LAW AND POLITICS AT THE PERIMETER: RE‐EVALUATING KEY DEBATES IN FEMINIST THEORY by VANESSA E. MUNRO

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2008.00450_6.x
AuthorJILL MARSHALL
Publication Date01 Dec 2008
LAW AND POLITICS AT THE PERIMETER: RE-EVALUATING KEY
DEBATES IN FEMINIST THEORY by VANESSA E. MUNRO
(Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007, 182 pp., £22.50)
Anyone working in the field of feminist jurisprudence will know that
feminism in law has gone through a process of self-doubt, critique, and
counter-critique in recent times. This has created often polarized views of
how to achieve feminist goals, and even what exactly these feminist goals are
or should be, if indeed there should be any. Many feminists have called for a
rejection of essentialism, the view that women share in some sense an
`essence', yet this attack has created difficulties in speaking generally about
women and, in turn, feminist politics. Most recently, we see Janet Halley
urging us to take a break from feminism.
1
In Vanessa Munro's concise and
pithy book, such advice is scorned for she `disagrees fundamentally with
Halley's conclusion that feminism is sturdy enough to be put at risk . . .' (p. 9).
Munro's investigation into the disagreements within feminism seeks to
provide `a critical re-appraisal of contemporary feminist legal and political
theory' (p. 2). Her thesis is to reject `attractively simple, monolithic theories
in which everything is reduced to one explanatory concept'.
2
However, while
doing so she wishes to retain a `normative condemnation of systematic
domination that inspires feminist agitation . . .' (p. 3). Although only briefly
referred to in the introduction, some will see her dismissal of Halley's thesis
as too strong. In fact, Munro's book deals with different issues and covers a
different terrain to Halley's. For Munro:
[t]he hope is that, as feminism circles around these points of contention, it does
not directly re-trace its steps, but rather spirals towards a theoretically stronger
and politically brighter future (p. 40).
It may be though that ultimately Munro's conclusions will be interpreted by
many as a part of the feminist return to liberalism.
After her introduction, the book substantively begins by introducing the
feminist dilemmas in a foundational chapter one, laying the groundwork for
more thought-provoking work in later chapters. The familiar sameness,
difference, dominance, and postmodernism genres of feminism are explored.
The technique used pits the case for and against each. Most readers will find
her reading of Catharine MacKinnon the most problematic, not only in this
chapter where Munro deals with the `rise of dominance' but throughout the
book where MacKinnon features largely and is heavily criticized. For
example, at p. 31, Munro's criticisms of MacKinnon's essentialism have
been made before, so many will agree but many will also disagree with her
view that MacKinnon says all women are essentially oppressed and that this
579
1J.Halley, Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (2006).
2N.Lacey, Unspeakable Subjects: Essays in Legal and Social Theory (1998) cited on
p. 2 of Munro.
ß2008 The Author. Journal Compilation ß2008 Cardiff University Law School

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