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 22: How feminism remade American family law (and how it did not)

Susan Frelich Appleton


This chapter uses the lenses of history and feminism to examine American family law past, present and future. The analysis highlights how family law’s two central organizing constructs, marriage and gender, have long provided a powerful draw for feminist theorists, critics and reformers. Their engagement helped to bring about groundbreaking shifts, represented by seven distinct twentieth-century changes in family law that collectively transformed the field from its Blackstonian past to its second-wave liberal-feminist present and paved the way to marriage equality for gays and lesbians – a development scarcely imaginable less than 50 years ago. After considering each of these changes and explaining their specific relevance to marriage equality, the chapter takes a critical turn. It invokes newer feminist approaches to expose the limitations of the last century’s reforms and looks ahead toward the work to be done by feminists in forging a family law of the future.

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