On the weekend of May 15-17, legal scholars from the United States, China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan converged on Fundan Law School in Shanghai for the Conference on Feminist Legal Theory in the United States and Asia: a Dialogue. The groundbreaking conference was co-sponsored by Cornell Law School, under the auspices of the Dorothea S. Clarke Program in Feminist Jurisprudence.
The conference’s first day of panels, billed as “An Introduction to Legal Feminism in the U.S. and Asia,” covered a diverse array of topics, from overviews of feminist legal theory in China and Japan and gender law in Korea, to perspectives on such strains of feminist legal theory as socialist feminism, lesbian feminism, and critical race feminism.
“The legal scholars from the United States were all law professors who had played an important role in the development of feminist legal theory in the United States, a field that is less developed in Asia,” says Cynthia Grant Bowman, Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Law. “Participants from other countries made presentations about developments in gender law there, such as the development of sexual harassment law in Japan.”
“What Does Feminist Jurisprudence Add to the Study of Law Beyond Legal Theory?” was the theme of the conference’s second day. Panels addressed tort, criminal, constitutional, international, family, and sexual harassment law, as well as reproductive and socio-economic rights.
“It was exciting to see the interactions among the participants at the conference, with some being introduced to new ideas and others reevaluating their own theories in light of the different international contexts,” says Bowman. “Without exception, all the participants appeared to have both enjoyed the experience and to have been enriched by it. I just received a letter from one American scholar saying, ‘I benefited vastly from the experience. It helped me more clearly ‘see’ U.S. feminist jurisprudence through others’ perspectives and to understand some of the potential for feminist jurisprudence in other societies.’ Students from the host law school, Fudan, also participated and peppered the panelists with insightful questions at every opportunity.”
Bowman adds, “This conference was acknowledged by everyone as a great success. It was really the first of its kind in China, and I hope it will bear fruit in numerous ways — by introducing the field as one worthy of academic study, by connecting individual scholars from different countries, and ultimately perhaps contributing to improvement in the status of women in all of them.”