Each "stage" of feminist legal theory-and each brand or strand of feminism- stays alive and is never completely replaced by newer approaches. When I first attempted to synthesize the field of Feminist Legal Theory for a treatise I was writing at the end of the twentieth century, I thought it would be useful to think chronologically and to analyze the major developments of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I crudely divided feminist legal theory into three stages roughly corresponding to the preceding decades: the equality stage of the 1970s, the difference stage of the 1980s, and the diversity stage of the 1990s. It is much more difficult to describe feminist legal theory in this century. For this essay, I have borrowed from Rosalind Dixon's terrific 2008 article in which she canvasses the last four decades and divides legal feminism into "older" femninisms and "newer" feminisms. The older feminisms-which I will call the "Big Three"-are liberal, dominance, and cultural feminism. The newer femninisms also come in threes: partial agency (or sex-positive) feminism, intersectional (or anti-essentialist) feminism, and postmodern/poststrucrural feminism. I will call them the "New Three." The major difference between Dixon's taxonomy and my three stages of feminist legal theory is Dixon's astute positioning of the Big Three feminisms as foundational theories that have been taken up by mainstream scholars beyond feminist circles. Dixon also presents a more refined description of contemporary legal feminist thought, going beyond intersectional feminism to add two new strands of feminist theory, sex-positive feminism and postmodern feminism, that have come into their own in this century. I use Dixon's taxonomy as a map to locate the scholarly contributions of todays panelists and to theorize a bit about the present state of feminist legal theory. At the end of this essay, I will briefly glimpse into the future of feminist legal theory and mention two promising lines of emerging scholarship, masculinities theories and social justice feminism, that demonstrate the capacity of feminist legal theory to generate new insights for a new generation.
Past as Prologue: Old and New Feminisms,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
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