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Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking

Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking

Elizabeth M. Schneider
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking
    Book Description:

    Women's rights advocates in the United States have long argued that violence against women denies women equality and citizenship, but it took a movement of feminist activists and lawyers, beginning in the late 1960s, to set about realizing this vision and transforming domestic violence from a private problem into a public harm. This important book examines the pathbreaking legal process that has brought the pervasiveness and severity of domestic violence to public attention and has led the United States Congress, the Supreme Court, and the United Nations to address the problem.Elizabeth Schneider has played a pioneering role in this process. From an insider's perspective she explores how claims of rights for battered women have emerged from feminist activism, and she assesses the possibilities and limitations of feminist legal advocacy to improve battered women's lives and transform law and culture. The book chronicles the struggle to incorporate feminist arguments into law, particularly in cases of battered women who kill their assailants and battered women who are mothers. With a broad perspective on feminist lawmaking as a vehicle of social change, Schneider examines subjects as wide-ranging as criminal prosecution of batterers, the civil rights remedy of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, the O. J. Simpson trials, and a class on battered women and the law that she taught at Harvard Law School. Feminist lawmaking on woman abuse, Schneider argues, should reaffirm the historic vision of violence and gender equality that originally animated activist and legal work.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12893-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part I Domestic Violence as a Social and Legal Problem

    • 1 Introduction: Battered Women, Feminist Lawmaking, and Equality
      (pp. 3-10)

      In the late 1960s a movement of feminist activists and lawyers began to bring the problem of woman abuse to public attention. At that time, there was no legal recognition of a harm of violence against women by intimates—today known as domestic violence. It simply didn’t exist in the legal vocabulary.¹ In 1992, the United States Supreme Court recognized the pervasiveness and severity of intimate violence for the first time inPlanned Parenthood v. Casey, and in 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act. This book is about the process of feminist legal advocacy and lawmaking on intimate...

    • 2 The Battered Women’s Movement and the Problem of Domestic Violence
      (pp. 11-28)

      Nearly 1.9 million women are physically battered in the United States each year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that almost fourteen hundred women, about 9 percent of all murders, were killed by their spouses or partners in 1996 alone.¹ The statistics are numbing. A colleague of mine, after seeing a televised public service announcement on battering featuring photographs of women bruised and beaten, said to me: “I didn’t know this is what they looked like.”

      Battering fits within a larger picture of abuse of power. The “power and control wheel” developed by the Domestic Abuse Prevention Project in Duluth...

    • 3 Dimensions of Feminist Lawmaking on Battering
      (pp. 29-56)

      As a college student in the 1960s, active in civil rights struggles and other political work and studying political science and social theory, I saw examples from the civil rights movement of lawyers using the law to advance political efforts. I became actively involved in the women’s movement, and my experience as an activist gave me the impetus to attend law school. It was 1970, and efforts to reshape the law to include women’s experiences were just beginning. If women were to secure the protection of the law, women with a feminist perspective would have to become lawyers.

      Between 1971...

  5. Part II Theoretical Dimensions of Feminist Lawmaking on Battering

    • 4 Defining, Identifying, and Strategizing
      (pp. 59-73)

      In the next three chapters I examine theoretical dimensions of feminist lawmaking on battering. I begin in this chapter with definitional themes concerning woman abuse. Questions of how intimate violence is defined raise crucial issues of theory and practice for work on woman abuse and reveal a paradox in feminist theory: feminist theoretical work must simultaneously be “particular,” in documenting the experiences of women who are battered by men, and “general,” in linking violence against women to women’s subordination within society and to wider social problems of abuse of power and control.¹ I use the term “particularity” here to mean...

    • 5 Beyond Victimization and Agency
      (pp. 74-86)

      Since the late 1960s, feminist activists and lawyers have attempted to transform societal understandings and to shape legal definitions of several interrelated harms against women: woman abuse, rape, sexual harassment, and pornography. These areas of feminist lawmaking, premised on a theoretical framework of gender subordination in which women have been viewed as primarily victims, have been highly controversial.¹

      The theme of feminism as victimization dominates contemporary popular culture.² Although feminist legal struggles take place on many diverse fronts, anti-pornography work has historically captured a disproportionate share of media attention.³ The important issues of sexual harassment, given new life in the...

    • 6 The Violence of Privacy
      (pp. 87-98)

      Historically, male battering of women was untouched by law, protected as part of the private sphere of family life. This rhetoric of privacy, the “veil of relationship,” has been the most important ideological obstacle to legal change and reform.¹ Since the battered women’s movement in this country has made issues of battering visible, battering is no longer perceived as a purely private problem and has taken on the dimensions of a public issue. The explosion of legal reform and social service efforts—the development of battered women’s shelters and hotlines, and new legal remedies developed for battered women—has been...

  6. Part III Implementing Feminist Lawmaking

    • 7 Battered Women, Feminist Lawmaking, and Legal Practice
      (pp. 101-111)

      The process of legal reform on issues of domestic violence has taken place within the large-scale conceptualization of new legal remedies based on new social perceptions of domestic violence. It also occurs “on the ground,” in the translation of these approaches into legal claims in everyday cases involving legal representation of battered women. In this chapter I examine generic aspects of this process of translation, and the barriers to battered women’s voices being heard in the law.

      In theory, feminist lawmaking on battering is a process by which women’s experiences with battering are translated into law. But this oversimplified statement...

    • 8 Battered Women Who Kill
      (pp. 112-147)

      Thousands of battered women daily face the danger of death because the state fails to protect them and because they lack adequate social resources. Sometimes they kill their batterers in order to save their own lives. Cases of battered women who kill their assailants have captured international attention and have generated a virtual cottage industry of judicial opinions, legislative reform, and legal scholarship over the past twenty years. As evidenced by the enormous public and legal attention this issue has attracted, it raises fundamental questions for society at large: questions about women and violence, about state responsibility, and about the...

    • 9 Motherhood and Battering
      (pp. 148-178)

      The attitudes that society has toward battered women in general are made even more complex when they are mothers. It is difficult for most people to understand why an adult would “choose” to put up with abuse from another adult. But in the public mind, the stakes change dramatically when an abused woman has children. Mothers carry enormous ideological weight in our culture. Because we consider that a mother’s fundamental duty is to protect her children, maternal behavior that exposes children to harm is viewed as unthinkable, unnatural, and incomprehensible. Battered women who are mothers are reviled.

      Feminist theorists have...

  7. Part IV Aspirations, Limits, and Possibilities

    • 10 Engaging with the State
      (pp. 181-198)

      Legislative work has been a major aspect of feminist legal reform efforts respecting domestic violence. State domestic violence coalitions have formed, lobbied for, and helped to pass state legislation on issues ranging from mandatory arrest and child custody to insurance. On the federal level, a coalition of women’s and civil rights organizations spearheaded the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) and have continued to develop and lobby for Congressional efforts on a variety of issues. In vision and purpose, much of this legislation has been groundbreaking.

      Innovative legal reform efforts focused on intimate violence, such as...

    • 11 Lawmaking as Education
      (pp. 199-210)

      Lawmaking can be a form of public education that shapes public perceptions and social attitudes; education can open new ways of seeing the world that can spark and shape new ways of thinking about law. If feminist lawmaking has made a difference in the lives of battered women, it is not only because of the particular legal reforms that have been implemented and the legal strategies that have been developed, but because of the public education campaigns that have been galvanized by the struggles for legal reform. Conversely, the process of public education generally, and legal education in particular, has...

    • 12 Education as Lawmaking
      (pp. 211-227)

      The critical work of feminist lawmaking on domestic violence can be accomplished only if there are lawyers who are sensitive to these issues of gender and violence, lawyers who are committed to representing battered women and understanding the problems of domestic violence, and lawyers who are not so personally involved with or conflicted about violence that they are hindered from effective representation. The O. J. Simpson case and many other cases discussed in this book underscore the urgency of the need for competent and thoughtful lawyers for women who are abused. Until recently, lawyers who faced issues of domestic violence...

    • 13 Feminist Lawmaking, Violence, and Equality
      (pp. 228-232)

      In this book, I have chronicled the development of the process of feminist lawmaking on intimate violence since the 1960s. Generated by visions of women’s equality, full citizenship and participation, autonomy, freedom from abuse, and liberty, this legal struggle has sought to transform the law of intimate violence. Activists and lawyers have used women’s diverse experiences of violence, of physical abuse, of coercion and control, of economic threats, and of threats of harm to children and family members as the starting point for the development of legal doctrine and legal theory in courtrooms, legislatures, and classrooms.

      The process of feminist...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 233-300)
  9. Index
    (pp. 301-317)