Feminism and the Law

Does the legal system cater to women? Many feminist don’t believe it does. Which could be agreed upon as the law provides inadequate protection for women’s injuries, which are among the most under reported crimes in the world.Why it is that Sexual harassment was not considered an offense for a long time? And pornography is protected by interpreting the constitution so to categorize it as free speech in some countries such as United States, while many feminists such as Catherine Mackinnon would consider it a discrimination of the sexes? And why is it that abortion is not dealt with by looking at the woman’s desire to have a child but by the ‘interest of society’? Is the society so patriarchal?

Such is quite evident by the views taken by many jurist such as Hobbes who stated that the mother is sovereign in relation to children but family is strictly a patriarchal institution, therefore meaning all decisions made in a family are the ones made by the man in the house and even looking at the public sphere it is evident that only few women are represented in parliament and especially in a country which boasts about having the world’s first woman prime minister.

The systems of laws generally only function to protect a preconceived character such as a white, middles class woman, while in reality it’s a complete different. Mariana Valverde stated that the needs of a woman picking coffee beans for fifty cents in Brazil and the needs of an American woman sipping coffee while writing about feminism would be a whole lot different and therefore it is a requirement we fight the stereotypes which blur the needs of each and every woman into one mould, as each woman’s needs are different from the other.

The law has recognized the rights of women mostly after the French Revolution as it made women aware of their rights. But till 1884 in UK wives were capable of being imprisoned by their husbands if they pleased, and as they were legally married she was under a contractual agreement and was considered the property of the husband. Domestic violence wasn’t recognized in the UK till 1975.

So clearly it has been a very slow process in evolving the system to protect the rights of women. International law cannot be given any recognition either as many women suffer due to war have crimes committed on them such as rape by members of the armed forces. Also International laws are quite reluctant to be a moving force to prevent young girls and women being circumcised and preventing traditional rituals such as Sati being carried out.

What has happened to human rights? Are we to believe that women are not considered as human beings, as most feminist believe the law is controlled by a patriarchal system which considers the man as the superior being.

– Radhi De Silva.

Related posts : Abortion in Sri Lanka, No Noise for Gender Violence.

Radhi is a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders Sri Lanka and an undegraduate student of law. Despite many studies conducted on the matter, It’s unclear whether she’s a feminist. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of the organisation.


Posted on 12/31/2007, in Opinions, Sex - Sexuality - Gender, Sri Lanka and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Yes. I totally agree with the point pornography industry seriously discriminate gender. In the pornography industry females get paid around more than 10 times than men, even though all females have to do is pure acting and been eye candy, while male have to actually Perform (any man know how hard it is) front of the camera under tremendous pressure and get paid relatively very low. That is a good example for some genders having significant advantage.

    But I don’t understand why it is wrong to circumcised woman and it is alright for do the same on boys? We do those kinds of things, because of the faith we have for the God. Are you trying to say, their faith are as not as good as others (who don’t circumcise)?

    Isn’t the real elephant in the room is, woman discriminating against woman, more than men does, but feminist never wanted to talk about it? I never seen a men insult another woman because she don’t have children or she is a widow, but I see other woman do that all the time. Women are more judgmental and critical about other woman, far more than men ever does.

  2. @Sam: “But I don’t understand why it is wrong to circumcised woman and it is alright for do the same on boys?” – Is the female circumcision same as male circumcision? I thought although it was called female circumcision, it was a matter of removal of external genitalia (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/)

    @Writer: “And why is it that abortion is not dealt with by looking at the woman’s desire to have a child…” – Does the woman who is carrying the child have explicit right over the right of the child to live? And thereby aren’t you suggesting that females expect to be superior? (If you are going to say, ‘does the society have the right over child’s life’, the point made is not that, the point is that everyone intrinsically has a right to live, and the woman who is carrying the child doesnt have a right to negate it). As for the instances where an abortion is done to save a woman’s life, I think its a bit different than killing someone because you want to lead a happy life. (This is my point of view of course. Yours could be different)

    I think it would have been better if your post talked about the sexual discrimination of legal systems at present, as opposed to what was done in the past. (For all you know, there were legal systems where slavery was legal. So as far as I see, there is no point about talking of that, you need to say if something is wrong now, something happenning in a different ‘version’ of the legal system is useless).

    As for rape as a war crime, I think your argument is not very strong the way it is presented. There are many war crimes committed against humans in general (Take the charges against US forces for example, shooting of civilians and torture of POWs). This does not mean that rape is a lighter matter, the reason that most rape victims do not receive justice is because of lack of evidence. Although I would think that more than 99.999% of the rape victims are actually victims, I dont think there is any fool proof way of proving it. If tphysical evidences (bruises, semen etc.) lack, what method would you suggest to resolve the matter? (No I mean seriously, I would like to know the opinion of a law student on this).

    As for the rape victims who are not served justice even at the presence of physical evidences, I would say that the matter is largely a matter of having an incompetent lawyer (this is not a general comment on ‘all’ lawyers, its incompetence in the sense of professional incompetency), I mean how many cases (any type of cases) have been lost by lawyers who are considered ‘good’ ?

    • You are completely wrong about circumcision. what you have mentioned is know as Genital Mutilation not the circumcision. female circumcision is removing of the clitoris prepuce which covers the clitoris hood and it’s same as foreskin that covers the shaft of the penis so both do the same thing that is protecting the internal sensitive part from outside. Circumcision is WRONG it doesn’t matter which gender subjects to it specially circumcise infants and little children without their consent is terrific so it isn’t just an issue of women but also an issue of men.

      there are four types of male genital mutilations as same as FGM and they are

      Type I – excision or injury of part or all of the skin and specialized mucosal tissues of the penis including the prepuce and frenulum (circumcision, dorsal slit without closure).
      Type II – excision or injury to the glans (glandectomy) and/or penis shaft, (penectomy) along with Type I MGM. Any procedure that interferes with reproductive or sexual function in the adult male.
      Type III – excision or destruction of the testes (castration, orchidectomy) with or without Type II MGM.
      Type IV – unclassified: includes pricking, piercing or incision of the prepuce, glans, scrotum or other genital tissue; cutting and suturing of the prepuce over the glans (infibulation); slitting open the urethra along the ventral surface of the penis (subincision); slitting open the foreskin along its dorsal surface (superincision); severing the frenulum; stripping the skin from the shaft of the penis; introducing corrosive or scalding substances onto the genital area; any other procedure which falls under the definition of MGM given above.

      I suggest you to read and polish your knowledge from here

  3. sam…
    man are you high?!?!
    those women in pr0n movies have to moan and fake it… that takes skill…
    you have to see the “making of” movies of… hmmm…

    can you pls give some examples for your claims, from a sri lankan context?
    “the law provides inadequate protection for women’s injuries”
    “the law is controlled by a patriarchal system which considers the man as the superior being”
    “the systems of laws generally only function to protect a preconceived character such as a white, middles class woman”

  4. Lol. Sam, good one. shehal..There are “making of” stuff? damn.. where can i get that?. (dont post links!)

    ya radhi.. the law doesn’t have to be feminist.. i think there is a decent legal framework in place even if it took time to evolve..

  5. I would like to state that these are not entirely my views but based on some facts and some theories created by feminist. I didnt mean the system is useless, and the law is feminist, but what i did mean to say was that the system has been slow to reform when it came to women’s issues in certain areas, do have to admit there are many women suffering because of it.

    answer to the 2nd commenter.
    Do admit most rape cases do not get the justice it requires due to lack of evidence etc, but discussing on the system for example in most cases a woman’s past sexual activity, profession all is taken into account where as a man’s(defendant’s) is not.
    I didnt discuss about others issues dealt by a country at war, because the article was based on women’s issues and to show that less is done by the international community on this.
    answer to shehal
    women are portrayed in pornographic movies as sex objects and no woman would want to be portrayed as such.(would u like to see ur friends who are girls being used as such or any female member of ur’ family, i think not!) Those who do act in them would have their reasons maybe because it brings alot of money in as countries such as US making it legal makes it a big industry. and people these days would do anything for money.

  6. Sam, apparently you haven’t got any proper sex. Don’t look at everything in your deprived state of mind. Women discriminating women? open your eyes man. its the patriarchal SOCIETY which creates laws, both formal and informal.

    Equity in Law according the books isn’t enough, its the practice which counts. So for the rest of you little boys who haven’t grown out of pornography, get a life or read a book.

  7. Hi Radhi
    Thanks for the answers but
    “for example in most cases a woman’s past sexual activity, profession all is taken into account where as a man’s(defendant’s) is not.” – Does the law ‘require’ this to be discussed, or is it that the lawyer brings it up to defend the defendant? If the law requires the womens past to be discussed and not the man’s, then its something wrong with the legal system, if on the otherhand prosecuting lawyer does not ask the question, then its a shortcoming of the prosecutor. However since i dont have any experience with law, I’ll take your word for it.

    “I didnt discuss about others issues dealt by a country at war, because the article was based on women’s issues and to show that less is done by the international community on this.” – the reason why I brought this up was to show that it is not limited to women only. But I get your point, it does affect women, and that’s why you included it in the article; point taken. And I do not think that you answered shehal’s question properly.

    Anyway wish all you guys have a happy and a successful new year!

  8. If this is the intellectual callibre of a typical Sri Lankan law student, there goes my desire to practise law in Sri Lanka.

    The type of extremist feminism that viewed pornography and sex in a negative light is long dead in other countries. Feminism is only fashionable in third world countries these days. In most of the Western industrialised world, it’s associated with smelly hairy fat man-hating dykes who don’t wear bras out of principle. I only have to look at the cute blondes in cute little summer dresses and oversized sunglasses to see that Germaine Greer has failed.

    The purpose of law is not to serve women as this writer posits, but to serve everyone equally – men, women and the odd things in between.

  9. // Is the female circumcision same as male circumcision? I thought although it was called female circumcision, it was a matter of removal of external genitalia//
    I agree somewhat. But even though you brought that as a discrimination of woman, in real aspect it is not. It is a just a one tiny part of religious problems we humans face for quite some time. Religion do discriminate woman as much as it discriminate and harm lower cast people, none believers and others.

    No one have any right to say, “no, it is not like male circumcision”. In a principle they all do the same – mutilate gender body parts without the agreement of the owner. Mothers in Africa (even some Sri Lankans too, believe it or not) do that happily to their daughters as same as fathers do that to their sons.

    My argument is female circumcision is a religious issue. Not a feminist issue. Those types of faith base activities must stop because those religions are primitive and harmful.

    // those women in pr0n movies have to moan and fake it… that takes skill…//
    moaning is not an skill compare to been able to ejaculate in any given second when the director asked you to do so (and REPEAT it as the director need it) and maintain an erection no matter what is going on around you. I don’t want to explain those things in details over here.
    About moaning, most of the sound effects added later in the editing room.

    This is not unique to the porn industry. There are large number of female fashion models out there that earn more than 100 million $ a year. But there are not even a single fashion male model who own more than few million $ a year. Unfair.

    // Sam, apparently you haven’t got any proper sex.//
    Looking at your question I have to assume, you have no what so idea about human sex habits. If you know even a tiny bit about it, you won’t use a term like “Proper Sex”.

    // Women discriminating women? open your eyes man//

    I have no scientific tests to prove that. All I can say is what I experience everyday.
    A daughter wanted to get married to her boyfriend. Mother didn’t like it. Girl was forced to get married to a deferent man mush appreciated by the mother. The Daughter tried to kill herself few times unsuccessfully (luckily). I don’t want to write more about that lovely girl, because she may read this post and get mad at her boyfriend.

    The mother farced her son to break up with his girlfriend because she was not suitable for their caste. (I have seen this soooo many times)

    Woman was called named, because she is not married even in her midlife, because she was not able to produce children. Not by men, just by woman. Have you ever seen a man get offended by an unmarried middle age woman?

    My point is, those types of social standards maintain by woman. It is up to you to decide, are those virtues or discriminations. I do not say men are all innocent, all I say is, men treat fellow men more kindly compared to how woman maintain social rules for other woman.

  10. Feminism denied some of the virtues specific to femininity and and implied that women ought to act contrary their nature- even if the women who didn’t align with “feminist” views were perfectly happy as they were. It instilled resentment into women and the idea that they needed to become “liberated” from “male oppression” by engaging in frantic economic activity, mindless protest, and sexual promiscuity.

    Feminism was an inherently individualistic and capitalist movement because it leveled the uniqueness of man and woman in favor of turning them into equal workers and consumers. The apparent discrepancy of regard toward men and women detailed here about SL law appears to be from a time when society was less neurotic in it’s desire to insist that all are equal, regardless of personal ability or views. Unfortunately, informing others that people are born with differing abilities, and that differences exist among the abilities of different genders would shatter the minds of too many deceived people. I don’t disagree that the law should be gender impartial, but I also think that respect should be earned and not automatically assumed because of gender.

  11. I agree with Sam that women discriminate against other women more then men. It’s women who always bitch about other women and talk behind their back. Women in higher positions (eg: Margaret Thatcher) never allow other strong women to progress. In countries such as ours, women in marriages always suffer at the hands of the mother-in-law, not the husband.


    I’m just aghast to see how backward Sri Lanka is. Feminism is dead you idiots. It’s been dead all around the world for decades. It’s no longer fashionable for women to be fat, hairy, smelly, and manly.

  12. What Sam or Swati dont seem to appreciate is that women can also belong, believe and defend a patriachal system. And hence men or women who are entrenched (knowingly or unknowingly) in a patriarchal system or way of thinking as i would prefer to call it may be problematic for women’s development in general.

    Sam i dont think that you can strictly compartmentalise issues as religious or feminist as in with the issue of circumscision.

    Pornography is a problem when a woman (or man for that matter!!)is forced either explicity or constructively (the latter mostly for compliacted social reasons such as poverty). I personally dont care when women out of choice take it up as a means of making money.Both men and women involved in commercial pornography are objectified.

  13. Dear Sir/Madam,
    Reguarding my project in Feminisum in Sri Lanka I need some information.Please with out hessitate send to me.
    1.Abototion,Staistics,summary Notes about it
    2.Women working at abroad,Persentage,What are the probelm cause it and what are laws against it
    3.Film,tele Drama industry
    4.sexual harrassments,what is the law … and etc

  14. Good stuff. Keep it up.

  15. feminism is a great social problem.feminists want women to be removed from family they do not like to that women do house hold chores .they do not believe that mothers have responsibility on children.if mothers refuse to do children ‘s work what happened to our society .
    is it suitable women being a rebellious role in family .what happened to our society?
    in India feminists play key role i have seen they have enacted anti male laws.it was harmful Indian society .Indian family is destroying and deteriorating.S.I.F.F is fighting against it.
    in sri lanka feminists have suggested to enact anti male laws .we should protect sri lanken family from feminists because feminists hate men and boys. they want to rob husbands property which will caused to crimes by angry husbands

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