Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why Feminist Legal Theory Still Needs Mary Joe Frug

Elizabeth M. Schneider, Why Feminist Legal Theory Still Needs Mary Joe Frug: Thoughts on Conflicts in Feminism, 51 New England L.Rev. (2017)

Mary Joe Frug was murdered in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1991, more than twenty-five years ago. Some of us who were close to Mary Joe, or whose lives and/or work have been influenced by Mary Joe, were invited to contribute the New England Law Review’s
Memorial Symposium on the twenty-fifth anniversary of her tragic death.


Today, twenty-five years after her death, I see even more of a need for the integration of Mary Joe’s perspectives into ongoing work on feminist legal theory and practice. We are in the midst of a very fragmented time, where there seems to be little appreciation of, and sensitivity to, the history of feminist legal theory and practice, and there has been considerable scholarly and activist dispute.***


Mary Joe called herself a post-modernist but her approach had many different dimensions. She was not simple and reflexive. Both Minow and Rosenbury highlight the flexibility of her thinking and her constant questioning and re-questioning of her own views. Martha Minow identifies several aspects of Mary Joe’s thinking: she “introduced, elaborated, or demonstrated a range of strategies and tactics” in every situation, and saw “the danger of turning any form of critical analysis into a formula or mechanical application . . . .” There was no freezing of one single approach; no rigidity. Laura Rosenbury emphasizes the complex dimensions of Mary Joe’s attitude toward law: she saw law as not simply a tool of repression or liberation. Law could also play a constructive force, and law reform strategies were important to her in concrete settings.
Mary Joe focused on specifics, such as: a particular doctrinal issue, the contested interpretation of a particular legal strategy. Contingency and context were both central to her approach to law.

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