Tuesday, September 20, 2022
One of these women was Martha Albertson Fineman, who in the early 1980s launched the Feminism and Legal Theory Project at University of Wisconsin Law School. For decades, the project has brought together scholars and activists from the U.S. and abroad to explore the most pressing contemporary legal issues affecting women. In multiple-day sessions, organized around specific, evolving sets of issues, feminists presented working papers and debated women’s legal rights. Fineman recorded and preserved these groundbreaking conversations, as well as the working papers and other written material prepared for these sessions.
Fineman is now struggling to convince librarians more accustomed to collecting individuals’ or organizations’ papers of the importance of this historic trove of audio, visual and written materials documenting the collective development of feminist concepts, aspirations and theory.***
For close to four decades, Fineman’s Feminism and Legal Theory Project has hosted hundreds of conversations where feminist thinkers from across the United States and world have shaped and explored a wide range of concepts relating to women’s position within law and society. Those conversations delved into the “public nature of private violence,” the legal regulation of motherhood, feminism’s reception in the media, the relevance of economics to feminist thought, the complexities of sexuality, conflicting children’s and parental rights, the origins and implications of dependency and vulnerability, and the extent and nature of social responsibility.
“Feminism teaches us that the best ideas come from working together in inclusive, supportive groups,” said Fineman. “Feminism has grown through consciousness raising and the sharing of experience. The best ideas and the best politics emerge from collective engagements and processes.”***
“In the Feminism and Legal Theory Project, we created what I called ‘uncomfortable conversations’—events where people who shared values, but disagreed about strategies and implementation, could talk,” said Fineman. “If there were areas of disagreement around collective objectives, you could talk about them and work through them hopefully in a constructive manner. That’s how actual progress can be made.”***
Fineman recorded all of these conversations—a treasure trove of close to four decades of feminist intellectual history. But she is now struggling to find a home for this invaluable archive of the first generation of feminist legal thinkers.
“History has something to teach us. If we don’t collect the history and preserve it, then it can’t teach us,” said Fineman.***
After speaking with people at women’s history archives, Fineman is concerned about how decisions to preserve women’s history are made. “Who makes the determination about what and who in the past matters? How and why they make such decisions ultimately shapes what will constitute women’s or feminist history,” said Fineman. “An important piece of feminist history is at risk of being lost or isolated and sidelined.