Martha Fineman, More Transformative Than Ever

By Alexandre, Michèle | Emory Law Journal, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Martha Fineman, More Transformative Than Ever


Alexandre, Michèle, Emory Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

Nancy Polikoff once urged: "Read Martha Fineman."1 This is an admonishment as urgent now as it was when Polikoff published her essay titled Why Lesbians and Gay Men Should Read Martha Fineman2 Although Polikoff focused her analysis on the disproportional place marriage held, at the time, in LGBTQ activism,3 these three simple words capture eloquently the tremendous debt society and legal scholarship owe to Fineman. This is a debt resulting from her transcendent contributions and push for structural reforms in her work and life-a debt that obligates any justice seeker to educate themselves by digging deep into Fineman's work.

Very few sources or body of work provide more depth than Fineman's work,4 and even fewer incorporate such thorough documentation of the failing equality-based antidiscrimination structures. Adding to these gifts, Fineman goes even further by providing transformative avenues for changing and rebuilding the same institutions which inadequacies she so deftly laid bare. Consequently, it is no surprise that vulnerability theory today-the natural offshoot of Fineman's dependency theory and criticism of formal antidiscrimination structures-transforms and unifies across disciplines. From Leeds to Amsterdam to everywhere in the United States, scholars and equity activists are galvanized to implement vulnerability in their fields and their own locales.

Fineman's vulnerability project encompasses her brilliance, her unabated dedication to equity, and, equally as important, her faith in the human potential. Those are the qualities that inspired so many of us to return time and time again to her5 and her work for implementation strategies.6 Those qualities brought us to countless sessions of uncomfortable conversations, eager to grapple with the hard task of changing structures to honor human dignity.

To read Fineman closely is, of course, to fall in love with her rigor and her incisive deconstruction of complex problems. To work with Martha is to fall in love with her spirit, her intellectual generosity, and her wholesale commitment to a better world. And, those who have worked with her, who have used her work, and who have built on her frameworks know the value of Polikoff's advice for current and future equity scholars. Are you passionate about gender and LGBTQ equity? Read Martha Fineman.7 Might you be struggling to find a framework for better fulfillment of the promise of disability and non-ableism movements? Read Martha Fineman.8 Interested in economic equity and transformative enforcement of corporate governance rules? Read Martha Fineman.9 Or, are you focused on the subjugating operations of global trade and markets? Read Martha Fineman.10

In these times, especially as social movements and legal scholarship continue to collide more closely, this advice remains urgent. The recent waves of social discussions, currently interrogating power structures and acknowledging the impact of sexual violence in all spheres, are necessary and welcome. To be clear, we have experienced these movements periodically. It is, in fact, through these past experiences that we have learned that collective angst and national conversations can lead to social transformation. However, when it comes to gender equity and antidiscrimination goals, that potential will remain unfulfilled if Polikoff's advice is not heeded by new generations.11 Failing to read Fineman's work carefully, for example, has helped to maintain dissentions and prevent useful coalitions among equity activists. Current movements like #metoo12 and Project: Time Off13 should take heed and learn from these past failures. Follow Polikoff's advice. Read Martha Fineman. Her work helps scholars map out the interconnected webs of power structures that, from slavery7 Jim Crow to today, have prevented, until now, a #metoo-type movement.14 Similarly, it is Fineman's eloquent mapping out of our interconnected dependencies and vulnerabilities that unify us. …

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