voices of women in law // voix des femmes en droit



I still shiver when I log on, despite my year of practice. I concentrate on breathing and get my fingers to stop trembling long enough to type in my password. At the bottom of my screen, I see the familiar orange notification I am expecting -- two new replies. Deep breath again. Here we go.

I am a staunch feminist. I believe in equality of the sexes. I believe in the importance of the prefix fem in the name of the movement that strives to make this happen. Yet over the last year, I have been subscribed to the subreddit called MensRights, known as a gathering place for misogynists and their beliefs (the MRA). Every week, I spend time reading their posts and associated comments, sometimes gathering the courage to reply. It’s not the inevitable downvotes that require the courage: it’s the conversation I’m trying to start. As it turns out, ideological deconstruction is a difficult topic.

It Goes Both Ways

I began my quest nearly a year ago as I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree and grappling with a newfound awareness of my own ignorance. I can’t know the whole picture from my perspective, so I decided that my only choice was to ask people what they see and try to fit the pieces together. I needed to start listening to the experiences of those I had not been paying attention to. And quickly enough, I arrived to the MRA forum.

Many of these men denigrated feminism because of the shocking words and actions of some self-identifying feminists who either hurt them personally and tragically or who monopolize the narrative with their outrage. While I argued that these extremists do not represent the feminist movement as a whole, the men I spoke to would give me example after example of situations that made them feel directly attacked on the basis of their sex in ways that are intimately familiar to me as a woman. At first I was hesitant to accept the comparisons. It’s not the same… it’s not the same… but it’s not that different, either…

As I read and absorbed their opinions, I noticed it would take me longer and longer to formulate my replies. My own ideology began to crack: What is this “patriarchy” if men are also subject to discrimination? From the normalization of circumcision to the dismissal (or mocking) of male rape, I could not deny the systemic problems.

Fitting the Pieces Together

Throughout this drawn-out debate, my feelings and experiences informed my arguments, yet these were discredited as reasonable sources of knowledge.  My reactions to being discriminated against are valid and representative of systemic oppression, despite the seeming contradiction that men also suffer from gender-specific harms. I needed to find the words to legitimize those feelings, to prove their foundation in objectivity – and that’s when it hit me. The fact that my feelings are trivialized is the core of the problem.

The oppression society imposes on all individuals is not based on sex, but on gender and the traits that are socially constructed as “masculine” and “feminine”. One of the achievements of the feminist movement has been to separate humans and their genitals from behaviours that once were automatically assigned to them -- women can be masculine, men can be feminine. And since then, the masculinization of women has been our war cry:

  • Women are strong and tough!

  • Women are logical and rational!

  • Women are independent and we can be the breadwinners!

This stance has propelled women into the public sphere: we are flooding politics, becoming CEOs and pursuing traditionally male-dominated endeavors. Yet, something does not feel quite right.  Are we casting aside our femininity in order to succeed in a patriarchal world?

When Ben Shapiro says “facts don’t care about your feelings,” he somehow overlooks the reality that my feelings are facts. They matter. Our emotions guide us, they serve as our moral compass. Yet as a patriarchal society we have forsaken them, forgotten how to listen to them, and then blamed them for the problems that inevitably result. Men are hurting because they are not allowed to admit to their frailties − aggression and suicide are explosions of bottled-up pain and loneliness. Their need for closeness is vilified as a girlish corruption and they are denied the gentleness of feminine interests. The gendered division of care and the wage gap it has generated exists in part because the family, a hub of feelings and love, is considered a liability and not welcome in the workplace.

There is a hierarchy in our categorization of human traits and it is hurting us all.

A Final Response

I still shake when I log on, expecting a reply. I now understand that the reason is not nervousness or anxiety. It is trauma. Deconstructing ideologies is painful work. Sometimes you are confronted with opposing ideas that you can’t refute and are then cast on a tumultuous journey of deep questioning and existential crisis.

Patriarchy is a system that makes men violent and depressed, that makes women afraid and angry, and it is perpetuated by every societal agent − women and men alike. When I try to become someone I am not − tougher, colder, more masculine − at the expense of my softness, my emotionality, and my need for others, I am neglecting the traditionally feminine traits our world desperately needs. MRAs often complain that their masculinity is being attacked, that they are being told to dress in skirts and wear makeup as if that will save society. But the truth is not that masculinity must be eradicated; it must simply be complicated.

I wonder about the men I debated with for so long, sometimes for weeks at a time. What are they doing now? Did I convince them of anything? The answer doesn’t really matter, because in engaging with them, I have developed a new world view that I carry with me every day. I realize that what I’m asking of them is painful and I have learned to give them space to reflect, as I have had to do for myself.

Femininity and masculinity are human characteristics. However, to learn from one another’s lived experiences, we all need to draw on our feminine side and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

That’s what feminism is about.


Contours is made possible by funding from the McGill Law Students’ Association / L’Association des étudiant-e-s en droit de McGill. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission from the authors.

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