For most of history, the law permitted men to "chastise" their wives. Common law explicitly recognized a man's right to beat his wife with a stick, as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb (it is from this tradition that we derive the phrase "rule of thumb"). Men who beat their wives were, and are, infrequently punished, or if at all, only leniently. Women who are battered are often blamed for provoking the attack--even by the most trivial of acts or omissions--or for failing to leave, even though they may fear retribution, or other motivations may make flight less obvious a solution than it seems.
In the face of a history that held women to be legally dead upon marriage, subsumed into the identities of their husbands, feminist theorists and lawyers have tried to reconceptualize and relitigate domestic violence. In framing the personal as political, feminists have sought to draw back the curtain that shielded the private realm from the scrutiny and censure of the law. The theoretical and practical challenges, implications, and struggles of this feminist lawmaking--at all its levels--are the subject of Elizabeth Schneider's book Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking.
The book is organized into four sections, covering the history of the battered women's movement, the theoretical dilemmas of feminist analyses of battering, feminist legal practices and strategies in domestic violence cases, and the possibilities for change through feminist lawmaking, including discussions of the Violence Against Women Act, and of legal education. The issues of domestic violence are fraught and complex, the ways to handle it no less so. Schneider is a law professor at Brooklyn Law School and a longtime legal activist on the issue, and her take is both sobering and enlightening. It is an erudite, well-written examination of law, domestic battery, and the implications for equality, and a highly recommended read for activists, legal actors, academics, and interested lay readers. --J. Riches
"'must' reading . . . . A rare combination of activist/lawyer savvy and theoretical curiosity and honesty. -- Martha Minow, Harvard Law School
"A work of great depth and moment." -- Peter Glick, New York Law Journal
"Battered Women and Feminist Lawmaking reminds us of the power that feminism has when it is trained on these goals." -- Liza Featherstone, Book World
"Intelligent and persuasive and brings new understanding to the problem." -- Library Journal
"Thoughtful. . . . We are lucky to have Elizabeth Schneider." -- Mimi Wesson, Women's Review of Books