A Feminist Perspective on Children and Law: From Objectification to Relational Subjectivities
International Perspectives and Empirical Findings on Child Participation: From Social Exclusion to Child-Inclusive Policies (Tali Gal & Benedetta Faedi Duramy, eds. 2015)
18 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2015
Date Written: July 1, 2015
This chapter presents a new framework for thinking about feminism and children. The chapter begins by chronicling feminist challenges to law’s objectification of children, highlighting the many ways that children remain the objects of adult and state authority despite the demise of the patriarchal family. Children’s dependencies are thought to justify such treatment, yet feminist analysis exposes the ways in which law constructs aspects of that dependency. Law’s role in constructing children’s dependency in turn provides a basis to question law’s continued treatment of children as objects rather than subjects.
The second part of the chapter proceeds to articulate a relational approach to children’s subjectivity. Building on the work of Martha Minow, this approach highlights children’s experiences as active participants in multiple relationships directly and indirectly mediated by law. Children’s relationships are not confined to the family, nor do they solely involve hierarchal dynamics of development and control. Children instead experience a broad range of interactions as children, separate from or in addition to their interests in becoming adults, even as they remain dependent on adults for many aspects of their lives. Children’s relationships therefore blur the traditional distinction between subjects and objects, providing a foundation for law to acknowledge and foster children’s intrinsic interests as children.
Law never simply reflects reality, however, but also always has regulatory effects. The final part of the chapter analyzes the ways in which law constructs subjectivity by relying on the category of “child”. The child is the empty space against which the category of the adult subject comes into being. Attempts to recognize children’s subjectivity therefore challenge the very meaning of subjectivity in law. This constitutive relationship between children and adults may create conflicts of interest for feminists, and otherwise make change difficult, but it also highlights another way that adults and children are interdependent. Subjectivity therefore need not hinge on autonomy or a lack of dependency. Instead, law might recognize children as subjects even amidst their dependency, thereby constructing children as participants in multiple relationships and settings mediated by law.
Keywords: Children, Feminism, Relational Subjectivities, Capacity, Dependency, Autonomy, Children's Relationships, Children's Rights
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation