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Third-Wave Feminism, Motherhood and the Future of Legal Theory

Bridget J. Crawford

Pace University School of Law

February 19, 2010

GENDER, SEXUALITIES AND LAW, pp. 227-240, Jackie Jones, Anna Grear, Rachel Anne Fenton, Kim Stevenson, eds., 2011

Using motherhood as a lens, this book chapter argues that third-wave feminism needs law and law needs third-wave feminism. Twenty years ago, young women in the United States boldly proclaimed the onset of feminism’s “third wave.” Third-wave feminists embraced the “fun,” “sexy,” and “girly,” rejecting the (supposedly) strident, humorless feminism of the 1970s and 1980s, while also taking up the feminist mantle. The third-wave feminist agenda makes several claims about the law, and yet it has had little or no impact on feminist legal theory. This is because third-wave feminist writing fails to grapple with gender equality or law writ large. Far from improving on the feminism of the past, third-wave feminists retreat -- to women’s detriment -- from their predecessors’ theoretical and methodological commitments. Nowhere is this clearer than in third-wave writings about fertility and motherhood.

Much of third-wave feminist writing has taken the form of the first-person narrative. Somewhat predictably, as third-wave feminists have aged, their subject-matters have changed. For third-wave feminists now in their thirties and forties, the personal account of one’s “journey” toward motherhood seems to have become the new rite of passage. Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love, Evelyn McDonnell’s Mama Rama, and Peggy Orenstein’s Waiting for Daisy are three representative examples of this milestone narrative. Taken together, these third-wave fertility and motherhood narratives contribute (perhaps unwittingly) to a mythology of motherhood that prior feminists sought to dismantle. These works pay lip-service to the notion that motherhood should not be the measure of a woman’s worth, but they embrace motherhood as the ultimate personal fulfillment. Second-wave feminists critiqued the influence of state systems, especially law, on motherhood as a practice and status. But third-wave feminists keep most critical theory at a distance. Joining third-wave feminism and law will help develop an equality jurisprudence that acknowledges women’s reproductive capacities but neutralizes the role those capacities play in women’s legal subordination.

This chapter appears in Gender, Sexualities and Law (Routledge 2011), edited by Jackie Jones, Anna Grear, Rachel Anne Fenton, Kim Stevenson.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 16

Keywords: feminism, motherhood, third wave, third-wave, feminist, theory, feminist theory

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19

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Date posted: February 22, 2008 ; Last revised: March 27, 2011

Suggested Citation

Crawford, Bridget J., Third-Wave Feminism, Motherhood and the Future of Legal Theory (February 19, 2010). GENDER, SEXUALITIES AND LAW, pp. 227-240, Jackie Jones, Anna Grear, Rachel Anne Fenton, Kim Stevenson, eds., 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1095337

Contact Information

Bridget J. Crawford (Contact Author)
Pace University School of Law ( email )
78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
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