A Journal of One's Own? Beginning the Project of Historicizing the Development of Women's Law Journals

By Batlan, Felice | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, September 2003 | Go to article overview

A Journal of One's Own? Beginning the Project of Historicizing the Development of Women's Law Journals


Batlan, Felice, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


Since the 1970s, feminism has helped transform the university and the production of knowledge. Not only have increasing numbers of female students, professors, and administrators entered universities, they have also created women's studies programs and courses, which have been slowly integrated into the various disciplines and university curricula. Further, feminism has spurred scholars to question traditional ways of knowing and teaching, academic disciplines, categorizations of knowledge, scholarly methodologies, and the university's separation from the broader community. (1) One component in this production and distribution of new knowledge has been the establishment of feminist academic journals such as Feminist Studies (1972), Women's Studies (1972), Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1975), and Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies (1975). These journals created a space for the development of a body of literature that was oppositional but also sanctioned, institutionalized, and eventually legitimated. (2)

Feminism has also entered legal academia and had far-reaching effects on it, though these have been s lower to take shape and often have faced resistance. Within legal academia, somewhat later than the development of the major feminist academic journals, women's law journals were founded--not by established scholars but rather by law students. Leaving aside the peculiar origins and development of law reviews and law journals as a whole, there are unique features of the story of women's law journals--of their origin, evolution, and problematic status that deserve study.

I am presently in the process of examining the history of two of the first women's law journals--the Harvard Women's Law Journal (HWLJ), established in 1978, and the Berkeley Women's Law Journal (BWLJ), established in 1985. This excerpt largely focuses on the early years of the HWLJ and the questions that I have brought t o this project. I engage in a discourse analysis while also using an intellectual and social history perspective. I examine what women's law journal editors wrote about the roles of the journals, what authors were published, what topics were explored, the language and paradigms employed, the contours of debates engaged in, their institutional practices, and their conformity to or departure from traditional law review conventions. I also try to understand women's law journals as fluid, reflecting as well as constructing broader intellectual trends within academia, feminist publication, and the larger women's movement.

Women's law journals might be described as sites of irony. Critical theorist Donna Haraway writes, "Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true." (3) Patrice McDermott's remarks about feminist academic journals in general are equally true of women's law journals: "In claiming acceptance by the academic establishment while participating in feminism's challenge to it, feminist academic journals function as one of Haraway's ironic cultural contradictions." (4)

In the fall of 1977, through the efforts of a number of women law students including Sheila Kuehl, Harvard Law School staged Celebration 25 to honor a quarter of a century of women at Harvard. The event was entirely organized by women students who, without official sponsorship, commandeered a basement room and, as Kuehl describes, "made it a kind of women's center." (5) Kuehl understands these actions as "subversive" and "revolutionary," and writes that the administration sensed that a gathering of women at the law school would inevitably force a discussion about the "male-centered nature of American law." (6) Celebration 25 was a small reflection of the broader women's movement of the 1970s. Like some of the writings in the feminist press, the law students who created Celebration 25 were searching for a usable past, finding and celebrating the women who had come before them, and attempting to create links between generations. …

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A Journal of One's Own? Beginning the Project of Historicizing the Development of Women's Law Journals
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