My history with feminism began very early. I grew up in a pretty patriarchal familial environment. I had two older brothers. Really early, as a child, I mostly had to face the basic and sexist attacks of my brothers. I instinctively fought against them, with the only tools I had at this time, my personal reflection. I proclaimed myself as a feminist. At 10, I also stated that, “I want to become a lawyer in order to defend women’s rights”. I received some support from my mother. My father did not encourage me in that direction, but at least he did not forbid me from sharing feminist idea.
I had no problem claiming that I was a feminist until I was a teenager. When I was seventeen, it began to change slightly and I have the first memory of disapproval from the outside. I was shocked to realize that not only men were against feminism; women were too.
Still as a teenager, I realized that I could act to change things. We were a little group of girls feeling hurt by sexist billboards that invaded the city. From our point of view, the public space should be a protected space. If alcohol and cigarettes advertising could be forbidden, why should it be different with sexist billboards affecting women. I had no law background at this time, but when I think about it, I still don’t think that our response was absurd, even if incomplete.
We decided to take an appointment with the politician in charge of the sector including advertising in my city to discuss the problem with him. He accepted to meet us. After the first few words I said, he violently humiliated me and swept my friends away. He simply used the power that he had against teenagers. The meeting gave no results, except the feelings of being powerless. I and the other members of our little group were very disappointed. We did not find any support from the desk supposedly dedicated to equal chances set up by the university. At this moment, where we were full of energy and hope to change things, our wings were cut.
Later, I got involved in gender classes, where I never received practical answers. It was very theoretical, and the links with the real life were difficult to see.
Little by little, I was discouraged. I recognized that it was vain to keep going in the feminist direction. The different attempts I made to change things were unsuccessful and no value was given to my opinion. At some points, I decided to be more careful about disclosing the fact that I was feminist or not. The paroxysm was when I entered the law school. I understood that if I disclosed it, I would be punished in some way or another. I decided that feminism was never rewarding, and to move away from this world.
I did not talk about feminism for a few years, thinking that I had to burry this old dream because it will never bring anything positive in my life. However, it still remained present. I came back to it a few months before arriving in the US. I decided to take this feminist legal theory class, expecting some renewal. It worked, and seeing that more and more peers share my opinion helped me a lot. I began to proclaim myself again as a feminist.
When I disclose this fact, outside of the class, here are the reactions I receive:
After simply saying that I’m taking the feminist legal theory class, from a group of lawyers in Sacramento, including a woman, a big heavy silence followed.
From one of my male colleague, after the same statement: “- the what??”, and another heavy silence followed before a change of subject.
From my girl roommate, after stating that I’m a feminist (feeling sufficiently confident to clearly express it after 3 months): “-You are a feminist???” Silence. Mumbling. “That makes sense…” Change of subject.
That’s the result when I only say “feminist” or only an allusion to it. What happens to feminists that act publicly, by being active and publishing online? Michelle Goldberg explains in her article “Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire”, death or rape threat are so frequent, that some decided to give up.
Just have a look at the hateful comments below this article; as stupid as they are, they have clearly an impact on someone’s life.
Far from the screen, things are different. When I disclosed the fact of being a feminist as I explained it above, except in some rare occasion, the disapproval will, most of the time, be much more subtle. The silence is loaded with some malaise and non-identifiable element. Those are not threats, but it means something. I can’t really state clearly what the consequences of the disclosure will be, but I know there will be some. I am certainly instantly categorized, judged and then some opportunities wont be available. It is definitely safer to stay hidden, especially in such a conservative area such as the law field.
What is paradoxical, is that I hear more and more men proclaiming themselves as feminist. They are not numerous, but there are some of them. It does not seem dangerous for them. I was always supportive of the presence of men in the feminist movement and the presence of men in the feminist legal theory class is very valuable to me. But those last days, I saw some disturbing things. Some men proclaiming women’s right, not really because they always believed in that, but because they found some professional opportunities in this area. Even in the feminist area, it is easier to be a man because they are not threatened.
Have you noticed that the members of this blog mostly designate themself using first names? On the contrary, male members do not have any problem disclosing full name. However it is a law school blog! Everybody should be very proud to put his/her entire name on it, to proclaim that they participate in it. The reason to that is that it is hard to be a feminist. There is invisible pressure to stand that push women to stay hidden. But how can I achieve anything hiding myself? I like to think that it will become easier, once I will reach a certain status and not be a student any more. But will it not be different kind of pressure then?
If I am honest with myself, I should admit that my heart never beat as much as when I’m thinking about feminism and women’s right. I have always been a feminist. I hope that in some future, I‘ll be able to really express it.