Law is not Turgid and Literature not Soft and Fleshy: Gendering and Heteronormativity in Law and Literature Scholarship
Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 36, pp. 65-86, 2012
22 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2012
Date Written: 2012
This essay uncovers a pattern of gendering in Law and Literature research that has contributed to limited understandings of the disciplines, taken singly, as well as to the projection of a heteronormative script on their relations to one another. This includes the troping of literature as feminine and that of law as masculine, and the emplotment of their relationship as that of an initially antagonistic yet ultimately satisfying heterosexual romance. Accordingly, actual forms of discrimination towards women are confused with contradictory images of a feminized literature as an empathetic, eloquent and morally superior woman. This idealized image of literature is figured as initially suffering under the regime of rationalistic, masculinized law but then reforming ‘him’ through the power of love. To posit law as a man and literature as a woman is to elide their similarities and reify their differences. After assembling evidence of gendering in US American Law and Literature work and to a lesser degree in British critical jurisprudence, the essay outlines historical reasons for why it is problematic to think of literature as morally uplifting and feminine and law as ‘brutish’ and masculine. Instances of ethical and contingent applications of law speak against any monolithic narrative that suggests that literature is inherently more morally conscious. Literature has proven to be a privileged forum for doing the police work of enforcing the gender binary as well as for maintaining other social divisions. In closing, the essay describes strategies to degender Law and Literature in an effort to move the conversation forward.
Keywords: law and literature, gender
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