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Feminist legal biography: a model for all legal life stories

Auchmuty, R. and Rackley, E. (2020) Feminist legal biography: a model for all legal life stories. Journal of Legal History, 41 (2). pp. 186-211. ISSN 1744-0564

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/01440365.2020.1783604


Legal biography remains, with some exceptions, strongly influenced by Victorian biographical models, with a focus on ‘great’ men (since women could not become lawyers before 1920, and there have been few ‘great’ women lawyers) and their public achievements and contributions to law, and with little attention given to their private lives or their attitudes to women’s subordination in law. Feminist legal historians have widened the net to include women pioneers working in and with law before 1920. But feminist legal biography is not just about uncovering the lost lives of women; rather, it focuses on gender – the relationship between the sexes – and recognizes that biographies of men require consideration of the ways in which men maintained their dominant position in law and society, as much by the private support of women at home as by excluding and marginalizing women professionally. As for biographies of women, recent enthusiasm to recover their stories has suffered from a tendency to mould them into heroines or role models, again on the Victorian model. Feminist legal biographers of women need to avoid the perils of over-identification with their subjects (manifested by anachronistic familiarity and historical inaccuracy) and the siren call of anecdote and myth.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Law
ID Code:91294
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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