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Changing the Topic, 7 Australian Feminist Law Journal 95 (1996)

Abstract

Context is all. Hence a word of explanation about why I provided this commentary at a Law and Literature symposium, jointly sponsored by United States and Australian organizations. The conveners invited me because, a few years earlier, Carolyn Heilbrun and I had co-authored an essay in which we discussed the development, in the United States, of courses about law and literature in law schools and the growing set of related commentaries, most of which neither addressed feminist thought nor incorporated feminist concerns. When asked to participate in the 1995 conference 'as a feminist' and assigned a position on a panel entitled 'Feminisms: The View from Australia and the United States', it seemed plain that the task was to revisit the issues that we had considered in the late 1980s, and to see if and how the world of either law within the academy, law outside the academy, or 'law and literature' had changed.

The battle for voice—for the authority to describe, at times with narrative power—is painful at this moment in the United States. Below, I sketch three contexts in which such voice is in issue: in legal doctrine, in the systems of courts themselves, and in the world denominated 'law and literature'. In all three, women have asserted alternative conceptions. In each of these settings, that claimed space is contested, and in each, a conflict exists about who has authority to shape the contours of discussion. As women make visible a distinctive array of experiences and then gain power to alter laws and reframe contexts, counterclaims of neutrality and timeless truths attempt to quiet these voices and diminish their power.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1996

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