Liverpool Law Review

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 29–49 | Cite as

Against Myths and Traditions that Emasculate Women: Language, Literature, Law and Female Empowerment

  • Julia J. A. ShawEmail author


Western literature has traditionally presented women as either passive or ultimately unhappy heroines, for example Anna Karenina, Hedda Gabler and Emma Bovary (Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, Penguin Classics, UK, 2003; Ibsen in Hedda Gabler, Nick Hern Books, UK, 1995; Flaubert in Madame Bovary, Penguin Classics, UK, 2003). Their relationships with men tend to range from deficient to hopeless, as interaction with the other often produces endless struggle and sacrifice, against the possibility of self-determination and personal fulfilment. Religious doctrine is also replete with images of heroic women dogged by an unhappy fate or the passive obedient woman condemned to a life of servitude. These tales of female subservience logically lead to the idea that for a woman, individual freedom depends on the avoidance of commitment and intimacy; as attachment becomes synonymous with enslavement and so freedom is only possible in isolation. This presumption does not hold true for same-sex lesbian relationships, only those entanglements involving males where the union serves to project largely male interests. Even though the evolution of modern law is mostly subject to social forces rather than religious considerations and the last century evidenced the emergence of many new hard won women’s rights, the male perspective still constitutes the benchmark against which others are measured. It is suggested that society, whilst cleverly concealing any bias beneath empowerment speech, continually seeks legitimacy for new forms of control over the bodies and behaviour of women. This paper examines the current axiomatically given gendered representations of women and demands transparency in the processes which too often fail to accord women the right to equal standing and equitable treatment.


Gender Identity Inequality Law Language Power and powerlessness 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Business and LawDe Montfort UniversityLeicesterUK

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