Document Type



An address given at Cornell Law School on March 30, 2005 as part of the Berger International Speaker Series.


The term "law" as used here depicts consistency in ideology, intent, presumption and the imposition of definitions on day-to-day human relations, including male-female relations. The power of law is the process of definition, which takes precedence over experiences, and also takes precedence over the meaning that women give to their own lives.

This paper refutes a rigid division of issues within law and adopts a feminist perspective, rather than that of the mainstream structure. Issues identified as significant by the women’s movement are thus emphasized. I do not refer to law as the only tool feminists need to resort to in bringing about gender equality and respect for women’s human rights.

Yet, law as a symbol of justice and truth will be challenged. The intention of this paper is to welcome other non-legal strategies for women’s emancipation. The intention is to stimulate debate on contemporary feminist theorizing on law and to challenge the way in which law has been understood. The focus is on the power of law as a discourse that disqualifies other forms of knowledge, rather than a consideration of the material consequences of law, which implicitly, or explicitly, operates in the interests of patriarchy.

Engagement with and disengagement of feminists from law can construct new legal concepts and perspectives and bring about an equitable distribution of power between men and women. Yet, to bring these benefits to society, new conceptualizations and systematizations of the legal system have to be developed. It is not only in the book but also by activism that members of society have to challenge and bring down the power of inequitable laws.

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2005