This Essay explores the application of two key insights of feminist theory to practice. First, the law is often structured to fit male life patterns in a way that creates unstated male norms which are mistaken as inevitable or natural. Second, these male norms often disadvantage women. A recent unemployment compensation case handled in the University of Washington Civil Law Clinic illustrates these insights.
The clinic challenged the denial of unemployment benefits to a client who sought only part-time work so she could care for her special needs child. Initially, feminist theory provided a basis for recognizing and challenging the full-time work requirement's differential impact on women, who more often than men work part-time and provide child and elder-care.
Feminist theory also provided a basis for recognizing that the structure of the unemployment system is designed for the traditional model of a male "head-of-household" worker, who must work full-time in order to support a family. Yet the traditionally male need to support a family can be viewed as a domestic responsibility that corresponds to the traditionally female need to care for children. Under the statutory scheme both roles can and should be accommodated.
Feminist Theory and Legal Practice: A Case Study on Unemployment Compensation Benefits and the Male Norm,
43 Hastings L.J. 1081
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol43/iss4/12