Montreal

#LawNeedsFeminismBecause gains momentum at McGill

McGill students want people to start thinking about feminism in the legal system. They reached out to students and professors, asking them complete the sentence: "Law needs feminism because…."

Women lawyers face hidden obstacles

The hashtag #LawNeedsFeminismBecause was meant to be creative and spark conversation. (Feminist Collective of McGill Law/lawneedsfeminismbecause.ca)

McGill students want people to start thinking about feminism in the legal system.

They reached out to students and professors, asking them to complete the sentence: "Law needs feminism because…."

The results are in more than 30 portraits of people with their answers to the question.

The project drew on the opinions of students and professors at McGill. (#LawNeedsFeminismBecause/lawneedsfeminismbecause.ca)
 The lead organizer of the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause project, Rachel Kohut, said the project helped her deal with her own feelings.

The 'old boys' club

She said studying law was the first time she felt gender played a factor in her life, and it discouraged her from continuing her studies.

An older man from one of the firms thought I was cocktail staff and tried to order a drink from me.- Law student Rachel Kohut 

"You're reading texts from 1867, and it's typical black-and-white, written by men," Kohut said. "I felt myself pulling back."

Kohut noticed the legal profession is still predominantly male. In one weekly meeting where students can mingle with established lawyers, Kohut got a bit of a shock.

"An older man from one of the firms thought I was cocktail staff and tried to order a drink from me. Why did he make that assumption?"

As part of a separate project, Kohut looked for prominent female lawyers in alternative legal careers in Montreal who could give advice to her and some of the other students, but she couldn't find many.

"A lot of women don't make partner in firms. That sort of thing gets talked about a lot in the [McGill law] department."

Faced with looming issues such as how having children might slow career progress and without many role models in the industry, she said many female law students are already looking at alternative careers in which a law degree is an asset.

"When do you have kids?" Kohut said many ask themselves. "The higher you go, the more you need to nurse your professional relationships. So there's never a good time to start a family."

Organizer Rachel Kohut said she wanted to do an artistic and conversation-sparking project. (Feminist Collective of McGill Law/lawneedsfeminismbecause.ca)

Students react to the Ghomeshi verdict

To help law students process their responses to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict in March, the McGill law department held an event called Beyond Ghomeshi: Creating Ethical Practices in Criminal Sexual Assault Trials.

Kohut said a lot of people in law school had strong reactions to the verdict, and the event welcomed a packed house. But she adds that the idea for the hashtag campaign predates the Ghomeshi trial.

Kohut said learning about how the law treats sexual assault was difficult for her.

"I felt myself being rattled by the challenge to be objective. How can you work in this profession and not be able to put your thoughts aside?"

She said at this stage, students in the law faculty are still reacting to the Ghomeshi verdict and are exploring other possible ways of resolving how the legal system handles such cases.