Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

As a concept, feminism is very much a modern notion within legal circles, which aims to eradicate any prejudice against women's rights. This in a society strongly founded upon a male-orientated legal system, which historically fails to recognise the social and legal rights of women, and instead focuses upon "male-orientated theories and ideologies."1 It is this patriarchy that feminists thrive to eliminate.

The essence of patriarchy is emphasised by the Marxist legal theory, developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th Century, which places no emphasis upon gender, and consequently belittles the feminists fight for gender equality. Juxtaposed with the rigid Marxist approach to legal rule is the postmodernist dialect that offers a "positive method of forcing individuals to confront and change the rigid contexts and structures (including laws) within which they have arbitrarily confined themselves."2 

The ideology of feminism is split into three distinct categories, all of which work towards one common goal of removing gender prejudices: 1) Liberal feminism is grounded in "classical liberal thinking that individuals should be free to develop their own talents and pursue their own interests. Liberal feminists accept the basic organisation of our society but seek to expand the rights and opportunities of women. Liberal feminists support equal rights and oppose prejudice and discrimination that block the aspirations of women.

Socialist feminism is an evolution from Marxist conflict theory, essentially made in reaction to the little attention Marx paid to gender. Socialist feminists argue that the "bourgeois family must be restructured to end 'domestic slavery' in favour of some collective means of carrying out housework and child care. The key to this goal, in turn, is a socialist revolution that creates a state-centred economy operating to meet the needs of all. Such a basic transformation of society requires that women and men pursue their personal liberation together, rather than individually, as liberal feminists maintain."4 3)

The third form of feminism is radical feminism. This, as the name suggests is the most extreme version of feminism, it disregards the liberal theory as "superficial and inadequate,"5 and they claim that even a socialist revolution would not end patriarchy. Radical feminists strive to create a society free from any gender inequality by completely abolishing the cultural notion of gender.

To look at these three forms of feminism an observer would be ignorant to discard feminism as having no legal influence, as it is clear to see from these that support for such movements is vast and comes in various forms, all of which attack the same enemy, patriarchy, albeit in differing manners. These differing methods are accentuated by recent developments and movements in society, particularly in the 20th Century these can be clearly highlighted by looking at the actions of the suffragettes in 1910, which illustrate a more active approach to campaigning. 

As previously mentioned feminist legal theories are a contemporary concept, for this reason a "radical new methodology in legal theory" is required in order to encompass the new issues raised by feminism as a legal theory. Such a new methodology could be found in the 'critical legal theory' method, as it would be able to incorporate feminist views such as the theory that a "male-orientated appreciation of law emphasises individualism and 'rights' at the expense of 'female' emphases upon interaction and cooperation."

This approach is however, solely a theoretical one, and as such it does not entirely cover the needs of feminism, insofar as "feminism is only partially and peripherally concerned with academic theorising,"7 the major part of the work of feminism is to promote the "dissatisfactions of a wide spectrum of women," which highlight the general inequality felt by women in regards to legal and social equality. 

Therefore critical legal studies, instead of acting as a definition, are rather a useful means of indicating the "explicit and implicit male orientation of law and legal administration and the resulting disadvantage and marginalisation often suffered by women."8 This has led to the recognition of three fundamental elements which personify a feminist legal theory.

"These are:  a) asking the 'woman question', i.e. the extent of the presence and recognition of women's experience in law; b) feminist practical reasoning, meaning a reasoning which proceeds from context and values difference and the experience of the unempowered; and c) consciousness raising, meaning an exploration of the collective experience of women through a sharing of individual experiences."

These three elements, outlined above by Katherine T. Bartlett, are designed to act as the source for future feminist legal theory development, particularly in respect of women's outlook upon law with the intention of improving women's legal position in the future "development or redevelopment of law."

The legal evolution, or, redevelopment, mentioned above is one in which women strive to see a revolution from an "inherently 'male' legal mindset implicitly discriminating against women because it is framed in terms of male experience which does not necessarily relate to that of women."

That is to say, that in numerous situations women are expected to mirror full-time, long-term and unionised male workers, when in reality women digress from this norm insofar as their working patterns tend to be far more interrupted and part-time. From this a clear paradox is produced, as feminists while thriving to be treated as the males equal simultaneously require a variant from this norm in order to account for their differing responsibilities.

This attitude is stressed distinctly by the remarks of Joanne Conaghan and Louise Chudleigh, when they say, "labour law both embodies and conceals the gender division of labour and, by focusing exclusively on the world of paid work, ignores the differing responsibilities [of] … men and women."12