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Gender, sexuality and power: is feminist theory enough?

Dan Danielsen, Northeastern University School of Law
Brenda Cossman, University of Toronto
Janet Halley, Harvard University School of Law
Tracy Higgins, Fordham University School of Law

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Originally published in Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 601-637, 2003.

Abstract

In this dialogue, four authors critically examine how to describe feminism and what it can and cannot do, particularly with regard to sexuality. The authors use the Texas Supreme Court case Twyman v. Twyman, involving divorce, sadomasochistic sex, and a claim of emotional distress, as a focal point to explore how feminism deals with gender, sexuality, and power, and whether it does so sufficiently. The roundtable discussion revolves around Janet Halley's radical suggestion that not only is feminism not enough, but that we should "Take a Break" from it in order to see the issues feminism does not address as well as the effects of a feminist perspective.

In the next Part, Brenda Cossman lays the groundwork with a synopsis of the case. In Part III, Halley describes what she sees as essential elements of feminism, and uses the case to explore feminism's costs and shortcomings and to support her assertion that it would be a good idea to "Take a Break" from it. In Part IV, Cossman challenges Halley's claim that "Taking a Break" is the only or best way to analyze sexuality, noting that feminism is a strong tool for analyzing gender and that feminism benefits from the critiques of its limitations. In Part V, Dan Danielsen uses the case to offer his own description of feminism in contrast to both Halley's and Cossman's. He focuses on the practical political project of each strand of feminism, highlighting their varied goals and examining the costs and benefits of the proposed analytic strategies in the context of real political choices. In Part VI, Tracy Higgins contrasts, critiques, and works to reconcile the positions of the first three authors. Part VII contains Halley's response to the discussion. Finally, in the last Part Higgins ties the conversation to the symposium's query.

Suggested Citation

Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 601-637, 2003.