Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural

69 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2006

See all articles by Lisa R. Pruitt

Lisa R. Pruitt

University of California, Davis - School of Law


Feminists have often criticized law's ignorance of women's day-to-day, lived experiences, even as they have sought to reveal the variety among those experiences. This article builds on both critiques to argue for greater attentiveness to a neglected aspect of women's situation: place. Specifically, Professor Pruitt asserts that the hardships and vulnerability that mark the lives of rural women and constrain their moral agency are overlooked or discounted by a contemporary cultural presumption of urbanism.

This Article considers judicial responses to the realities of rural women's lives in relation to three legal issues: intimate abuse, termination of parental rights, and abortion. In each of these contexts, Pruitt scrutinizes judicial treatment of spatial isolation, lack of anonymity, a depressed socioeconomic landscape, and other features of rural America. She contrasts responses to the plight of rural women in these legal contexts, where courts often show little empathy or understanding, with judicial responses to the vulnerability and hardships associated with sustaining rural livelihoods in non-gendered contexts.

Drawing on rural sociology and economics, as well as from judicial opinions, Pruitt argues that the combination of features that constitute rural America seriously disadvantages rural women. She further maintains that this disadvantage is aggravated when society's prevailing urban perspective obscures legal recognition of the rural. Unlike Catharine MacKinnon's landmark work under a similar title, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Pruitt does not purport to articulate grand theory. Nevertheless, by showing how features of rural life are often overlooked or misunderstood by legal actors, and by explaining the legal relevance of these features to critical junctures at which women encounter the law, Pruitt begins the process of articulating a feminist theory of the rural.

Keywords: feminist theory, anti-essentialism, abortion, domestic violence, termination of parental rights, rural, geography, spatial isolation, disadvantage

JEL Classification: O18, J12, J13, J71, K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Pruitt, Lisa R., Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural. Utah Law Review, p. 421, 2007, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 89, Available at SSRN:

Lisa R. Pruitt (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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