When I introduce myself to someone I use my name first; they can identify me by my name. Second, I state my position; they can understand me from my position; my role. Law Student. Friend. Sibling. Nonetheless, with my long hair and choice of accessories, my gender is evident to most upon first glance.
In receipt of her Human Rights Committee Visibility Award, trans filmmaker Lana Wachowski commented that,
“every human life represents a negotiation between public and private identity.”
Identity perception, and subconscious information exchange, direct my relationships with people, and determine my place in society at large. As both a female, as well as a member of the legal profession, there are unique challenges to reconciling the aspects of my identity. Many studies suggest, in more complicated terms, that these two facets are irreconcilable; if you spend a few minutes looking into studies by the LSUC, the CBA and beyond, which focus on the retention of women in the legal profession, it becomes evident that for many women there is a disconnect between their identities and various roles.
You might be wondering which “women” I am talking about. Who are these women? In reply, I point to you the likes of Judith Butler, who reasoned that stable notions of gender, and uniform experiences with gender, simply do not exist. You only need to look at the polarization within feminist politic in our very own law school to be reminded of this.
As women continue to transcend traditional gender roles, diverse female voices sing in exaltation of what it means to be empowered. Though some views are described as ‘traditional’, ‘progressive’, ‘feminist’ or otherwise, the power a woman derives from being an individual performing her gender cannot be qualified by an objective standard. The sex worker and the housewife can feel equally fulfilled as a woman through their respective expression of their womanhood. Though feminism has expanded the breadth of gender expression it seems arguable that it has also expanded in depth – these women might see their respective identities in competition, to be the ‘right’ kind of empowered woman. Implicitly, performances of the same gender are often seen as opposing each other instead of belonging to the same side. A stay-at-home mother may determine that another woman is a worse parent because she has a nanny after school, a female doctor may see a stay-at-home mother as sheltered and unfulfilled, because that is ‘all’ that she does.
The pressure to empower myself can lead to policing others.
The legal profession turns on ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘precedent’ and ‘unprecedented’. Though this is not exclusive to law, any law student will attest that this profession has a tendency to pervade all aspects of our lives. As a woman, my gender also carries the same ubiquity that may clash with other parts of my identity in certain contexts for the rest of my life. The performance of my gender as a member of the legal profession means that I carry it with me wherever I go. I may be a newcomer to this profession but I am here to stay, always representing a constellation of identities. The profession may not be designed with the uniqueness of my gender in mind; I am certainly not always represented by it. Regardless, I will shape this profession through my inalienable gender no matter how I perform it. Some may see it as defining me, but I will not let the expression of my gender determine how I evaluate other women.
Respect for difference among women will make my own womanhood stronger. Though we may introduce ourselves with the same identifiers, I hope that one day the men and women who cross my path personally or in the profession will know me for my own gender identity, and not for the expression they see, or expect is in conformity with their own.