ArticlesVolume 12, Number 3 (2003)

Cultivating Feminist Critical Inquiry

Abstract

This short essay offers two observations regarding the continuing importance of feminist journals to the broader law school enterprise. I first address how feminist journals help to foster a culture of critical inquiry on law school campuses that is at the core of our ideal of liberal democratic life. Second, I examine briefly how feminism, and feminist law journals in particular, are central to this educational endeavor. The goal of these few pages is to make a liberal argument for the continuing importance of these distinctly illiberal journals in the legal academy.

Feminist journals clearly do not fit comfortably with prevailing liberal democratic values. Contemporary liberalism defines membership in the political community in strictly gender-neutral terms. One might even say that this principle of gender neutrality reflects liberalism’s core mission to eliminate group-based exclusions to citizenship in favor of a principle of universal equal treatment. Because feminist law journals define themselves around a principle of gender difference, they inevitably run up against the basic liberal norms of individual equality and gender neutrality. Yet reconciling feminist law journals with liberal values certainly can be done. These arguments will sound very familiar. A liberal argument for feminist journals can emphasize the journals’ remedial aim of rectifying the effects of gender inequality, thus putting feminist law journals in the same category as affirmative action policies or other remedial programs and institutions. Another solution is to fit feminist law journals within the long tradition of liberal interest group pluralism. In the interest group account, individual feminists come together to form an association that reflects the pre-existing commitments and values of its individual members. From this perspective, feminist law journals are no different from the other voluntary partisan associations that sustain liberal democratic life, such as political parties, neighborhood associations, environmental clubs, and religious groups.