The Women's Court of Canada conference was freaking awesome. I met Heather Mallick again. I got to meet Jane Doe, the
Jane Doe, the one who waged a decade-long legal battle against the Toronto police and won.
Feminist women are awesome. It's just awesome to be among so many feminist legal thinkers, so many older women who have done brilliant things and so many young women who admire them. One thing that blew my mind is how feminine
the gathering was — which sounds all essentialist and dumb, but let me explain. There were women there who were not stereotypically feminine in any way, but women -- as a group
-- smile more than men. Our body language is more accommodating, more conciliatory. Women hug more, giggle more, exclaim more. Some of us are openly emotional; a few teared up while addressing the group. And the idea that we could behave this way, look this way, and not
be discredited because of it, astonished me. It had become invisible to me how much being "professional" often means avoiding this kind of behaviour to seem stronger, more rational, and how irrational that actually is. There's no reason to discount what someone says solely because he or she is dressed differently from you, or is crying, or has cried in the past, or is openly enthusiastic or outraged (refusing to listen to people who are outraged by outrages visited upon them is, of course, a classic way to oppress), but people do that all the time, and being in an environment where people did not
do that — where someone handed the crying woman a tissue and everyone kept listening as she continued her speech — was incredible.
(I thought of Hillary Clinton tearing up, of course, and even though I hardly think what she did on screen qualifies as "crying," this really brought home to me how hateful it was for people in the media and elsewhere to treat it the way they did. I recall someone saying her eyes watered and he "doesn't have to respect that action," which is a pretty direct reference to the misogynist myth that women who cry are manipulative.)
We had panels about the loss of the Court Challenges Program and the various other disheartening things the Harper government is doing. It's deeply depressing, and it feels difficult to get a grip on it because it's insidious: defunding programs that help people challenge unjust laws, trying to pass laws to protect "unborn victims of violence" and refuse to fund "offensive" art (and you know what that means to a conservative) and impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes, refusing to negotiate for clemency on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty. It's a thousand little cuts, a thousand little gestures of contempt. Cutting Status of Women Canada and the Court Challenges Program: two nasty little cuts.
At the end of the conference, several black women came forward — a professor, a student, and a woman who was either a practitioner or an academic, I'm not sure which — and said they were deeply troubled by the lack of a race analysis at the conference and in the decisions. (The Women's Court of Canada rewrites Supreme Court of Canada decisions with a feminist analysis; their first six decisions are in a special volume of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law,
and some of them are summarized here.
) The most eloquent was a law professor from Dal named Esmerelda Thornhill (the post subject is from her speech to the conference organizers). Professor Thornhill was obviously not making the complaint for the first time, and her frustration was palpable. She said that since the launch did not include any speeches with a strong race analysis, or any decisions with a race analysis, it would seem -- no matter what the reality -- as if the problems faced by racialized women had once again been added as an afterthought. And, you know, there were no black women presenting, no black women writing, in the official panels; most of the women writing and presenting were white, most of the women of colour were Asian, there was small group of First Nations women. And, yeah, the more I think about that the less easy I am. I'm glad that Baker v. Canada
is the next Women's Court decision coming out. It's very unfortunate that it wasn't ready for the big launch, although I doubt that was intentional. But I suppose it almost never is.
Still, the take-home message is that feminist women are awesome and I'm excited and energized and it was just all-around fantastic and I'm so glad I got to go.