Category Archives: (New) in Print

Prof. Aya Gruber defines "Neofeminism"

Interesting.   I have a lot of overlap for the positions that Gruber takes –  I look forward to the discussion this should generate!

Neofeminism by Aya Gruber 50 Houston Law Review 1325 (2013)  [open access]

Today it is prosaic to say that “feminism is dead.” Far from being moribund, feminist legal theory is breaking from its somewhat dogmatic past and forging ahead with new vigor. Many modern feminist legal scholars seek innovative ways to better the legal, social, and economic status of women while simultaneously questioning some of the more troubling moves of second-wave feminism, such as the tendency to essentialize the woman’s experience, the turn to authoritarian state policies, and the characterization of women as pure objects or agents. These “neofeminists” prioritize women’s issues but maintain a strong commitment to distributive justice and recognize that subordination exists on multiple axes. In defining “neofeminism,” this Article examines how the troubling nature of certain second-wave feminist principles engendered new schools of feminist thought. It then illustrates this process in the domestic violence law reform context. The Article concludes that recognizing a new and vibrant progressive feminism can counter exaggerated claims of feminism’s demise, the belief that feminism has been devastated by postmodern critique, and the appropriation of the feminist label by conservative women’s groups.

Some readers might be particularly interested in this bit of the conclusion:

“Neofeminism” is somewhat of a misnomer because the ideas and critiques it encompasses are not really brand new. Many of the ideas have been germinating since the late 1980s and some even before.330 For example, the racial critique of liberal feminism’s essentialist assumptions has been around for decades.331 Left feminists have also long been critical of dominance feminism’s down-playing of class and economic status.332 Even the critique of domestic violence criminal reform has existed for over twenty years, having been formulated in response to early discourse and efforts.333 In fact, neofeminism is quite similar to what Martha Minow identified in 1989 as “the third stage of feminism.”334

Professor Gruber is at University of Colorado Law School.  Here is her faculty page, and here is some of her other work (date ascending):

In order to build coalitions and advance a general strategy of antisubordination, one must, as Eric Yamamoto opines, envision oneself as both oppressed and oppressor


“One of the most celebrated successes of the feminist movement is its lasting impact on domestic violence criminal laws. …. I know all too well how far the pendulum has swung, having practiced as a public defender in the District of Columbia domestic violence system. Day after day, prosecutors proceeded with cases against the wishes of victims, resulting in the mass incarceration of young black men. Could this have been the result feminist law reformers hoped for when they began their movement of resistance against patriarchy that legitimized domestic violence?This Article answers the foregoing question with a resounding no. It demonstrates that domestic violence reform has become far removed from its progressive roots and now supports rather than supplants patriarchal ideology. The Article traces the history of domestic violence reform and explains how it transformed from a grassroots populist movement to a politically powerful lobby deeply allied with law enforcement. One of the reasons for this transformation was the influence of the powerful victims’ rights movement. This movement originated as a conservative counter to Warren Court civil liberties and employs essentialist discourse objectifying victims and characterizing defendants as purely autonomous agents to unmoor crime from its social roots. The Article argues that in recent times, victims’ rights reformers and the government have appropriated the domestic violence issue, not to change the patriarchal institutions that support battering, but rather to further a pro-criminalization agenda. In addition, feminists, whose original program was to vindicate women’s autonomy, have begun to adopt the essentialist discourse of objectifying battered women by characterizing abused women as helpless, scared, irrational, and sick. The Article suggests that feminists simply stop advocating criminal law reforms as the solution to the problem of domestic abuse and proposes some pedagogical methodologies for teaching domestic violence without characterizing abused women in an essentialist manner.”

” This Article cautions feminists to weigh carefully any purported benefits of reform against the considerable philosophical and practical costs of criminalization strategies before considering making further investments of time, resources, and intellect in rape reform. In advancing this caution, the Article systematically catalogues the existing intra-feminist critiques of rape reform and discusses reasons why these critiques have proven relatively ineffective at reversing the punitive course of reform. The Article then crafts a separate philosophical critique of pro-prosecution approaches by exposing the tension between the basic tenets of feminism and those animating the modern American penal state. Finally, it discusses why purported cultural and utilitarian benefits from rape reform cannot outweigh the destructive effect criminalization efforts have on feminist discourse and the feminist message. The Article concludes that feminists should begin the complicated process of disentangling feminism’s important anti-sexual coercion stance from a criminal justice system currently reflective of hierarchy and unable to produce social justice.”

A “Neo-feminist” Assessment of Rape and Domestic Violence Law Reform, 15 J. RACE, GENDER & JUST. 583 (2012) (not open access)

“It seemed to me that feminist criminal law reform had become less about critiquing the state and society’s treatment of women3 and more about allying with police power to find newer and better ways of putting men, who themselves often occupy subordinate statuses, in jail. 4 These personal experiences informed my view of feminism when I later became a law professor. Concerned over feminists’ embrace of the penal state and prosecutorial interventions, I produced critiques of feminist interventions like domestic violence mandatory arrest and prosecution policies. 5 Because my scholarship is critical of some of the most “successful” feminist law reform interventions, some view it as antifeminist.  However, I never intended to reject or recede from feminism. Rather, I dub my analysis a “neo-feminist” critique.”


Miscarriages of Race and Gender Justice, 76 ALBANY L. REV. 1571 (2012-13)

There is, however, a set of cases in which the lenient treatment of criminal defendants engenders critique from progressive scholars—scholars whose sympathies otherwise lie  with defendants‘ rights.

IFLS talks on [video]tape: Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality and Democracy from our hairstyles to our shoes


Prof. Ruthann Robson

Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality and Democracy 

Watch the talk Ruthann Robson gave at Osgoode September 23, 2013, complete with Introduction by Osgoode’s Kate Sutherland.

Here is a link to the book Dressing Constitutionally and you can see Professor Robson’s blog on the subject of Dressing Constitutionally, here.  You can also follow @robsonconlaw on twitter, AND you can check out her writing outside legal scholarship via her website, here.



Need something to read? Twitter Roundup Part II


@JillFilipovic 18 Sep  In the @munkdebate feminist universe, all the men are obsolete and all the women are white.  

@MacleansMag 19 Sep Canada rejects UN rights panel call for review of violence on aboriginal women   #cdnpoli


UK Judge Rules Defendant Must Remove Niqab to Testify | Dressing Constitutionally for @robsonconlaw analysis & precis


New in print [NIP] : Choudhury on #Governance #Feminism & #Afghan #Women

‏Sep Fascinating and splendid. @PaulbernalUK mix of law, levity & analysis: Disney princesses, on-line identity & privacy  

Not so Academic 

@rgay 13 Sep Today at The Rumpus, Lizzy Acker writes about abortion in one of the most compelling ways I’ve seen;  

RT @Longreads: “Portrait of a Ten-year-old #Girl.”   cc: #statisticsbroughttolife

@balkissoon 19 Sep By me, in the Globe: stop bossing pregnant women around. Right now.  

Life and Law

#Lawstudents don’t disqualify yourselves! why not read: The #Habits Of Supremely #Happy People

“Busy” Is Not a Badge of Honor via @lifehacker: We need to work smarter, not harder  

Roundup of Stories from Twitter (jobs, calls, the new Charter of Values etc) for Non Twitter people: Part I

Higher Education: Smaller/Bigger?lego bird on lego horse, with lasso

‏@OsgoodeIFLS 18 Sep  Queen’s plans to expand law school enrolment   a revenue move, not an A2J move. “options” for #public #lawschools

Ryan Dunch ‏@DunchinYEG 16h  Impact of Alberta post-secondary cuts felt across the province  … #abpse #ableg #highered

Calls for…

RT @PHughesLCO: About the forthcoming Call for Project Proposal: Law Commission of Ontario  …

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law: call for submissions


@UBCLaw is hiring two (2!) tenure track positions. Home of @FemLegalStudies . #law Details:

work with loads of fab people. home of @feministsatlaw RT @SLSA_UK: Four posts at Kent Law School

There’s an App for That: new conlaw nerd tool

Thanks to these folks   we get this   Compare #constitutions. Form & Function seem top notch.

Try searching “Equality regardless of gender”. #nerdgames #comparative #constitutions   h/t @hargreaves_s

but … the #Canadian #Constitution isn’t there! Did they forget to add it to this #toolfordesigninggovernments ? Hmmm. #googleconstitute

Academics Attacked

‏@OsgoodeIFLS 17 Sep @Yorku prof detained in #Egypt along with Dr. / Latest via @justinpodur Tarek and John on hunger strike You may remember that Prof.  John Greyson was at Osgoode last year for the IFLS/SALSA presentation of his codirected film Rex v. Singh.

@OsgoodeIFLS 16 Sep Men’s Rights Edmntn helps create Calg chapter, releases truly awful on many levels poster campaign. Forza, @lisegot

[Silver lining ]Lise Gotell ‏@LiseGot 16 Sep Personal attacks can have positive consequences. I’ve had so many messages of support today. I am humbled! #consent #equality.

Quebec Charter of Values

‏@OsgoodeIFLS 10 Sep  I thought infographic circulating this AM was a joke. Joke’s on me. #whatnottowear #valeursQC @BDrainvillePQ  …

Hugo Cyr ‏@ProfCyr 11 Sep U don’t agree with #PQ s #charte des #valeursQc? Good time to reinstate the Charter challenge prog that U slashed Mr #Harper? #cdnpoli #NDP

Really interesting RT @ADodek: Quebec charter pitch exposes deep split within feminist ranks!/  … #Qcpoli #women #feminism

Visual Religious Symbols & Law Alison Dundes Reteln h/t JF Gaudreault-DesBiens   perception of threat #charterofvalues

….and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, surprising a few (but not me)

But not surprising RT @EmmMacfarlane Frmr SCC Justice L’Heureux-Dube supports QC #valuescharter Mighty disappointing  …

Now you need a laugh.

RT @GalldinRoberts: Judge to me 2day: the law is like pantyhose that fits nobody. Me: thats why I don’t wear pantyhose your honour #lawyers

Jen Otis-Fensom ‏@JenFensom 10 Sep I 100% disagree with the Charter of Quebec values. I do agree that the 70s-style open collar is a bad look, though.

Talking back on race, space and sexual assault

Last post, I promised more talk on sexual assault on campus and media.  Here it is.  photo of Toronto Life October 2013 edition in store magazine rack

The October 2013 edition of Toronto Life Magazine includes, amongst the stories about new artisanal foods, how the tiny clutch is ruling the runways, rock star businessmen and exotic pets, a story by Katherine Laidlaw entitled: “Fortress York: York University spends millions on safety measures but female students are still afraid of who lurks in the bushes.  How a campus becomes a hunting ground for sexual predators“.  The cover of the magazine includes the line “Why so many rapes at York University?”

This sounds bad right?  But what kind of bad?  It isn’t exactly clear from the headline is it?  Let me tell you.  This is bad journalism, rather than a report about a bad university.  As of this date, the article appears not to be available online which in a way is a shame because nothing can illustrate how outrageously this article relies on fearmongering and racism to make fact free points like reading the article itself. I will pin it to my office door for those local and curious, and maybe it will show up online soon.

I have spent a few days now in a rage over the way that this article disciplines women into fear, misrepresents the reality of  sexual assault, and casually treats a low income racialised neighbourhood near my school as a breeding ground for rapists.  Colleagues have pointed out to me that this is hardly the first time and it won’t be the last – these tropes about sexual assault, race and space in our city are pretty deeply embedded and the article in many ways reflects rather than creates the associations.  I have written about the narrative around sexual assault on campus on the blog before, for instance here and here.  But that makes it no less enraging.  University President Shoukri has already distributed a response to the article, which in its attempt to describe York as safe compared to other Toronto schools seems to me to miss the point.   Some colleagues and I prepared a response trying to reflect an anti racist feminist analysis.  We’ve sent it to Toronto Life.  And walking the narrow line left between dismissal of sexual assault as a problem on campus (see the last post) and sensational, racist, and disciplining accounts like the Toronto Life article, is not easy. I hope we managed in our response below.  You can support and comment in the comments here (they are moderated, so there will be a delay) or by email to  Write to Toronto Life at  A clean PDF of the text/signatories only is available here.


It was an unpleasant surprise to open the October 2013 Toronto Life issue to find an article sensationalizing and misrepresenting sexual violence, sexual assault and rape on the York University campus.  To us – feminist scholars, struggling to work with questions of gendered and racialized violence both empirically and critically – the article was little more than a caricature of reality. That it could represent the dominant view in this city is even more upsetting.  Let’s get real.
First, yes.  There is assault and sexual assault on the York campus.  In fact, across Canada, women experience sexual assault, at levels which ought to shock, but which are treated as either secret or banal. The article’s attempt to put this problem on York alone is wrong.  York has a number of initiatives to counter sexual assault, because improving safety on campus is an ongoing goal.  But the idea that York is a haven for rapists is one that requires more work to unpack, because it relies on and perpetuates some harmful myths that contribute to the problem of violence against women, rather than helping anyone.
Second, and in short, the article uses racialized and racist geographies to paint York as uniquely struck by an epidemic of sexual assault.  York is in the same neighbourhood as  Jane and Finch. The blanket  association of this entire community with crime, and the media’s complicity in demonizing our neighbourhood and its inhabitants  have long been protested by residents and others.  The article contains almost no evidence at all to suggest not just that York students are frightened by the proximity of Jane and Finch, but that they should be.  The strength of this racist narrative about the source of the “problem at York” creates problems of its own.  It is tempting to believe that increasing the number of security personnel will increase safety, but that may not be entirely true.  It might also mean more concerns about racist targeting of students of colour, in the name of enhancing safety.  And, it turns attention away from the fact that safety measures must concern everyone, and that it is a harmful false assumption that only “outsiders” and “strangers” commit sexual assault.
Third the article illustrates the variety of ways women are encouraged to govern their lives according to the fear of sexual assault.  Some of these reflect reality.  The campus is just another place among many in which women are required to be vigilant.    Another reason that women accept some fear and take measures to protect themselves is because if they don’t, they are blamed by our toxic culture, if in fact they are attacked. Questions such as, “Where was she?  What was she wearing?  Was she drunk?” continue to be too common in the discourse about sexual assault and its causes.  Toronto Life plays on age old tropes about young respectable women from good families menaced by dark and criminal strangers when they venture out of safe zones.  It is unfortunate that this evidence-free narrative still sells magazines.   At York and on other campuses, many reports involve students, faculty or staff as both victim and accused.  In many cases, victim and perpetrator are not strangers to each other.  Assertions that strangers and outsiders are responsible for these assaults are part of the problem we all face in truly addressing them.  We – not “they” – have significant responsibility for a culture in which sexual assault is celebrated online and in frosh week chants, and where women are blamed for sexual assaults in ways which minimize the role of the perpetrator.   And in Canada at large, it is our families and intimate partners – not strangers – who are most likely to cause us serious harm.
The article, in recounting a dramatic, lurid story, where predators lurk in bushes and the campus is a hunting ground, provides no useful service to anyone.  Instead, it advances a dangerous falsehood that women will be safe if we stay close to home (as long as that home is in a particular zone of the city), or avoid various denigrated “others”.  It manages to both exaggerate and minimize the significance of sexual assault on university campuses and elsewhere.  It relies on racist tropes about the dangers of Jane and Finch, sexist ignorance of the true nature of women’s vulnerability to sexual assault and elitist disregard for everything outside the zones of the 1%.
York University is taking concrete steps to deal with violence against women on campus.  Our community is trying to create a space, activities, discussions and material changes to stop this violence and discrimination.  We do not want to shy away from owning the ways in which we are responsible for this problem and for solutions.  Suggesting, falsely, that this problem is only York’s problem, a problem women and girls can leave behind by leaving York, helps no one. Universities are about research and critical thinking.  Toronto Life’s article would fail on both.
Barbara Crow, Professor, York University
Sonia Lawrence, Assoc Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Director, Institute for Feminist Legal Studies
Professor Lisa Philipps, Osgoode Hall Law School

[list of signatories/supporters updated September 22, 1150PM]

Amanda Glasbeek, Graduate Program Director, Socio-Legal Studies, York University

Anne Bunting, Interim Director of The Harriet Tubman Institute , Associate Professor of Law & Society, Graduate Program in Socio-Legal Studies, York University

Tania Das Gupta, Professor, Department of Equity Studies, York University

Enakshi Dua, Associate Professor  Department of Equity Studies/School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, York University

Shelley A.M. Gavigan, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Haideh Moghissi,Professor, Equity Studies, York University

Janet Mosher, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Mary Jane Mossman, University Professor, York University

Carmela Murdocca, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology/Socio-Legal Studies, York University

Roxanne Mykitiuk, Associate Professor of Law, Co-Director of the Disability Law Intensive Program, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Nalini Persram, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science, Centre for International & Security Studies, York University

Dr. Narda Razack, Associate Professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University

Dayna Scott, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School/Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

Kate Sutherland, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Susan Vail, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health, York University

Sandra Whitworth, Professor, Political Science, York University



Susan Boyd, F.R.S.C, Professor, Faculty of Law, UBC

Maneesha Deckha, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Isabel Grant, Professor, Faculty of Law, UBC

Rebecca Johnson, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Audrey Macklin Professor & Chair in Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Vrinda Narain, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law; Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, McGill University

Sanda Rodgers, Professor Emeritas, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa


To support or comment on this letter, please email us at

or write to Toronto Life at