Phi Beta Cons

Academic Feminism Spills Over into Family Law

The actor Alec Baldwin has written a new book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood and Divorce, about his acrimonious split from actress Kim Basinger, which, according to his account, included being deliberately denied access to their daughter Ireland. In one of his chapters, he tells of a visit to the Harvard Law School class of Jeannie Suk, who has written in the Yale Law Journal on the increasing criminalization of domestic disputes.

Suk also has a book coming out on the subject next year that will show how, through the influence of feminism, the home has been defined for the purposes of the law as a ”place of male violence.”  Baldwin later interviewed Suk about this and related issues, and presents her answers in the book. According to Suk, domestic violence has been made a public matter on the theory that men subordinate women in the home, and that violence is a manifestation of that subordination.

As in the areas of rape and sexual harassment, the definition of domestic violence has been greatly expanded: The overwhelming majority of domestic-violence cases do not involve physical contact at all, but result in arrest because they are looked at under the subordination theory. For example, a man losing his temper, throwing an alarm clock on the floor, and punching a pillow can now be arrested and banned from the home under this legal theory. Discretion has been eliminated, and mandatory arrest, prosecution, and sentencing has become the norm, sometimes even over the objections of the victim, who is no longer considered a good judge of her own circumstances.   


Suk attributes all this to ”governance feminism,” which is ”the idea that feminism, which once criticized the law from the outside, is today actually in charge in many places in the law — among police, prosecutors, lawmakers, judges, and other legal actors.”  Suk goes on to explain that the “feminism that often ‘governs’ today is that strand developed by the legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon and that focuses on the subordinaton of women by men, particularly in intimate and sexual relationships. Her influence on our legal system’s understanding of men and women cannot be overstated. If you talk to police, prosecutors, lawmakers, and judges about domestic violence, perhaps they have not read MacKinnon, but they often subscribe to the premise that men subordinate women through sex and violence.”


Naturally, Suk performs the usual obeisance to feminism for having addressed a crying injustice in the law, that is, that domestic violence was formerly considered a private matter, but you have to ask — was there no other way of addressing that issue except though a movement in which “the legal vision of the home has increasingly become that of a man being violent toward his wife”?


The Latest