Research Handbook on Feminist Jurisprudence
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Research Handbook on Feminist Jurisprudence

Edited by Robin West and Cynthia G. Bowman

The Research Handbook on Feminist Jurisprudence surveys feminist theoretical understandings of law, including liberal and radical feminism, as well as socialist, relational, intersectional, post-modern, and pro-sex and queer feminist legal theories.
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Chapter 11: Violence against women and liberal sexism

Victoria Nourse


This chapter tells a history of opposition to the first US attempts to legislate against violence against women. It begins with the conservative battle – waged in the name of preserving the family – against federal legislation on battering and how that theme resurfaced decades later in the US Supreme Court decision striking down a civil rights remedy in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as too close to covering ‘domestic relations.’ Now forgotten, however, is the history of liberal resistance to VAWA. When first broached, some women’s groups suggested that VAWA was not necessary, that violence against women was not a significant problem. Liberal groups argued that its provisions were inadequate to address more pressing concerns faced by minorities. Theorizing this opposition as ‘liberal sexism,’ this chapter elaborates the background norms that help to explain liberals’ blindness to women’s injuries – including the moral prioritization of race to sex, criminal law defendant to victim, and minorities to majorities.

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