Authority and Corporeality: The Conundrum for Women in Law

18 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2012

Date Written: November 5, 1998


Despite a significant increase in the number of women in the legal profession, women continue to be disproportionately represented in the lower echelons. It is apparent that the liberal progressivist thesis, which avers that the asymmetry will be remedied through numerosity, cannot be sustained. Structural theories of discrimination may be invoked to explain the gender differential, but it is argued that such theories are inadequate. The key to the conundrum lies in the social construction of femininity and masculinity through what are termed the ‘fictive feminine’ and the ‘imagined masculine.'

Drawing on qualitative research conducted for Dissonance and Distrust Women in the Legal Profession (Oxford University Press, 1996), the paper considers the ways in which the gender boundary is maintained so that the masculine remains the norm and the feminine the `other' for legal practice. It is argued that mechanisms emphasising the sexed body of the woman lawyer, including eroticisation, abjection, and motherhood, continue to reproduce conventional notions of the feminine and to diminish the authority of women as legal knowers in subtle ways.

Keywords: feminism, authority, women, legal practice

Suggested Citation

Thornton, Margaret, Authority and Corporeality: The Conundrum for Women in Law (November 5, 1998). ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 12-44, Available at SSRN: or

Margaret Thornton (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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