Document Type


Publication Title

Harvard Women's Law Journal

Publication Date

Spring 2000


Feminists working in the law need theory. First, we need theory as an intellectual tool, to critique the ways in which existing laws, as well as proposed reforms, perpetuate gendered norms. As Catharine MacKinnon insists, "Theory is not a luxury .... We need to analyze critically and systematically create new approaches together." Second, but equally important, feminists need theory as a political tool, to identify common goals and to generate consensus about how to achieve them. As Angela Harris reminds us, "Even a jurisprudence based on multiple consciousness must categorize; without categorization each individual is ... isolated ... and there can be no moral responsibility or social change. Feminists need theory, in short, to build on each other's work, or, in Regina Gagnier's words, to draw on each other's efforts to show that "the oppression of women exists" and to "make the world better for women."

But feminists are justifiably wary of theory, especially "grand theory" that fails to recognize phrases like "make the world better for women" as problematic. Feminists have shown how such theory conflates diverse experience, reducing women to an essential "Woman" without race, class, age, or sexual orientation. Theory's claim to objectivity, moreover, has repeatedly been shown to incorporate a white male perspective.' As Martha Minow succinctly explains, "In established academic institutions, what has counted as theory meets criteria of coherence, value neutrality, and abstraction that themselves may embody the false universalism that feminists criticize."



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