Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
While the title of the panel I participated in was "Why Do We Eat Our Young?", I think I prefer: "On Discipline and Canon," or to rework the title of the panel in the program, "Why Do We Eat Our Girlfriends?"
In my short remarks, I would like to raise a set not of answers, but of questions that over the last year or so a few of us have been discussing outside of our published work. These questions seem apt both for this panel and for this conference. Last November a group of really wonderful women at the University of Texas put together a conference called "Subversive Legacies: Learning From History/Constructing the Future." A number of the people attending this conference at Columbia were in Austin for that gathering. What took place there was what Martha Fineman has termed an "uncomfortable conversation" about what it means to write as a feminist, what it means to write about feminism, and what it might mean to write from outside feminism on issues that have been thought of as the intellectual property and proper terrain of feminism. Janet Halley raised some of these questions in Austin, and again at this symposium.
I regard this last move as one that is epistemic in nature. It is primarily one of vantage point and offers an important heuristic opportunity. What if we stepped outside of a perspective self-consciously labeled "feminist" and re-examined issues typically regarded as the target of feminist inquiry? What do we see differently about them? What do we learn differently? I would like to pick up a set of those conversations that were started for me last fall in Austin and try to engage them here.
This conference takes place at a particularly interesting moment for feminist theory, a time when we can say that feminist jurisprudence has in many ways become a discipline. We have mountains of casebooks. Many law schools – not all, and I do not think that I can say most – offer a course called feminist jurisprudence, feminist legal theory, or the jurisprudence of gender. There is even an endowed chair in feminist theory that Martha Fineman held up at Cornell Law School. We might even say that a kind of canon has been established in feminist legal theory, concretized, or canonized if you will, in the various readers that many of us know well. There is Fran Olsen's two-volume set collecting the writings that were, in 1995, formative and that "position[ed] feminist theory within the law. There are Bartlett and Kennedy's reader, Adrien Wing's Critical Race Feminism, and Martha Chamallas's Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory, that many of us use in our own teaching. While there are doubtless new readers in press – this is an evolving area of jurisprudence – I think you will see similarities across books that both create and reflect the canonical texts in feminist legal theory.
Katherine M. Franke,
On Discipline and Canon,
Colum. J. Gender & L.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/494