Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 253–271 | Cite as

Feminist Challenges to the Constraints of Law: Donning Uncomfortable Robes?

  • Kate Fitz-GibbonEmail author
  • JaneMaree Maher


Legal judgment writing mobilises a process of story-telling, drawing on existing judicial discourses, precedents and practices to create a narrative relevant to the specific case that is articulated by the presiding judge. In the Feminist Judgments projects feminist scholars and activists have sought to challenge and reinterpret legal judgments that have disadvantaged, discriminated against or denied women’s experiences. This paper reflects on the process of writing as a feminist judge in the Australian Project, in an intimate homicide case, R v Middendorp. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler on intelligibility, iterability and the communality of violence and vulnerability, this article argues that feminist judgments necessarily require some uncomfortable compromises with unjust gendered institutions. While ‘donning the robes’ may be an uncomfortable process, a feminist re-articulation of the law’s carceral power serves to unsettle and challenge some aspects of gendered oppression, even though it cannot unsettle the operation of the institution. The article concludes that effective feminist interventions by members of the judiciary may require donning robes that are not entirely comfortable in order to persuade and advocate for change.


Defensive homicide Feminist judgment Feminist practice Legal discourse Sentencing 



Our reflections on the process of feminist judging are undoubtedly richer for the collaborative conversations had with Jude McCulloch and Danielle Tyson throughout the rewriting of the Middendorp judgment. The School of Social Sciences at Monash University supported our participation in the Australian Feminist Judgment Project workshops.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and EducationDeakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, Sociology, School of Social SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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