Some of you may know that a list of Toronto’s Most Beautiful Female Lawyers has been circulating around the Internet. I happened to be on that list, in addition to other colleagues I respect. Try to take a guess what my first thought was – it should have been something like this:
‘’… how horrible, how demeaning to me, what if my colleagues or Judges see this, this takes women back 100000 years!’’
But it wasn’t.
My first thought was ‘’Oh that’s cool, someone thinks I am a good-looking lawyer’’. My second thought was “And look, they linked it to my website so it is good for search engine optimization.’’ My third thought was “Okay, this list is silly, there was no actual voting involved, so it was probably just a funny, cool fluke.’’ So I posted it on my Facebook page. Is this anti-feminist?
Now, let me backtrack to my law school years. For the first time in my life, I met a high concentration of women that called themselves “feminists.’’ Political correctness was all around me; as a female immigrant to this country, I should have felt naturally connected to it. Yet, there was something about this form of political correctness that felt uncomfortable to me: it banished humour, genuineness, and true equality.
There is one situation that has always stayed with me and has exemplified for me the reason I began to start dissociating from feminism. I had a classmate, with higher education in feminist studies, who always referred to men as “’d*cks.” She would refer to men she didn’t like with this precise phrase: “He is such a d*ck.’’ Yet, in a simple conversation between friends, one male referred to a female who was not present as “she is such a b*tch.” The feminist overheard this. Furiously, she proceeded to state that only she knows how the term ‘’b*tch’’ has been used throughout history because she studied it.
That’s it. Nothing else. A statement full of assumptions about my dear male colleague, who has always shown me so much respect.
OK – back to the present day. Imagine a world where an article like Toronto’s Most Beautiful Female Lawyers is posted and it does not affect anyone’s perception of a woman’s ability to practice law. Imagine a world where beauty and brains is not such a bad thing. Imagine a world which continues to make assumptions which hold that you cannot praise a woman for being beautiful AND a lawyer?
Certain “feminists”, I am told, take issue with this world - that it is anti-feminist. But is this really the case?
To me, feminism means that you can look at a person, acknowledge their exterior, and take them seriously, whether they are attractive, tall, blonde, black, male, white, female, etc. It is not the fact that a list ranking people exists. It is about whether this list affects any of us to the point that we will no longer take these 16 women seriously. If this is your perception, then perhaps you are the one encouraging this backward vision of political correctness, instead of celebrating the fact that, as women, we can be humans, and not just robots programmed with a specific idea of what it means to be a modern, reasonable and balanced woman.
In fact, I discovered recently that I AM a feminist. I am slowly learning to build up the confidence necessary for the legal profession, a confidence that will take me to the point of displaying my confidence and my intellectual abilities to those that have often sought to bring me down – and all without being aggressive toward them. For me, a big part of my feminist ideals means that I do not wish to be the type of woman who overcompensates for society’s cultural gender & power imbalances with aggression toward both sexes. I do not wish to shame the man that did not take me seriously in court because he was interested in something else. I want to be the woman who uses her confidence to display knowledge, who uses her emotional intelligence to mould the relationship with that man into a professional one, and who uses her beauty to feel good about herself.
I want to be the type of woman with confidence & humour, and who supports the women around me. I do not want to hate or criticize anyone. Am I going to now make enemies of half the men in my profession? No! I want them on my side, and I believe I can help achieve the goal of cultural gender parity only when I recognize that my hang-ups are my individual problems.
Misconceptions, biases, and stereotypes will always exist, but you, as a singular individual, can shape your behaviour to earn the utmost respect. The problem is not only the society’s assumptions and generalizations about gender politics; part of the problem is you. If you are going to show up to court and not be confident, then yes, you may be treated with less respect from the court and your colleagues. If you are going to accept an invitation to a date although it makes you uncomfortable, then yes, you have failed yourself. Learning how to manage one’s own perceptions of ourselves and the world from the eye of the non-judgemental observer will make everything else more simple.
Acting, not reacting, has been a defining motto for me. This is my respectful view of feminism.
Photo credit: Lauren Coleman, https://www.flickr.com/photos/128498542@N08/15109699013
Used with permission: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/