Talking Feminist Legal Theory with PKUSZ Law Students

On March 14th, a student-association, Society of Women in Law (SWL), in the PKU School of Transnational Law (STL), held a “Feminist Legal Theory” seminar. Professor Danya Reda, Professor Nicholas Frayn, and C.V. Starr Lecturer Ms. Dina Yehia were invited to attend the sharing session.

Participants were encouraged to review the articles “Introduction, Special Issue: Feminist Legal Theory” (2006) and “An Introduction and a Bibliography on Feminist Jurisprudence” (1997) in order to have some grounding in the legal framework around the issue before the seminar. Both articles pointed straight at feminism from a legal perspective. By doing this, the drastic changes from 1990’s to 2010’s in legal feminism in United States were presented to readers in a clear and concise way.

 The seminar focused on the first part of a series of articles in the latter selection. In this part, the writer explains a theory and method in feminism from a legal perspective, and draws on experience as a European scholar, to discuss the main differences over the development of legal feminism in the US/England and Europe. 

First, Prof. Reda prefaced her discussion with two general questions: How do you define feminism? And does the law play a role in defining the well-being of women?

 In response to the first question, students shared their own opinions. One student put forth the definition that, “Feminism is women fighting for equal rights as men, equal wage payment, social and economic position.” Some also expressed that the definition should be more inclusive, more about self-identification in a broader sense. In a similar line of thinking, Professor Frayn added that his understanding of Feminism is it is a conception not exclusive to women, but a universal one for both women and men. As such, it challenges oppression everywhere and engages everyone in that effort.

For the following question exploring the meaning of well-being for women, several students agreed that the law can help women recognize their own identity, but were concerned that often the enforcement of the law is inadequate. For example, in China, on January 1st 2016, the Anti-domestic-Violence Law was passed, requiring an individual who commits such crime receive injunction. However, on the application level, it has fallen short. In roughly 2 years, it has only received 200 cases and only issued 170RMB of compensation. It seems that laws do provide solutions, but it can be an only partial solution. This is the limited role of law – protection for women still needs further improvement.

As the discussion developed, one student pointed out maybe social media can be a good tool to further promote equality. However, others questioned the role of social media. It seems to perhaps have the potential to alleviate the undesirable situation, but on second thought, the fact is when news happens, it bubbles up and feels big, and then quickly disappears. Thus, it fails to really strike people in a way that haunts their mind and urges change. In order to engage in and move the discussion deeper, Prof. Frayn followed the critique of social media with his stance how persuasion can actually be achieved. According to him, the way you persuade people is face to face and, structurally, the law can empower feminism.

The seminar left participants with a firmer understanding of today’s society and a deep understanding of the law regarding feminism. Though the status quo may be unsatisfying, through this learning experience the younger generation was able to think about the direction to lead society and what their contribution could be—the first step to a satisfying future.

By Rosy Wu

Thumbnail image: logo created by Jacqueline Coy Charlesworth (LAW 1991) for the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism (CC 2.0)