Spring 2009

Women and the Law in Cross-Cultural Perspective


Margaret R. Hunt (Section 01)


Historically the law has functioned as much to differentiate women from men as to assert their similarities. This course will explore the variety of types of laws (natural law, religious law, statute law, customary law, and the like) that have been used to regulate women’s lives and try to assess the philosophies that lie behind them. Family law, especially where it pertains to marriage, divorce, married women’s property, domestic assault, custody, and so forth, will receive special attention through a comparison of Western European and American legal traditions with Muslim shari’a law, both in the past and the present. The course will look closely at the law and law enforcement as they pertain to female sexuality, and assess issues to do with women criminals as well as women as victims of specific types of criminal acts such as rape. It will examine what happens to women when (a) legal structures break down, as in war, and (b) when “the law” becomes a tool of racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or gender repression. Finally, it will address the extent to which “changing the law” succeeds as a strategy for empowering women by looking at several key legal campaigns involving women in both Western and non-Western settings. Sources will include religious writing (such as the Book of Leviticus from the Bible and the second and fourth surahs of the Qur’an), transcripts of court cases from a variety of times and places, historical writings on adultery and prostitution, biographical accounts of female criminals, and contemporary discussions in various media pertaining to the human rights of women and sexual minorities. Two class meetings per week. Spring semester. Professor Hunt.