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Imagine a future without legal sex. The politics and perils of feminist law reform

20 October @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Speaker: Professor Davina Cooper FBA, Professor of Law and Political Theory, King’s College London

Commentator: Professor Anne Phillips FBA, Professor Emerita, Department of Government

Notwithstanding Simone de Beauvoir’s famous assertion that ‘one is not born, but made woman’, it is still widely taken for granted that sex/gender – unlike race/ethnicity, religion or other social categories – is fundamental to legal subjecthood: we are registered with a sex at birth which is legally and socially treated as giving rise to a corresponding (legal) gender. Why should this be, and might it be otherwise? This summer saw publication of the ESRC-funded project exploring the possible futures of gender as a legal category, of which Davina Cooper was the Principal Investigator. Our event, discussing the report, aims to distance the debate about gender from what has become a set of polarities (sex-based feminism v gender-as-identity), so as to open up a space to imagine and deliberate on the possibilities of change through feminist law reform, and to focus on the implications for social equality quite generally of the operation of legal categorisations such as gender or sex.

Objections to radically reforming the legal status of sex and gender categories (on grounds of equality, fairness, violence) are important to take seriously. One of the things that the event will do is to consider whether retaining legal sex and gender status are essential for these categories to work in remedial ways; or whether there are ways of addressing objections and concerns (about equality, fairness, etc,) which do not rely on people being legal members of social categories such as sex/ gender. And if reform makes sense, but isn’t currently viable, how should we think about its temporal horizons and development?


Meet our speakers and chair

Davina Cooper is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose work focuses on concepts, transformative politics, state activism, and experimental communities. She directed an ESRC funded research project on the Future of Legal Gender – which explores the implications of abolishing legal sex and gender status. Her books include Challenging Diversity: Rethinking Equality and the Value of Difference (CUP, 2004); Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke 2014) and Feeling like a State: Desire, Denial, and the Recasting of Authority (Duke, 2019).

Anne Phillips joined the LSE in 1999 as Professor of Gender Theory and Director of the Gender Institute, and later became Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science in the Government Department. She holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Aalborg and Bristol, and in 2016 received the Sir Isaiah Berlin Award for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies. Her books include The Politics of Presence (1995), Multiculturalism without Culture (2007), Our Bodies, Whose Property? (2013), The Politics of the Human (2015), and Unconditional Equals (2021).

Nicola Lacey has worked on criminal justice, feminist legal and social theory, socio-legal history and legal biography.  Her publications include Unspeakable Subjects: Feminist Essays in Legal and Social Theory (1998) and Women, Crime and Character: From Moll Flanders to Tess of the d’Urberville (2008). In 2011 she was awarded the Hans Sigrist Prize by the University of Bern for outstanding scholarship on the function of the rule of law in late modern societies and in 2022 she was awarded the Law and Society Association’s International Prize.


20 October
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Event Category:


Law Events


Yangtze Lecture Theatre
2nd floor, Centre Building, LSE + Google Map