Posts Tagged ‘feminism in law school’

A huge thank you to everyone who supported our bake sale and clothing drive yesterday! We raised over $170 for LEAF’s Bertah Wilson Fund, and collected an impressive amount of clothing and products for the Elizabeth Fry Society.

We also got some interesting feedback from our ‘share your thoughts’ posters, which we thought we’d post here in case you didn’t get a chance to have a look in person. Here they are in all their unedited, anonymous glory. On that note, we’d love to keep the discussion going, so please feel free to comment!

Question: In 2010, Justice Himel (Ont SCJ) struck down the living on the avails, bawdy house, and solicitation provisions of the Criminal Code. Does Justice Himel’s decision promote women’s equality?

Your thoughts:

– “This is step 1 – ie., letting these women come to the law for help. Step 2 is putting programs in place to better insure safety and health”

– “It has the potential to promote women’s equality, but without a comprehensive program to address these issues, women’s equality will be stalled”

Question: Women make up 14% of corporate boards in Canada. The EU is considering mandatory quotas for women on corporate boards. If Canada followed the EU’s example, would it promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “No. the % is  much lower in Europe. This is only an issue today, but i believe the problem will be solved organically in very short order as more women hired in the 80s and 90s make it to upper management positions at our major corporations. The corporate elite will probably be unrecognizably diverse within 10 years.”

– “[arrow indicating direct response to previous comment] that’s something of a ridiculous assumption. The diversity of the corporate elite hasn’t changed much in the last one hundred years. There is very little support for an argument it will change radically in the next 10 yrears.”

– “No – even if the women deserved to be there, there would be underlying rumours that they were only there because of quotas. Better to earn it honestly. Time will even it out.”

Question: Quebec’s Bill 94 would refuse reasonable accomodation to niqab-wearing women receiving or providing public services. Does Bill 94 promote gender equality?

Your thoughts:

– “no”

– “I second that”

– “It doesn’t support equality of any kind”


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On November 2, Dr. Jennifer Schulz joined us to discuss “A Feminist Approach to Torts Law”. Sporting a very fashionable FLF t-shirt, Dr. Schulz encouraged the group of students in attendance to approach the law critically. This is of particular importance in mandatory courses, where many professors will unconsciously teach from a perspective of liberalism, a perspective that treats the law as objective and neutral, even where inequalities are rampant. Although torts law may be presented as fundamentally objective, Dr. Schulz challenged us to think about ways in which torts law can benefit from feminist analysis.

A first and perhaps obvious example is the notion of the “reasonable person”. Professors and students may accept this standard as simple – the standard is simply reasonableness. We may all assume that our perspective on what is reasonable is the same, in reality, the opposite is true. This notion is sharpened when we consider that the “reasonable person” is just the “reasonable man”, the “bloke on the Clapham bus” from England. This standard was changed to reflect modern day political correctness, but has the way it is applied really changed? Feminist scholars have critiqued this approach, and we learned that two lines of thought have emerged in the literature. One approach recommends accepting that men and women do view the world differently and it might be useful to take about care in a positive way, rather than a negative duty to not to harm. The other approach is more radical as it questions the efficacy of relying on objective standards, and calls for focusing on the actual tortious event and how someone with that person’s experiences would react in the circumstances. This approach recognizes that nothing is actually objective, even if we apply that label to the standards we use, and challenges an approach that allows for conflating the reasonable person with a normative standard of behaviour. As the student discussion suggested, taking this kind of subjective approach may be beneficial to balance out the racist, classist and sexist attitudes a person faces as soon as they enter a courtroom.

Dr. Schulz also highlighted the area of damages as another aspect of torts law that can benefit from feminist perspective. The principle of compensation (putting a person back to where they would have been had the tortious event not occurred) can actually perpetuate inequality. A thought-provoking example is that of lost future wages. Because pay inequity remains rampant, the damage awards women receive for lost earnings reflect this economic inequality. Damage awards are therefore structured along discriminatory lines. We learned that, to this day, courts routinely take a percentage off a damage award for contingencies to account for women bearing and raising children. 7 percent is routinely knocked off of the damage awards women receive simply because women shoulder a disproportionate burden for child bearing and rearing in society. 

Another topic in torts that cries out for feminist critique is the treatment of mothers. The case of Dobson v Dobson, where the Supreme Court held that a mother does not owe a duty of care to her fetus, is one example. While this case is heralded as a feminist victory, the result also meant that a mother who gave birth to a disabled son as a result of her negligence was unable to collect insurance money to help her raise her child. The tension in this case is clearly worthy of further discussion. Finally, Dr. Schulz pointed to so-called “wrongful birth” cases and noted that there is judicial reluctance to ever call the birth of a child damages or harm, therefore they don’t want to compensate for these damages or harm. Yet, the burden for child raising falls disproportionately on women, thus this is another very gendered example of not acknowledging women’s damages in the way that men’s would be.

The lunch-hour discussion wrapped up with some very thoughtful comments and questions from students in attendance. Certainly, there is much to consider around the notion of standard of care. Why not utilize a concept of actual care? As Dr. Schulz posited, why do we obsess over compensatory principles to “equalize” a person, when the law could actually care about an individual and seek to help them as much as possible in a given case. I think I can speak for all in attendance in saying that we left the room challenged and encouraged to approach doctrinal law courses with a critical perspective and to ask the difficult questions, beyond facts, ratio and holding: who does this decision benefit? Who is the law really helping? What is the actual result of this? Is it really true that this is neutral?


Dayna Steinfeld is co-chair of the Feminsit Legal Forum.

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Just a quick thanks to everyone who came out today to listen and share thoughts on “Feminism and Law in Today’s World”, with a special thanks to our wonderful Dean Turnbull for doing such a great job of facilitating. As per Dean Turnbull’s tale of working for UNPAC’s Gender Budget Project, we thought we’d include a link to Femme Fiscale’s homepage. Check it out here!

Femme Fiscale Loves Taxes!

If you missed the roundtable today and are keen to know what went down, check back in the coming week for written summary, graciously provided by Brad Findlater.

And don’t forget: our next roundtable will be November 2nd, and will feature our very own Associate Dean Dr. Jennifer Schulz, leading a conversation on “A Feminist Approach to Tort Law”. To get your motors running, start asking yourself, “Who is the reasonable person, anyway?”

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Today’s roundtable discussion with Dr Jennifer Schulz, “girls club? Feminism in Law School and in Legal Practice,” was well attended and proved to be quite the hot topic. Discussion and debate were lively, constructive and engaging. Dr Schulz began by speaking briefly about her research interest in how female lawyers are depicted in popular cultural, past and present. Widely known films and TV shows served as stimulating catalysts for discussion: Can Ally McBeal really be considered a feminist show? What does Legally Blonde tell us about women, femininity and the law? Dr Schulz shared some thoughts on a short lived David E. Kelly legal drama, girls club (yes, the official title is indeed uncapitalized, and also served as the inspiration for the name of the roundtable), her writings about which have been published in the book  Lawyers in Your Living Room!: Law on Television (M. Amismow, ed.).  Though girls club’s entire run consisted of only two episodes, Dr Schulz was able to identify certain prominent stereotypes of female lawyers highlighted by the show: a female lawyer may fill the role of either incompetent or bitch, with few or no viable alternatives; and that a success in the career of a female lawyer will necessarily be dispelled by some other personal shortcoming or failure.

There was a general sense throughout the group present at girls club? that we were collectively familiar with these stereotypes not only in fictional depictions of the legal world, but also in our own experiences at school and work. While it was mentioned on more than one occasion that these movie and TV depictions are not necessarily realistic in many respects, the issues identified certainly seemed to have resonance with our real world experiences. As various participants in the discussion shared personal (or near-personal) stories of encountering discrimination, one was left with the feeling that the issues are not only very much alive but also unfortunately pervasive. However,  the girls club? roundtable did not end on this frankly dismaying note; instead, at the suggestion of Dr Schulz, it came to a close with a brainstorming session about what we can do when faced with sexism, anti-feminism or any other form of discrimination in the course of our legal lives. Ideas about collective action and reliance on institutional supports were well received, and undoubtedly deserve further exploration.

* Eli Mitchell is a first year student at Robson Hall. She comes to law school via a philosophy degree at the University of Winnipeg. Her favourite 90’s pop star is Amanda Marshall.

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The FLF is excited to announce our second roundtable of the year, “girls club? Feminism in Law School and in Legal Practice”, facilitated by Dr. Jennifer Schulz.

The roundtable will be held on Monday, October 25th from 12 -1 in room 308. Dr. Schulz has done some fascinating work on women, law, mediation and television, and this promises to be an extremely interesting and engaging roundtable discussion. The title of the roundtable and the suggested reading is based on a short-lived television show about 3 female junior lawyers, called girls club.

Dr. Schulz has suggested a short chapter as reading for the roundtable for attendees looking to get some context.  If you’re looking for some thought provoking reading prior to the roundtable, find it here: Jennifer L. Schulz, “girls club does not Exist”  in M. Asimow, ed., Lawyers in Your Living Room!  Law on Television, (Chicago:  ABA Press, 2009) at 243-251.

Dr. Jennifer L. Schulz is Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies) and an Assistant Professor at Robson Hall. Dr. Schulz teaches and researches in the areas of negotiation and mediation, law & film and torts.  Dr. Schulz specialises in dispute resolution.  Previously, Dr. Schulz was an invited research fellow at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, and the Associate Director of the LL.M. in ADR program at Osgoode Hall Law School.  Dr. Schulz is the recipient of a SSHRC grant, has won a “Professor of the Year” Award, is a practicing mediator, and is currently researching the depiction of conflict resolvers in popular culture media.

We are really looking forward to what promises to be a fascinating discussion and hope to see you all there!

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