Food for Thought: Gender, Sexuality, and the Law

We are reading two chapters from Comack’s (2006) Locating Law this week – One by Karen Busby entitled “Not a Victim Until a Conviction is Entered: Sexual Violence Prosecutions and Legal ‘Truth'”, and another by Kirsten Kramar entitled “Victims of Justice: Homophobia, Ageism, and Whorephobia”. Both chapters explore issues at the intersection of gender, sexuality, power, and law.

In thinking about these chapters, and about the questions posted below, it is helpful to review Comack’s (2006) discussion of ‘the feminist frameworks’ in her essay on “Theoretical Approaches in the Sociology of Law”.

I have two ‘food for thought’ questions for this week.

First, in relation to Homophobia and the Law:

Kramar (2006) uses a case study of the ‘Project Guardian’ operation to explore the social construction of a homophobic moral panic in 1990s Ontario. This study offers a number of examples of ways in which unequal, gendered, and sexualized social relations find expression in law (and law enforcement campaigns). It is important to note that Canadian law, politics, and culture have undergone significant shifts in relation to LGBTQ rights over the last several decades – as evidenced by anti-discrimination laws, hate crime provisions, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the recognition of adoption rights for same-sex couples (among many other developments).

One of our teach-in groups for this week drew on Kramar’s analysis to examine the ongoing case study of Russia’s new law prohibiting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations“. The Guardian reports that the passage of this law has contributed to an increase in homophobic violence in Russia; the law sends a message of officially-sanctioned exclusion that has emboldened groups inclined to engage in homophobic violence.

As part of his BBC series ‘Out There’, British broadcaster / comedian / filmmaker / actor / activist Stephen Fry interviewed Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov to discuss the new law:

With this week’s food for thought post, I would like to explore the role of law in the social construction of social problems (see Kramar 2006: 286-287).

The questions that should inform your blog post are as follows:

How, in general, does law facilitate the social construction of certain issues or groups as social problems? How does this apply to the Russian law in question? In other words, how does this law facilitate the social construction of a social problem, and what precisely is the nature of the social problem that is constructed through this law?

An English translation of the text and rationale for the law can be found here, and you should refer to this material when writing your post. Your post should also engage with material on the social construction of social problems (Kramar 2006 is a good start). Please also copy-and-paste my question (indented above) at the top of your blog post so that our readers will know what you are responding to.

Second, in relation to Karen Busby’s (2006) article “Not a Victim Until a Conviction is Entered”,

During this week’s teach-in on sexual violence prosecutions and legal ‘truth’, our research team reported on conversations that they had with a Crown prosecutor and a professor specializing in gender and the law. When asked about the nature and prevalence of gender bias in the criminal legal system, both respondents emphasized the complexity of the issue. While they gave different answers, both mentioned the importance of locating gender discrimination in relation to discrimination on the basis of class and race. One suggestion was that women qua women are not discriminated against by the courts during sexual violence prosecutions – rather, women are treated differently on the basis of their social class and race or ethnicity. Without supporting this assertion, I want to highlight it as an important example of the concept of intersectionality.  Intersectionality, as a concept, recognizes the existence of complex and intersecting forms of hierarchy, status, and identity. For instance, it problematizes ‘single-axis’ approaches that examine questions of class without considering the ways that class intersects with gender, race, citizenship, and other categories or modalities.

Fort this week’s food for thought post, first conduct some research on the concept of intersectionality (there are many excellent academic articles available through the KPU library, and Comack addresses the concept in her essay on ‘Theoretical Approaches in the Sociology of Law’). Then write a post that:

  1. Introduces and explains the concept of intersectionality, and describes how it relates to critical legal studies, and;
  2. Uses an example (a case study, news media article, policy, or other phenomenon) to illustrate how the concept of intersectionality can be applied to the study of law & society.

This is a particularly useful question for those of you who are using feminist legal theory, critical legal studies, or critical race theory as your theoretical perspective for your term paper.

Posts in response to this question should be submitted prior to our next class.

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