Current Issues In Feminist Jurisprudence
While the different camps of feminists in legal theory have focused upon different agendas, feminist jurisprudence has changed the way legislators and judges look at issues. By asking the "woman question," feminists have identified gender components and gender implications of laws and practices that are claimed to be neutral. Moreover, this school of thought has brought needed changes in the law to protect certain rights of women that have not been protected adequately in the past.
One of the most pressing issues in women's rights is the protection of women from domestic violence. According to some statistics, as many as four million women per year are the victims of domestic violence, and three out of four will be the victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes. Led by women's groups and other supporters outraged by these numbers, Congress enacted the VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT as Title IV of the VIOLENT CRIME CONTROL AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 1994 (Pub. L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 [codified as amended in scattered sections of 18 and 42 U.S.C.A.]).
The act provides programs for research and education of judges and judicial staff members geared to enhance their knowledge and awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. Moreover, it funds police training and shelters for victims of domestic violence, increases penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence and rape, and enhances privacy protection for victims. One of the most controversial aspects of the act was a provision making gender-motivated crimes a violation of federal civil rights law. This provision was struck down as unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 120 S. Ct. 1740, 146 L. Ed. 2d 658 (2000).
Feminists have remained determined to provide greater protection for women against domestic and other violence. Feminist jurisprudence has also focused on eliminating SEXUAL HARASSMENT in the workplace, another issue that has caused a major debate in the United States. Sexual harassment, which includes unwanted sexual advances and requests for sexual favors, as well as verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create hostile or offensive work environment, has been a major issue in women's rights because of the effect it has upon women in the workplace. Persons, usually women, who are the victims of sexual harassment may sue under Title VII of the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e.
Feminist advocates support a broad interpretation of the types of advances that constitute sexual harassment. To many feminists, sexual harassment represents the domination men seek to exert over women and should be strictly prohibited. The issue has caused controversy because in some cases it is difficult to determine whether sexual advances are welcomed or not. Moreover, some cases have arisen because an employer or supervisor has told a dirty joke or displayed a sexually explicit photograph to a female employee. Women's groups maintain that sexual harassment laws should be liberally construed, even in these types of cases.
With most law schools teaching the subject, feminist legal analysis holds a significant place in U.S. law and legal thought. Several prominent U.S. law schools, including those at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, produce scholarly journals devoted specifically to feminist legal theory. Commentary by feminist legal analysts is commonplace in U.S. media, and the views of many feminist scholars are sought when new laws are considered and drafted. Although feminists point out that much work remains to ensure equality among men and women, the work of these individuals has sparked revolutionary change in the U.S. legal system.
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