Monday, November 8, 2021

Gender Disruption, Amelioration and Transformation: A Comparative Perspective

Rosalind Dixon and Amelia Loughland have posted their forthcoming book chapter on SSRN titled Gender Disruption, Amelioration: A Comparative Perspective. Their chapter is forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Feminism and the Law in the U.S. edited by Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas, and Verna L. Williams.  These authors conclude as follow:  

The insights provided by U.S. feminist legal theory are rich and complex. They include the insights provided by the “first wave” of liberal, cultural and dominance feminist legal theorists, as well as those of a later wave of intersectional, sex positive/agency and poststructural/post-modern feminist legal thinkers. And together, these various waves or schools of feminist legal thought draw attention to the many different forms of gender injustice experienced by women in the U.S. today – and the ways in which sex, gender, race, sexuality and other forms of disadvantage intersect to produce constraints and disadvantage for women and men of different backgrounds. They can likewise help us understand the experiences of women worldwide, and their search for gender justice.

The difficulty we suggest, however, is that this internal complexity or richness may lead to broader legal audiences “tuning out” to the full range of insights provided by American feminist legal thought – and especially the newer, more complex insights provided by intersectional, sex positive/agency and post-structural/post-modern feminist legal thinkers.

By comparison, the approach we propose – of mapping different feminist insights onto goals of gender-based amelioration, disruption and transformation – goes a long way to avoiding those dangers. While inevitably simplifying and reducing the nuance and complexity of feminist legal insights, our approach is broad enough to encompass the key insights of all major feminist legal theoretic approaches in the U.S. today, including both older and newer feminisms.

It also provides a roadmap for understanding the nature and reasons for differences among feminists, as well as areas of commonality: the goal of amelioration can sometimes work in tandem with more radical goals of disruption or transformation, but often the two sets of goals will be in conflict. Similarly, disruption may in some cases help pave the way for transformation, but in others produce too much uncertainty as to future change to be embraced by those seeking to pursue predefined transformative goals.

It is also a roadmap that comes from a process of reflective engagement with, and can assist in, understanding legal feminist claims beyond the U.S. We illustrate this in the chapter by reference to transnational accounts of the gendered impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and government responses to it. Although these debates are ongoing, and will no doubt evolve in the future, the basic contours of the debate to date show the value of understanding feminist and gender justice claims through the lens of the goals of amelioration, disruption and transformation in gender justice.

Ultimately, “mapping” the debates according to these goals helps to illuminate continuities between different schools of thought, as well as differences, and thus clarify the conceptual and political stakes for efforts at feminist collaboration and coalition-formation. Feminist disagreement will live on even after this mapping is done. Indeed, it is arguably essential to our ability to capture the multiplicity of women’s experiences. But it need not stand in the way of coalition-driven efforts at feminist legal change in the U.S. or elsewhere. Gender amelioration, disruption and transformation are all goals that feminists can recognize as sources of common ground, even as we continue to understand them and their priority in quite different ways.

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