We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY
This post will be my last as a University of Windsor law student. Since launching the blog it has been on my mind basically all the time: #wasthisright #ohemgee #trauma.
I think I understand more fully why my mother never allowed me to walk to the store alone until I was 11(15). It’s because it’s scary. I think I speak for all the women who have contributed to this blog when I say that it’s scary to put yourself out there online. It’s scary to talk about a topic that’s heavy in trauma and short in solutions. Common side effects of this fear include nausea, self-doubt and a proclivity for tears. #kiddingnotkidding #ohjustme #okayfine
The close of a chapter is a good time for confessions, like the time in the autobiography where we learn that the actor is incredibly shy, or the writer failed grade 5 English. My confessions aren’t really like that. I won’t pretend to be shy, or that I failed grade 5 English, although I did almost fail grade 10 math.
The real confession: I used to be, and sometimes continue to be, part of the problem. There was a time I shunned the word feminist like Leaf fans shun the team after the regular season. I fancied myself to be someone better understood by men than women. I listened to chats that objectified and demeaned women but rather than thinking ‘that’s messed up bro” I considered myself keeper of the ‘what men really think of women’ secret.
You may think it’s my own experiences that changed my perspective but it’s not. It was a slow process and it was really law school that did it for me. I got tired. I got tired of reading judgments dripping with stereotype. I felt like I could break under the pressure of constantly feeling inadequate. When I overheard men rating women from most to least desirable I no longer felt privileged to know what they really thought. I was pissed.
Before coming to law school I didn’t think I was radical enough or that I understood the ‘movement’ enough, to be a feminist. I was a brand of Katie Perry feminism, “I mean I love myself as a women but I also like men.” The inherent problem with this assertion is that it creates an artificial distinction. Feminism is a tapestry of goals and ambitions.
I was listening to Beyoncé recently (#everyday) and I was struck by the words of Ngozi Adichie in the song Flawless:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten men [..] We raise girls to see each other as competitors. Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing but for the attention of men. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
I ask you reader to at the very least abandon the idea that feminist are bra-burning man haters. That was never the case. Really, when is the last time you saw somebody burn their bra? Like, actually? I think the over under on that is probably never. This approach makes a straw man’s argument out of an incredibly important voice.
In the last three years I have come to understand the meaning of being ‘pushed in a corner’ and the choices you face when that happens: you come out fighting or you stay put. I stayed in the corner for too long. My eyes were shut to the way I facilitated social norms which legitimized the subjugation of women.
I am certainly not perfect. On occasion I find myself engaging in the very stereotypes this blog aims to overcome. Last week, while sitting in a coffee shop talking with a male colleague about sexual assault in the law school I was like “we need to teach women not to be so nice.” He was quiet for a second before saying, “not to sound victim blamey though right”? #dropsmic.
So where does that leave us? It means that stereotypes or social norms are not something that you simply ‘overcome’ one day. They are something you constantly fight to eliminate. We have done some wonderful things together at Windsor law but there is much still to do.
This brings me to my second point, this is not anybody’s blog it is everybody’s blog. The blog started out as a collaborative effort and it has emerged into something more wonderful. Together, Windsor law students have created a tapestry of voices and experiences that cannot be ignored. It is our blog, your blog, an initiative I hope you contribute to for years to come, a place you leave for future generations of Windsor law students.
Together we are forced to acknowledge that sexual assault happens in this law school and law schools throughout Ontario and worse some aspects of law school culture have contributed to a devastating silence. Sexual harassment is real – and we need to ‘have each other’s back’. If you can take away one thing from the last four months I hope it is learning to trust yourself and each other. If you think its happening it’s probably happening. If something happens that makes you uncomfortable, you’re not crazy. The aim of this blog however, was not ‘just’ to talk about sexual assault.
The most beautiful part of the process is hearing what other women have to say on these subjects. My most poignant moment was watching a colleague at the poetry slam use humour to demonstrate the issues with the ‘old boys club’ and hearing a woman, who I have long admired, speak for the first time about the cultural pressures she experiences. Finally, it was having a male colleague tell me that the blog made him think about these issues in a different way. In their own way, in our own way, we broke the silence.
To be sure, the project would have failed were it not for the women who generously contributed their time to write a piece for the blog. They are the life blood of the project – and I hope you reader, will continue down this path we have forged together.
I will not pretend that everybody loves and agrees with the idea expressed here. I am grateful that it has not become a bastion of hateful or offensive comments but to those who disagree, I ask you to consider what is that you take issue with?
I leave you with a story. As a child, my father forbade Barbie dolls. He didn’t want me to grow up with what he called the ‘Cinderella syndrome’, this idea that I was defined by or needed a knight in shining armour to be fulfilled. #MaybeItWorkedTooWell
It’s a great and progressive idea but I still wanted Barbies. So eventually after a decade of persuasion, my parents caved and got me one. Problem: I was about 7 years behind everybody else in the Barbie Doll department. #sheltered. This blog and the work that has gone in to creating a safe space can very easily become the Barbie doll conundrum. It’s a good idea in practice but it can have unintended consequences. If we are not vigilant about maintaining this space we have created, if we fail to articulate a vision of what it should look like a year from now, if we fall under some illusion that we’ve arrived: we will be the 14-year-old 7 years behind her friends. It’s awkward.
As I said in the introduction to this blog, women in the legal profession have yet to arrive. To break through the glass ceiling we need our male colleagues beside us pulling us up – confronting injustice together. We need all kinds of women from all kinds of places to push ahead. This is my call to action reader: we need you. #breakthesilence
In love and solidarity,
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