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 23: Feminism and family leave

Julie C. Suk


What is a feminist approach to family leave? The law and public policy of family leave should be driven by a substantive vision of gender equality, in which men and women share equally in the opportunities and burdens of work and family life. Without maternity leave for pregnancy and childbirth, mothers struggle to maintain stable employment and equal status with men in the workplace. At the same time, maternity leave may reinforce the cultural expectation that mothers, more than fathers, belong at home. That assumption can also undermine women’s equal status in the public sphere. Thus, constitutional and antidiscrimination jurisprudence recognizes the importance of paternity leave to women’s emancipation. In the United States and in Europe, litigation premised on this insight is challenging maternity leave as sex discrimination. However, the gender neutrality of family leave is neither necessary nor sufficient to pursue feminist outcomes.

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