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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Introduction

Summary

What is feminist constitutionalism? Basically, it is the project of rethinking constitutional law in a manner that addresses and reflects feminist thought and experience. We use this term in contrast with the “constitutional law and” approach – constitutional law and gender or constitutional law and feminist theory – because we aspire to explore the relationship between constitutional law and feminism by examining, challenging, and redefining the very idea of constitutionalism from a feminist perspective. Feminist constitutionalism demands that we not only revisit classical topics from new perspectives but, more importantly, pose new questions, introduce new topics, and take responsibility for changing the focus of constitutional discussion and debate. We embrace the questions raised by studies of gender or feminism “and” constitutional law even as we urge scholars to move beyond them.

We acknowledge the importance of constitutional law for feminist analysis. Constitutional law is foundational to most of the world's legal systems. It shapes fundamental assumptions regarding citizenship, rights, and responsibilities. Feminists who critique law must understand that legal systems cannot really be transformed without addressing their constitutional foundations. Historically, the second-class status of women in law derived from constitutional structures and assumptions. For instance, in the Anglo-American countries – Great Britain, the United States of America, and Canada – women were denied the right to vote in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in part because constitutional norms were phrased in masculine terminology (e.g., “men,” “he”) or given a gendered interpretation (e.g., “persons” as referring to “men”).

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