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The Feminist Fandango with the Legal Academy

Author(s): Margaret Thornton

This chapter argues that the fortunes of feminism in the Australian legal academy are closely intertwined with the prevailing political ideology. Social liberalism, with its commitment to egalitarianism, a robust civil society and a modicum of tolerance for the Other coincided with the flowering of second wave feminism. This led to the appointment of feminist academics in law schools and the incorporation of feminist perspectives into their teaching. In contrast, neoliberalism, with its aggressive entrepreneurialism and promotion of the self, encouraged sloughing off a commitment to feminist values. Taking its cue from neoliberalism and reacting against the second wave, postfeminism initially also resulted in a depoliticisation and a turning away from collective action, but signs of a revived feminism caused neoliberalism to move in quickly and colonise it. Mirroring the values of neoliberalism, this incarnation of postfeminism, which one might term ‘neoliberal feminism’, encouraged entrepreneurialism and productivity, particularly on the part of upwardly mobile individual women. It also resonated with the neoliberal law school where students were anxious to secure a position on the corporate track in light of mounting tuition debts and increased competition. More recently, there has been a reaction against neoliberalism which has, once again, brought with it a revived incarnation of feminism and a progressive understanding of the ‘post’.

The fandango in the title carries with it not only the idea of different movements, but also variations in tempo, and even a change of partners. The metaphor is designed to encapsulate the character of the dance between the prevailing political ideology and feminism, and the way that it is reflected in the legal academy. The fandango also refers to the more fluid relationship between feminism and its ‘post’. With postfeminism, we see a constellation of performers, some moving backwards and others forward, often at the same time, which highlights its ambiguity and elusiveness. In adopting a temporal trajectory, this chapter seeks to problematise the ‘post’ in postfeminism, underscoring how it may be simultaneously both reactive and progressive according to the constellation of values that prevail at a particular moment in time.

Read on SSRN

Centre: CIPL, CLAH

Research theme: Human Rights Law and Policy, Law and Gender, Legal Education, The Legal Profession

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