Feminist Legal History: Essays on Women and Law

Feminist Legal History: Essays on Women and Law

Feminist Legal History: Essays on Women and Law

Feminist Legal History: Essays on Women and Law

Excerpt

Feminist Legal History offers new visions of American legal history that reveal women’s engagement with the law over the past two centuries. The essays in this book look at women’s status in society over time through the lens of the law. The conventional story portrays law as a barrier or constraint upon women’s rights. While law has and continues to operate as a restraint upon women’s full participation in society, law has also worked as a facilitating structure. The overall picture gleaned from the snapshots in time offered in this book shows the actualizing power of the law for women. Women have used the law historically as a vehicle to obtain personal and societal change. Even more, women have used feminist theory to transform the law itself to incorporate an appreciation of gendered realities.

The essays here locate women at the center of a historical understanding of the past. In what has been called “engendering legal history,” the works integrate the stories of women into the dominant history of the law and then seek to reconstruct the assumed contours of history. The authors recover the women and their contributions that have been omitted from history, enabling a rewriting of the traditional historical narratives. The research fills in some of the missing pieces of legal history and goes further to offer alternative interpretations of the general discourse of law: “Things we thought we knew about American history turn out to be more complex than we had suspected.” The essays test familiar generalizations and challenge the social construction of gender. Using historical inquiry, the authors focus on the details and social context, rather than the legal rules, to better understand the meaning and impact of the law. The details are important to avoid overgeneralizations and superficial descriptions of how and why events occurred in the past. Such reexaminations of American legal history contribute to discussions of the law and policy decisions of today in ways that promote women’s rights, women’s interests, and women’s empowerment.

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