Feminism and the Law in Canada - Overview

T. Caputo, M. Kennedy, C. Reasons, and A. Brannigan, eds., Law and Society: A Critical Perspective, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989, pp. 255-270

Posted: 5 Jun 2013

See all articles by Elizabeth A. Sheehy

Elizabeth A. Sheehy

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1989

Abstract

The legal system has long been a target for lobbying by activists interested in achieving rights for marginalized groups of people in society. The women's movement is no different in this respect. Since the late nineteenth century, women have sought to achieve law reform through legislation (Cleverdon 1974; Backhouse 1985) and through the courts (Marchildon 1981; Stone 1979; Jones 1984). It should come as no surprise, then, that much Canadian literature concerning women and the law derives from a liberal perspective which assumes that the law consists of a neutral body of rules which can, with some effort and persuasion, be applied fairly to women as subjects. On the other hand, just as a body of literature has developed on law from critical conflict and Marxist perspectives, so too have some feminist analyses of the nature and utility of law challenged the limits of the liberal paradigm. Like other critical perspectives, feminist perspectives on law differ in their theoretical bases: there are liberal feminists, result equality feminists, Marxist and socialist feminists, radical feminists, and integrative feminists, to name the main categories.

This overview identifies, describes and contextualizes major feminist perspectives on law as they have developed in Canada since approximately 1970, when feminist legal scholarship began to proliferate. We have defined feminist scholarship as "scholarship which takes into account a woman's perspective or interests". An assumption underlying this definition is that women's perspectives differ from men's in reflection of their respective positions in the political and economic hierarchy and the social meanings attached to biological differences. The breadth of the definition accommodates feminists who disagree about the sources of women's inequality and the mechanisms for achieving meaningful change, but excludes those authors who purport to treat issues of concern to women in a "neutral" fashion.

Keywords: womens movement, liberal feminists, result equality feminists, Marxist and socialist feminists, radical feminists, and integrative feminists, development of major feminist perspectives on law, feminist perspectives on law, feminist scholarship, disagree about sources of women's inequality

Suggested Citation

Sheehy, Elizabeth A., Feminism and the Law in Canada - Overview (1989). T. Caputo, M. Kennedy, C. Reasons, and A. Brannigan, eds., Law and Society: A Critical Perspective, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989, pp. 255-270. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2273688

Elizabeth A. Sheehy (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5
Canada

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