Joanne St. Lewis
Being a Black feminist law professor offers me a privileged position from which to speak. This platform allows me to challenge any complacency that suggests we have arrived.
Instead, racialized women continue to face barriers and struggles that reflect the compounded inequalities of our lives. We stand in solidarity with feminist struggles for equality in the workplace, accountability for sexual violence and meaningful representation at all levels of governance. However, our path to policy engagement is bloody. We despair when we realize that it take often takes a dead Black body to catalyze a meaningful discussion of the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. Being a Black woman is about absence. The snapshot of the senior administration of universities, the appellate levels of court, corporate leadership and our governments rarely contain our image. The burden is very heavy on the few racialized women who have transgressed these barriers. Hope lies in the critical mass of young feminists from diverse communities who are ready to stand up and be counted.
Working everyday with inspiring people who face these challenges reminds me of what we have left to change, and fight for. That ALL women will benefit equally from Canada’s Constitutional guarantee of substantive equality.
In many ways being a middle-aged, white, upper middle class, well-educated woman lawyer is a great gig in 2018. The fact that I am a lesbian often passes unseen, my privilege frequently intact. I receive excellent pay to do work that I care about in a unionised environment, and my powerful knowledge as a lawyer allows me to navigate unscathed many situations that might otherwise trigger sexist experiences for women. If you take me and my experience as the norm, things are looking pretty good.
My experience, however, only serves to heighten the inequality faced by so many women whose social location is different from mine. It shines a light on the ways in which various kinds of privilege effectively interlock to insulate some of us from racism, ableism, ageism, sexism and homophobia, while so many women live these on a daily basis.
I am made painfully aware of what being a woman in 2018 COULD look like by learning from my students. I learn from women graduating from professional school with a law degree and massive debt who, we know (are facing sexism in their profession- from wage gaps, to harassment by clients and colleagues, to barriers to building families. I learn from racialized and Indigenous women lawyers who face the interlocking barriers of racism and sexism in the legal profession and queer lawyers setting off on a career where they will have to navigate homophobia, transphobia and other forms of queer exclusion.
Full version: uOttawa Gazette