Literature and Legal Studies

Literature and legal studiesNext week I will tell you about how moving and starting a new job drove me to distraction. This week I would like to say a word about how studying law has already helped me quite a bit in personal and professional projects. One reason this course appealed to me is its application to my work managing nonprofit organizations. It helps me to be better informed and be a better advocate. It does that in a few ways from subject knowledge to critical thinking and reasoning skills. That is really wonderful. It is the reason I chose this course. But there is something even better and more satisfying that I didn’t expect. Legal studies made me take notice of a few things in my vocation moonlighting as a novelist.

Magazine cover with Wendy Davis

US politician Wendy Davis

This might sound like a digression, but bear with me a minute. It has to be said first. You might have noticed the presidential election campaign going on in America right now. One inspiration to me is seeing how so many people have responded creatively to the political process, scrutiny of legal structures, and the dynamics of gender politics now playing out.  Every day I see extraordinary imaginative works created in response to the current day’s drama.  It is not just free speech issues to be appreciated in this context, although that is a truly compelling element. What fascinates me is how powerful the content is, how succinct, and how it informs us about socio-political agendas and their intended audiences. Thoughtful men and women not usually covered by the mainstream media articulate powerful material about the kind of society they envision. It is worthy of study both from a literary and socio-legal perspective. We studied this in the English program. After more than a year I can’t seem to get approaches to text and legal studies separated in my head.

Book cover - Sexual Textual PoliticsThere are some obvious ways this all relates to writing novels but I will focus on the one aspect that motivates me.  Much to my surprise I chose to write specifically in the Romance genre – never, ever thought I would be doing that. Over the last two years I got a thorough education about women’s voices as authors and readers and it has been awesome.  This genre is a billion dollar publication industry leader dominated by women on both the production and consumption side. It is the largest selling genre in the publishing industry with several robust sub-genres. It is also the most welcoming, generous and supportive professional group I have ever been involved with. ‘There’s room for you here sister’ and ‘just write the book, we’ll help you fix it’ is the standard greeting for new authors. It’s a group of professional women advocating for women’s voices and displays legitimate interest in what every woman has to say creatively.

What does that have to do with legal studies? Besides being in a master course on reasoning and writing, right now I have a front row seat watching America unpack the patriarchy. This is a power structure earthquake here with great potential for legislative and legal changes. Putting that together with some attitudes toward the Romance literature industry is really instructive. The romance genre is diverse and inclusive with respect to authors and characterization.  It shows characters of all types negotiating relationships, agency, and the social and legal power structures around them. It is a place where political and legal themes and power dynamics are robustly explored through characters and of course as authors. There are no waifs and wallflowers on the page or holding the pen. These authors are formidable, accomplished women getting it done with some microphone dropping moments while still waiting for the Equal Rights Amendment to be ratified.  Think of them as backups to the women legislators out there filibustering in their pink sneakers. (You won’t be creased about the analogy if you study statistics about romance authors and readers.) I never fully appreciated this point until I began pursuing legal studies and seriously looked at a literary genre dominated my women.

To me, we are immersed in texts of all kinds as well as a web of legal structures that shape our world. In the course work I am studying now legal writing is often referred to as a kind of period literature. I think that is an absolutely wonderful way to approach legal philosophy. The Romance genre, often dismissed as chick lit, is a body of works by a highly diverse set of authors demonstrating how people contend with issues of agency, legal and social empowerment, the lack of it, and the degree to which they can achieve it. Some criticize female focalization in the literature, which is politically fascinating to me. Remember, Romance is the largest segment of the publishing industry and it is dominated by women as producers and consumers of content. I picture these women dismissing critics of all stripes with a ‘tell it to the hand’ wave.  You can also see that wave from many women in the raw gender politics of this election cycle.

For me, affecting change is what law and legal studies is all about. It is fascinating to look at women’s issues through the lens of a large female creative body, their enormous, largely female audience, and through legal studies.  I love that these two aspects of my professional life have come together even though I never expected it.

Caowrites is enrolled in the Postgraduate Laws Programme. She previously earned a BA English degree and blogged regularly about her experience. She studies by distance learning in the United States.

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