What's Wrong with Rights? Problems for Feminist Politics of Law

What's Wrong with Rights? Problems for Feminist Politics of Law

What's Wrong with Rights? Problems for Feminist Politics of Law

What's Wrong with Rights? Problems for Feminist Politics of Law

Excerpt

The title of this collection of essays sets up the paradox that there is something wrong with rights. This is more than a verbal paradox. To put the paradox in terms of strategy, this book addresses the question of whether the invocation of rights should continue to be a feature of feminist politics of law. The question constitutes an immediate dilemma for feminists. On the one hand, feminists have traditionally made their political demands in terms of rights, and their achievements have formed the basis for much contemporary feminist politics of law. Furthermore, other radical and progressive thinkers have recently intensified campaigns for rights, for example in their support for Charter 88 and for a UK Bill of Rights. On the other hand, feminist academics and activists are becoming sceptical about the usefulness of traditional appeals to rights for the achievement of feminist goals in relation to law (cf. Smart 1989: 138-59; Women's Reproductive Rights Campaign (VARRC) 1990: 4)

The essays in this collection give reasons why feminists should hesitate before expressing their political strategies in terms of rights. Appeals to rights, however attractive at first sight, frequently conceal inadequate theories of law in relation to women's social position. Typically, these theories are essentialist. In this book, essentialism has a very simple meaning, and it is best explained initially through a conventional feminist understanding of essentialism.

Rosemary Pringle has provided a brief but useful account of the type of feminist essentialism 'which takes for granted the unity of both gender categories and the law'; this essentialism 'pits masculine law against the unity of women and of feminist law' (1990: 229). One example is the theory that law systematically oppresses women by giving expression to male interests. This type of feminist legal essentialism would certainly be included in the meaning of essentialism used in this book, but it would not exhaust it. Here essentialism refers to any theory of law which seeks to identify the essential feature or features of law. For example, it would refer to theories of law which claim it to be the revealed word of God or the embodiment of liberal moral values, and it would refer to theories of law . . .

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