Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural


Feminists have often criticized law’s ignorance of women’s practical, lived experiences, even as they have also sought to reveal the variety among those experiences. This article builds on both critiques to argue for greater attentiveness to a neglected aspect of women’s situation: place. Specifically, Professor Pruitt asserts that the hardships and vulnerability that mark the lives of rural women and constrain their moral agency are overlooked or discounted by a contemporary cultural presumption of urbanism.

Professor Pruitt considers judicial responses to the realities of rural women’s lives in relation to three different legal issues: domestic violence, termination of parental rights, and abortion. In each of these contexts, she scrutinizes judicial treatment of the spatial isolation, lack of anonymity, and depressed socioeconomic landscape that characterize rural America. Pruitt contrasts judicial responses to the plight of rural women, which are generally lacking in empathy or understanding, with responses to the vulnerability and hardship that have been judicially recognized in relation to rural livelihoods in non-gendered contexts.

Drawing on rural sociology and economics literature, as well as from judicial opinions, Pruitt argues that the cocktail of features which constitute rural America seriously disadvantages rural women. She further maintains that this disadvantage is aggravated when society’s prevailing urban perspective obscures its legal recognition. This article thus identifies features of rural life, shows how they are unseen or misunderstood by law, and explains their legal relevance to critical junctures at which rural women encounter the law. In doing so, Pruitt begins the process of articulating a feminist theory of the rural.


Law and Gender

Date of this Version

September 2006