Women and the Law

Women and the Law. Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett

Women and the Law
Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett

Published: September 2018
Open Access edition of landmark work free to read online and download from OBserving Law in the School of Advanced Study's Humanities Digital Library

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Women and the Law is a pioneering study of the way in which the law has treated women – at work, in the family, in matters of sexuality and fertility, and in public life. Written by Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett, then University teachers, the book was first published in 1984. The authors examine the origins of British law’s attitude to women, trace the development of the law and ways in which it reflects the influence of economic, social and political forces and the dominance of men. They illustrate the tendency, despite formal equality, for deep-rooted problems of encoded gender inequality to remain.

Since 1984 the authors have achieved distinguished careers in law and public service. This 2018 Open Access edition includes a new Foreword and provides a timely opportunity to revisit their ground breaking analysis and reflect on how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same.

Susan Atkins CB

Dr Susan Atkins graduated from Birmingham University with an LLB in 1973, a Master’s degree in Criminology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974 and trained as a solicitor in local government. She was a law academic for 12 years, specialising in anti-discrimination law. She joined the civil service in 1989.  Her posts included Deputy Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Departmental Equal Opportunities Officer for the Home Office and Director of the Women and Equality Unit in the Cabinet Office. She has also been a Visiting Professor at Southampton University. In 2003 Susan was appointed the first Chief Executive of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. She was the first independent Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces from 2007-2015. Susan is an experienced non-executive director and holds a number of advisory positions, including membership of Independent Advisory Boards for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics.  Susan Atkins became a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to Armed Service Personnel.

Brenda Hoggett - Rt Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE

Brenda Hoggett, now Baroness Hale of Richmond and President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, became a High Court Judge in 1994, having taught law at the University of Manchester for 18 years and promoted reform of the law at the Law Commission for over nine. In 1999 she was appointed to the Court of Appeal and in 2004 to the appellate committee of the House of Lords, then highest court for the United Kingdom. This became the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009. She was appointed Deputy President in 2013 and its first female President in 2017. She is also President of the United Kingdom Association of Women Judges and a past President of the International Association of Women Judges. She was Treasurer of Gray’s Inn in 2017 and is Master of the Company of Fellmongers of Richmond, North Yorkshire.


A note on the open access edition
2018 Foreword


Women in society
1. The historical legacy
2. Equality at work
3. Beyond equality of opportunity

The private domain
4. Sexuality
5. Motherhood
6. Breadwinners and homemakers: partners or dependants?
7. Power and violence in the home
8. The case against marriage?

The state and women's rights
9. The welfare state: social security and taxation
10. Women as citizens


Women and the Law by Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett was published originally in 1984. It was one of the very first modern books of its kind – providing pioneering legal scholarship on women’s treatment under law.  It is a key and influential text.

Following publication by Basil Blackwell Ltd in 1984 Women and the Law was short­listed for the Fawcett Prize. It is described by Hilaire Barnett’s ‘Sourcebook of feminist jurisprudence’ as: “One of the first legal texts on women and the law in Britain”. A quick Google search today will find it referenced by scholarly articles in every decade since publication – 1986, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013.

Reading the book now you can appreciate how inspirational it was and how relevant it still is.  It leaves the reader with a greater understanding of how the law developed and makes you think about what has happened since 1984 and the impact of initiatives from European law and social changes, such as greater recognition of sexual identities. That in turn makes you wonder where things may go next.

Dr Susan Atkins CB

Our message in 1984 was that the law was based on an experience that was usually male, although it purported to be objective and gender neutral. Looked at from the experience of women’s lives and concerns, there were huge gaps and deficiencies in the law, which Women and the Law exposed.

The open access edition provides an opportunity to place the book in context but also to sketch out how the law has developed in key areas since 1984. A new foreword seeks to examine briefly why Women and the Law was important, where progress has been made, stalled or is at risk and why, in the face of new challenges, a feminist approach is still necessary.

Professor Rosemary Hunter (Queen Mary University of London)

Women and the Law was an influential book for me personally, and it will be great to see it back in circulation.” The “new Foreword is a tour de force.

Professor Ambreena Manji (Professor of Land Law and Development, School of Law and Politics Cardiff University; President, African Studies Association UK)

As we begin our African Feminist Judgments project, it’s excellent for a landmark text such as this to be open access for practicing lawyers and colleagues in African law schools.

Press release - Thursday 27 September 2018 

The open access version is freely available and print on demand and epub copies may be purchased on request:

ISBN 978-1-911507-10-9 (paperback edition) £25 - Order online

ISBN 978-1-911507-11-6 (epub version) £15 - Order online

ISBN 978-1-911507-12-3 Open Access PDF version in the Humanities Digital Library

This book will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license


Cover images from Shutterstock.com (568173241, 56538691, 522146839, 593624936)

A celebration of the republication of Women and the Law

A highly informative and enjoyable celebratory event with the authors marking the republication by IALS of Women and the Law was held at the Institute on the evening of Tuesday 4th December 2018.

Professor Fiona Cownie (University of Keele) hosted a conversation with the authors: Dr Susan Atkins CB and Brenda Hale (President of the Supreme Court of the UK, the Right Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE). A panel discussion followed, chaired by Professor Diamond Ashiagbor (University of Kent and IALS) with speakers: Professor Alison Diduck (University College London), Professor Linda Mulcahy (London School of Economics / University of Oxford), Professor Erika Rackley (University of Kent) discussing the lasting impact of the original work on their own thinking, careers and lives. A wine reception in the IALS Café space completed a very successful evening.

Video recording - A Celebration of the IALS republication of Women and the Law

IALS Facebook photo album - A Celebration of the IALS republication of Women and the Law

This event was gratefully supported by the University of London Leading Women Campaign 2018.

Page last updated: 17th February 2021