Feminist Literary Theory and the Law: Reading Cases with Naomi Schor


This article brings together feminist literary theory and law by approaching a number of U.S. Federal cases on sex equality in light of the work of the renowned feminist literary critic Naomi Schor, and shows that literary theory constitutes an under-explored resource for feminist legal critique. Schor’s writings constitute a sustained rumination on the relationship between reading and feminism. Drawing on writings on language and the body by key French feminist theorists, Schor advances a method of interpretation which she terms, provocatively, ‘clitoral reading’, and which focuses on the place of details relating to women’s bodies and desires within literary and cultural discourses. In the course of her career, she analysed texts from domains as diverse as literature, philosophy, visual art, the history of fashion, and photography. I will demonstrate that her work can make a valuable contribution to legal studies by using it as an interpretative lens to re-examine U.S. Federal court judgments.

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  1. 1.

    For further ‘Law and Literature’ studies in a feminist frame, see Heinzelman (2010), Kalsem (2012), Krueger (2010), Lacey (2008), and Ward (2012).

  2. 2.

    See her New York Times obituary by Martin (2001).

  3. 3.

    Back cover of Schor (2007).

  4. 4.

    Naomi Schor Papers, Brown University. https://library.brown.edu/collatoz/info.php?id=270.

  5. 5.

    444 F.3d 1104.

  6. 6.

    527 F.Supp. 229, 231 (S.D.N.Y.1981).

  7. 7.

    417 U.S. 484 (1974).

  8. 8.

    380 F.Supp. 808.

  9. 9.

    Jespersen at 1107.

  10. 10.

    Ibid at 1108.

  11. 11.

    Ibid at 1113 (my italics).

  12. 12.

    Ibid at 1112.

  13. 13.

    Ibid at 1117.

  14. 14.

    Ibid at 1118.

  15. 15.

    Ibid at 1116.

  16. 16.

    Ibid at 1118.

  17. 17.

    Rogers at 231.

  18. 18.

    Ibid at 232.

  19. 19.

    For example, Yoshino (2005, 1840) identifies Caldwell’s article as a moment in the rise of storytelling in law in the 1980s and 1990s.

  20. 20.

    Rentzer v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, 32 Cal. App. 3d 604 (Cal. Ct. App. 1973).

  21. 21.

    404 U.S. 71 (1971) and 411 U.S. 677 (1973) respectively.

  22. 22.

    Geduldig at 496–497 (my italics).

  23. 23.

    Ibid at p. 496.

  24. 24.


  25. 25.

    Ibid at 501.

  26. 26.

    Ibid at 500.

  27. 27.

    Ibid at 501.

  28. 28.

    Rappaport at 808.

  29. 29.

    Ibid at 809.

  30. 30.

    For discussions of the relationship between clothing and law more generally, see Robson (2013) and Watt (2013).

  31. 31.

    Rappaport at 809.

  32. 32.

    Ibid at 810.

  33. 33.

    Ibid at 811.

  34. 34.

    Ibid at 809.


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I am especially grateful to Janet Halley for her encouragement and her comments. I would also like to thank Senjuti Chakraborti, Andrew Counter, Başak Ertür, Wendy Gan, Christopher Hutton, Douglas Kerr, Julia Kuehn, and Stewart Motha for their input on an earlier version of this paper.

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Wan, M. Feminist Literary Theory and the Law: Reading Cases with Naomi Schor. Fem Leg Stud 26, 163–183 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-018-9377-0

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  • Law and literature
  • Feminism
  • Interpretation
  • Sex equality
  • Constitutional law