Do we live in a post-feminist era? True, there have been substantial changes for women in the last decade: the equality amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the granting of full treaty rights to native women, growing public awareness about violence against women, greater equality in the workplace, to name a few.

But is it enough? The collective message of four new books is the extent to which we in Canada have lived, and continue to live, in a world that is "man-made." Our legal and political institutions, hierarchical organizational structures, ideas about justice and fairness and individual rights, have all been created by men and continue to be dominated by men.

Besides critiquing existing legal and social welfare systems, they remind us that the revolutionary ideals of some feminists go far beyond assimilation and reform to the creation of "a new and better world where women's agenda is the human agenda."

Two of these books deal specifically with women and the law.
In Petticoats and Prejudice (Women's Press, $24.95), legal historian Constance Backhouse has made legal history palatable by cleverly recreating 19th century trials dealing with rape, child custody, divorce, abortion and other issues affecting women.

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By recounting the stories of individual women caught up in litigation, and including a chapter on Clara Brett Martin, Canada's first woman lawyer, she opens a window on to a historical landscape in which women had few rights. (Women were not considered persons under the law until 1929.)

This was a world in which a father (but not the woman) could sue for damages if his daughter was seduced by her employer, where women almost never got custody of their children, where divorce was virtually non-existent, birth control unavailable and the disgrace of being an unwed mother not infrequently led to infanticide.

Backhouse provides fascinating glimpses into some of the Victorian myths surrounding women that effectively circumscribed their lives. Within the "cult of motherhood," Backhouse writes, "Woman's end and aim was marriage; her kingdom a happy home; her subjects, little children clinging about her knees." Higher education for women was thought to be hazardous because it would literally weaken their wombs.

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