This book is about how the law has constructed heterosexual masculinity. It assumes no prior knowledge of either law or of the debates which have emerged within feminist and men’s anti-sexist critiques of masculinity. It is a book about what it means to be a man in legal discourse and, therefore, what it is to be a man in our society. Beginning by asking ‘how might we understand the relation between law and masculinity?’, it proceeds to analyse how law has gendered the male body in the family. It seeks to do this through exploring a variety of areas in which, I argue, dominant ideas of male heterosexuality have become increasingly problematic.
In one sense this book serves as a bridge between developments which have taken place in recent years within legal theory and within the range of critical studies of men and masculinity which have sought to explore the sociality of masculinities. In a number of recent feminist texts, 1 for example, we find critical accounts of the power of law in which the legal construction of masculinity, of male sexuality, fatherhood, paternity and male authority, has assumed a central significance. However such work tends to be concerned primarily with the ways in which law constructs women and women’s experiences; ‘it is for other men to make us see masculinities, and to bring these into question’ (O’Donovan 1993:88). This is what Masculinity, Law and the Family seeks to do.
By way of contrast to such feminist legal scholarship, the object of analysis in critical studies of masculinity 2 has been the social construction of men and masculinities. At times the effects of law and legal regulation have figured heavily in such accounts. (How has law gendered men? How might we challenge such representations?) What has not tended to be within the ambit of such work, however, is a critical engagement with the power of law from