Why does law need feminism? For members of the Feminist Law Students Association (FLSA), it is because the status quo is unacceptable. The legal profession continues to be a male-dominated world in which maternity leave first requires a cost-benefit analysis, and where equal work does not result in equal pay. But female law students are likely to experience structural discrimination long before they are called to the bar. They can see it manifest in condescending comments from retired Supreme Court justices and artwork that depicts solely white males. While women have undeniably made great strides towards equality, the FLSA and like-minded groups from other Canadian law schools point out that significant disparities continue to exist.
The #LawNeedsFeminismBecause project was born in response to some of these persistent barriers. In 2014, the Feminist Collective of McGill Law launched a photo campaign to challenge the idea of what it means to be a feminist and to showcase the diversity among feminists. In 2016, after recognizing that their law school readings failed to represent female, minority, and indigenous scholars, the Feminist Collective decided to explore the reasons that the law profession needs feminism. Through this campaign, students at McGill declared that law needs feminism because “no one should be told to keep their knees together”; “there is no old girls club yet”; and “the reason I was unsuccessful in a job interview was because I looked ‘distracting’ and ‘acted like a little girl.’”
The FLSA believes it is time for the University of Toronto to join this valuable and growing movement. To that end, the FLSA launched the Faculty of Law’s contributions to the national #LawNeedsFeminismBecause campaign by hosting and moderating a panel discussion with Professors Reaume, Shaffer, Cossman as well as Sabrina Bandali, the Chair of the Women Lawyers’ Forum of the Ontario Bar Association.
The conversation revolved around what feminism means to the legal community and made clear that law is indeed in desperate need of feminism. Prof. Shaffer noted that the institutional support for feminism she had experienced as a student at the law school has all but disappeared. She recalled how first-year students were introduced to feminist perspectives on the law, but that the program was cancelled in the mid-1990s, in part because of the view that the feminist objectives had been met.
Prof. Cossman used to teach a class on feminism at the law school but students stopped taking it because they were afraid of what employers would think of it being on their transcript. The panelists discussed whether the presence of feminist courses on a student’s transcript could influence the hiring process. Sabrina Bandali revealed that some firms still consider a woman’s childbearing plans when making hiring decisions.
Moving forward with the campaign, the FLSA will host a photo shoot on January 24, in which they will ask students to share their perspectives on why the law needs feminism. The portraits will be part of the national social media campaign and will be displayed in Jackman Hall. The FLSA is optimistic that the photos will stimulate a meaningful conversation at the faculty and influence the administration.
The first national forum on #LawNeedsFeminismBecause will take place in Montreal on March 11. Law students and professionals from across the country will come together to challenge the status quo and begin the process of transforming the legal profession.
More information on the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause campaign and Forum can be found at http://www.lawneedsfeminismbecause.ca/.