaged in an ironic critique of realism. They explored the inadequacies of this form in expressing human experience and revealed its hidden, often contradictory, assumptions. Building on the foundation that Wharton, Chopin, and Cather established, Jean Rhys, Katherine Mansfield, Stevie Smith, and Jane Bowles brought literature into the era we now consider modernism. Drawing on insights from feminist theory, deconstructionism and revisions of new historicism, Kathleen Wheeler reveals a literary tradition rich in narrative strategy and stylistic sophistication.

Excerpt

A fundamental tenet of the American legal system is uniform application of the laws based on an objective standard. But, as this disturbing, even haunting narrative makes clear, a single nongendered standard of reasonable conduct—the “reasonable person”—remains as elusive as ever.

Through case after case involving hostile environment sexual harassment, domestic homicide, stalking, and rape, Forell and Matthews reveal a harrowing truth: “the reasonable person” is little more than a mask for “the reasonable man” it replaced. Man remains the measure of woman and as a result the law continues to condone men’s victimization of women. Taking to heart another fundamental tenet of law— that law is a system of values—the authors propose a radical departure: if we truly believe in rights to bodily integrity, individual agency, and autonomy, why not make woman the measure of man?

The authors’ proposal that a reasonable woman standard should apply in all cases of sexual harassment, stalking, domestic homicide, and rape is uncompromising and provocative—a frontal challenge to the male standard that remains deeply embedded in American law. Whether or not the reader embraces their proposal, there is no turning back from the legal reality their narrative so baldly exposes.

Barbara Y. Welke Department of History University of Minnesota . . .

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