Sex, gender, and women’s legal history

Date & time

1–2pm Wednesday 14 November 2018


Phillipa Weeks Staff Library

ANU College of Law, 5 Fellows Road, The Australian National University


Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, University of Reading


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.


ANU Law Marketing & Communications
College seminar
Rosemary Auchmuty

We live in an era when the meanings of the words ‘sex’, ‘gender’, and even ‘woman’ are increasingly contested. This presents problems not only for those trying to work with the categories of law but also for simple comprehension, let alone finding common ground. Part of the problem lies in the neo-liberal discourse of rights and choice (with gender identity being claimed as a right) and part, I would argue, from ignorance and rejection of women’s history. 

Feminist and other radical histories have always suffered from prompt backlash and attempts at suppression, but it still comes as a shock to older scholars like myself that the battles we thought women had won and the principles we imagined were now embedded and mainstreamed in our laws are in such danger of being dismantled. At the same time as feminist legal history is enjoying unprecedented popularity, how can we move away from, on the one hand, the romanticised notion of traditional women’s legal history – of past injustices overcome, and current equality won, by brave heroines and benevolent legal men – and, on the other, the linguistic shift that denies women’s separate experience, to tell the story of women’s legal history in terms that the next generation can understand, relate to, and learn from?


  • Rosemary Auchmuty »

    Rosemary Auchmuty obtained a BA and PhD in history from the Australian National University before moving to London where she acquired an LLB and LLM. She is now Professor of Law at the University of Reading, teaching Property Law and Gender and Law, and researching legal and historical aspects of gender, sexuality, marriage, and women’s legal history generally. Most recently she edited Great Debates in Gender and Law (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), intended to introduce students to debates in each of the main subjects of the LLB curriculum; and coordinated, with Erika Rackley, the Women’s Legal Landmarks project, with a 300,000-word book (Hart Publishing) due out in November 2018 and an associated open-access website.

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