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Feminism, Family and the Law

Krishna Menon

By Flavia Agnes
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2011, pp. 215 & 377, Rs.450.00


Feminist politics and law share a rather troubled relationship, Flavia Agnes's magisterial two volume account of a particularly difficult aspect of this relationship is going to be read and referred to by scholars and activists. This of course would be a very useful book for all women to read in order to understand their real position within the seemingly natural and supposedly loving institution called the family. While many feminist campaigns have forcefully argued for a change in laws and even in the legal system, there are others who have argued about the futility of such an exercise, since the entire legal discourse is steeped in dominant patriarchal assumptions and structures. Yet others have made sophisticated theoretical arguments to demonstrate that the modern state and its legal discourse steeped in the language of rights has its own limitations for the feminist movement. The language of rights can notoriously be employed to pit one group against the other with no possibility of the ethical and moral concerns of the marginalized groups ever being able to assert themselves. Laws in the context of the modern nation-state based on ideas of universal citizenship work with a uniform set of laws, this precludes the possibility of addressing specific and sometimes rather nebulous questions that are a part of humanĀ  life. Law and the legal system are clearly unable to deal with these ambiguities. Flavia Agnes in writing this book is extremely conscious of the slippery slope that feminist jurisprudence and lawyering is. In fact she describes her ideology of legal feminism and feminist lawyering as being grounded within two seemingly diverse disciplines, that of formal law and litigation based on its own universal grammar, and a 'counter perspective' based on women's rights that challenge the notion of legal neutrality and formal equality while addressing the concerns and experiences of individual women located within specific kinds of family situations. The three main concerns of this book are law, justice and gender. Through the writing of this book she seeks to examine the interaction between the world of laws and justice and the actual experiences of women. Agnes has studied the unfolding of this drama within the family laws and tried to expose the limitations and contradictions. Flavia Agnes explores the question of what exactly is 'justice' for women within the normative patriarchal social structures of formal and informal laws. She suggests that a consensus is ...

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