Uottawa Graduate Students Shifting Perspectives on Feminist Theory

Friday, January 9, 2015

The assignment: present feminist legal methods to the graduate DCL 5301 Legal Research Methodology Class using six articles specifically assigned by Professor Suzanne Bouclin.
Our group dove into the diverse readings: Katharine Bartlett, “Feminist Legal Methods”; Brenda Cossman, “Sexual Citizens: Freedom, Vibrators and Belonging”; Kimberle Crenshaw: “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Colour”, Linda Collins and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, “Toxic Battery: A tort for our time?”, Janet Halley, “Sexual Orientation and the Politics of Biology: A Critique of the Argument from Immutability”, and Dayna Nadine Scott, “’Gender Benders’: Sex and Law in the Constitution of Polluted Bodies.”  The articles explored and implemented feminist legal methodology in a variety of ways.

To pull the readings together, the group decided to present them as articles within a new publication entitled, "Perspective Shifter". It may be the first (albeit hypothetical) publication with a gender-based purchase price to reflect the corresponding wage gap!

The articles wove together with a look back in time at how feminist theory and methodology had affected change regarding the law on property division on marital breakdown. The 1975 Supreme Court decision in Murdoch v. Murdoch provided an illustrative example for understanding what it means to ask “the woman question” as articulated by Bartlett. The court held that Mrs. Murdoch’s regular ranch activities of “haying, raking, swathing, mowing, driving trucks, quietening horses, dehorning, vaccinating…” were simply “the work done by any ranch wife” and did not entitle her to a half-interest in the ranch property by way of resulting trust, overlooking the reality of women’s contributions at a time when property was typically held in the name of the husband only. The decision sparked a vociferous outcry.

Examined in turn, each article furthered our understanding that “a central goal to feminism is to be engaged, with others, in a critical, transformative process of seeking further partial knowledge from one’s admittedly limited habitat” (Katharine Bartlett).

Perhaps the best feedback came from one of the students, “Prior to tonight I obviously understood that women are sometimes discriminated against in workplace and often objectified in the media, but I never really understood how there could be a feminist theory of "the law." This presentation helped me see how far reaching and deep rooted the bias against women and other marginalized groups runs in the law and how these biases are often not even seen or questioned.”

The presentation team included: Tatyana Vasilchuk, Olajumoke Odepe, Sherri Yazdani and Sameer Nurmohamed. All are currently completing the LLM program.
Designed by Rachel Gold.