Law and the Quest for Gender Equality

Law and the Quest for Gender Equality

Authored by: Margaret Thornton orcid

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For centuries, law was used to subordinate women and exclude them from the public sphere, so it cannot be expected to become a source of equality instantaneously or without resistance from benchmark men—that is, those who are white, heterosexual, able-bodied and middle class. Equality, furthermore, was attainable only in the public sphere, whereas the private sphere was marked as a site of inequality; a wife, children and servants could never be the equals of the master. Despite their ambivalence about the role of law and its contradictions, women and Others felt that they had no alternative but to look to it as a means of liberation.

This skewed patriarchal heritage, the subtext of this collection of essays, has continued to impede the quest for equality by women and Others. It informs not only gender relations in the private sphere, as illustrated by domestic violence and sexual assault, but also the status of women in the public sphere. Despite the fact that women have entered the paid workforce—including the professions—in large numbers, they are still expected to assume responsibility for the preponderance of society’s caring. The essays show how maternal and caring roles, which are still largely viewed as belonging to an unregulated private sphere, continue to be invoked to detract from the authority of the feminine in the public sphere. The promise of antidiscrimination legislation in overcoming the heritage of the past is also shown to be somewhat hollow.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Apr 2023
ANU Press
Global Thinkers Series
Law; Social Sciences: Gender Studies

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Law and the Quest for Gender Equality »

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Part I: Women as Nonpersons

  1. Edith Haynes Challenges the Legal Profession (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part II: The Limits of Law

  1. Feminist Jurisprudence: Illusion or Reality? (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  2. The Contradictions of Law Reform (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part III: Legislating for Equality

  1. Feminism and the Changing State (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  2. Sexual Harassment Losing Sight of Sex Discrimination (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part IV: Engendering Legal Practice

  1. Hypercompetitiveness or a Balanced Life? (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  2. The Flexible Cyborg (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  3. Who Cares? The Conundrum for Gender Equality (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part V: Gender and Judging

  1. Sex Discrimination, Courts and Corporate Power (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  2. The High Court and Judicial Activism (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  3. ‘Otherness’ on the Bench (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part VI: Diversifying Legal Education

  1. Wondering What to Do about Legal Education (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  2. Why the Gender and Colour of Law Remain the Same (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

Part VII: The Corporatised Academy

  1. Universities Upside-Down (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  2. The Mirage of Merit (PDF, 0.2MB) doi

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