Tag Archives: Susan Boyd

Ensuring the Future of the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies

Many thanks to Professors Emeriti Susan Boyd and Claire Young for their recent gift to the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies.

To learn more about their important legacy, see the announcement here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Community News, Law School, Legal Profession

Key Themes & Insights: “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”

A Report on the recent conference at the University of British Columbia, May 26 -27 2014

On May 26–27, 2014, feminist and pro-feminist scholars in multiple disciplines from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, the United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden, and Taiwan gathered at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute, to participate in a workshop titled “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”. The workshop was organized by Susan Boyd, Professor of Law and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the UBC Faculty of Law, and was generously sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Faculty of Law at Allard Hall, the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, and the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law.

MRA conference group

The conference delegates enjoying the sunshine and view

The objective of the workshop was to explore a key source of resistance to feminism: organizations acting in the name of men’s and fathers’ rights and interests, which argue that men are discriminated against in relation to law (especially family law), education, and government funding. Another objective was to provide an opportunity for self-examination, update, and creativity in order to support the advancement of feminist theories and strategies. Key questions explored included: (a) how men’s group actions in different countries discursively construct feminism, (b) lessons for the feminist movement, nationally and globally, historically and currently, from the growing legitimacy of men’s groups, and (c) how to avoid an oppositional approach to gender in men’s rights and feminist discourses.

The workshop was divided into six panels over two days, along with a keynote speech and a concluding discussion. At the first panel, “Men’s Reaction to the Rise of Feminism”, Francis Dupuis-Déri discussed the historical and contemporary discourse of “crises of masculinity”, and its connection to feminism as a political threat to men’s power. Michael Messner discussed the role of both pro-feminist and anti-feminist men’s groups in moments of historical gender formation, suggesting concern over how the participation of male feminist allies may mix with the reduced radical potential of feminism flowing from its institutionalization and professionalization. Finally, Michael Salter commented on how the traditional concerns of men’s rights activists have been rearticulated using the language of men’s health needs, and how this has moved anti-feminist discourse from the fringes to the political centre. At the second panel, “Global Perspectives”, Marsha Freeman and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari discussed the feminist potential of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), looking at the use of international law processes by both women’s and men’s groups. Marilou McPhedran and Susan Bazilli then examined how alliances between women’s and men’s groups may actually undercut gender equality. At the third panel, “Men’s Groups in Context”, Chao-ju Chen considered why there was no formal men’s rights movement in Taiwan. Katarzyna Wojnicka then looked at several different men’s organizations that reflect the mainstreaming of gender inequality and anti-feminism in Poland. In the keynote public lecture at the close of the first day, “Martyrs of Marriage?: Men’s Rights Activists, Law, and Feminism”, Srimati Basu spoke about her Fulbright research on the men’s rights social movement in India.

On the second day, at the panel “Men’s Groups and Violence Against Women”, Lise Gotell started by discussing the ways in which men’s groups have challenged and attacked anti-rape activism. Monica Burman then examined anti-feminist discourse in Sweden, suggesting ways of understanding Swedish conceptions of men, gender equality, and feminism. Finally, Elizabeth Sheehy discussed defending battered women in public spaces, both looking at the challenges of doing so and making suggestions on how to better use the mainstream media to support feminist goals. At the following panel, “Family and Children”, Molly Dragiewicz considered the prevalence of family studies literature conflating post-separation joint or shared custody with the best interests of the child, the absence of family studies literature that takes domestic violence into account, and the need for greater integration of cross-discipline research. Next, Ana Jordan presented a typology to help situate anti-feminist and post-feminist movements, and suggested that in addition to openly hostile anti-feminist activism, ambivalent post-feminist discourse should also be a cause for concern. Finally, Vivienne Elizabeth outlined how separated fathers have been presented in the New Zealand media. At the final panel, “Silencing Strategies”, Ruth Mann discussed how the dismantling of Status of Women Canada and the Family Violence Initiative demonstrates the synergy between anti-feminist backlash and the “new right” neoliberal agenda. Next, Maria Edstrom spoke about Nordic experiences of sexualized hate speech post-Behring Breivik. Finally, Daphna Hacker looked at how divorced Israeli men have used international and transnational legal processes as a part of their anti-feminist strategy.

Several key themes and insights emerged from the presentations and open-floor discussions. The first is that the form of organized resistance to feminism has shifted, at least in North America. Earlier resistance took the form of fathers’ rights groups, which suggested that family law had pandered to women’s interests and was biased against men. More recently, feminist work on violence against women and sexual assault/rape has been challenged by men’s groups. In some cases, this has taken the form of vitriolic attacks on feminist scholars via the media and online. Other anti-feminist resisters have framed themselves as the “true” defenders of equality, using a focus on men’s rights to balance out the supposedly unfair amount of resources and attention dedicated to women’s rights.

A second key insight is that, although there are many similarities internationally in the strategies of men’s activists and the experiences of feminists, the form of resistance to feminist activism varies significantly from country to country, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As for similarities, fathers’ rights lobbying for shared parenting and their criticism of feminists who suggest limits on such a norm (e.g. in cases of domestic abuse) is common to many jurisdictions. Perhaps most notably in terms of differences, Taiwan has not witnessed an organized men’s movement to date, whereas anti-feminism is part of the mainstream political and cultural discourse in Poland.

A third important insight is that conservative men’s rights activists have recently invoked the language of men’s “health” and men’s “needs” to promote their platform, to some extent leaving the language of men’s “rights” behind.

A fourth insight is that funding cuts to non-profit organizations around the world affect the nature of, and relationships between, feminist and pro-feminist organizations. For instance, it is more likely now that a women’s-rights-oriented non-profit group is led by a good fundraiser rather than a feminist political organizer. Moreover, in a context where various organizations are competing for scarce funding, men’s groups that identify as pro-feminist and that engage in anti-violence work may actually inhibit front-line service-oriented women’s organizations if they are awarded the limited available funds instead of women’s groups.

Innovative approaches to dealing with the media when discussing issues such as violence against women were brainstormed, as well as ways in which feminist academics can translate their scholarly work into more accessible formats for the general public. There was also discussion regarding what kinds of new research feminist family lawyers would find useful to their work. For example, feminist lawyers working in the area of child custody stressed the importance of concrete data references regarding the prevalence of domestic abuse and its impact on custody. Finally, the conference emphasized collaborative, interdisciplinary work, a method of scholarship that has been underdeveloped in the field of law.

The presentations elicited vibrant, interdisciplinary conversation about the nature and impact of men’s rights activism, particularly in relation to its impact on feminism. At least two special issues of refereed journals will emerge from the research presented. The workshop opened the door to collaborative work across disciplines, and an international research group studying Anti-Feminist Movements has been established to facilitate the sharing of research and future collaboration.

2 Comments

Filed under Community News, Law School

Article: “Family Law Reform in (Neoliberal) Context”

Chair in Feminist Legal Studies Susan Boyd has recently co-authored an article for the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family entitled “Family Law Reform in (Neoliberal) Context: British Columbia’s New Family Law Act”.

Abstract: This article introduces and critically examines the new British Columbia (Canada) Family Law Act (FLA), which lays out new norms and procedures for the resolution of family disputes and emphasizes out-of-court dispute resolution. These changes are also intended both to reflect and to construct the ‘new’ face of contemporary motherhood and fatherhood post-separation. After identifying the neoliberal context within which the changes will play out, we explain the law reform process and summarize the reforms pertaining to post-separation parenting. Key changes include: replacing the terms ‘custody’ and ‘access’ with an expanded definition of guardianship; a list of specific factors that must be considered in determining a child’s ‘best interests’; a detailed definition of domestic violence; explicit rules to guide relocation; and authority for courts to make conduct and non-compliance orders. The FLA distances itself from presumptions regarding the preferred form of parenting arrangements post-separation, but the post-separation default position is that each parent is the child’s guardian with all parental responsibilities. The last part of the article places the changes in their contemporary social and political context and critically evaluates their strengths and weaknesses. Our conclusion cautions that without adequate resources to support families and improved access to justice, the innovative aspects of the FLA may be thwarted.

Click here to view the abstract on the International Journal of Law Policy and the Family website, plus links to HTML and PDF versions of the full article.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Law School

“Marriage is More than Just a Piece of Paper: Feminist Critiques of Same Sex Marriage”

UBC Chair in Feminist Legal Studies Susan Boyd recently published a paper on feminist critiques of same sex marriage. See below for the abstract and a link to download the full text in pdf format.

Abstract:
This article reviews feminist critiques of same sex marriage and analyzes how marriage as a socio-legal institution relates to inequality based on factors such as sex, race and class. The article first identifies how the legalization of same sex marriage can be viewed as a positive step in the quest for equality and recognition of lesbians and gay men. It then describes the legal and statistical trends in relation to marriage in Canada, as one of the first countries to legalize same sex marriage. The heart of the article discusses the key feminist critiques of both marriage and same sex marriage, drawing on an international survey of primarily English language literature. It considers why these critiques have been understated in the debates on same sex marriage and reviews empirical studies on the views of lesbians and gay men on marriage. While acknowledging that legal marriage can offer important rights to some couples, the conclusion suggests alternatives to placing marriage at the center of the lesbian and gay movement for equality and recognition.

Download the full paper from the Social Science Research Network.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Law School

Being a Feminist Lawyer

W. Anita Braha

by Susan Boyd and Camille Israel

W. Anita Braha gave an inspiring talk titled “A Feminist Practice: A Chronicle of Issues Over the Years” about her experiences as a feminist and a human rights lawyer. Her stories showed us that her work on feminist projects as a student gave her experience and contacts that paid off in future opportunities.

Law was not Anita’s first career choice – she told us she used to want to be a comedian, and certainly her sense of humour was evident in her talk. Once she settled on law, though, her clear goal was to be a human rights lawyer. She went to graduate school to pursue a Master’s in Political Science at the University of Toronto, where she was part of a coalition of students and administrators who, after a long struggle, got the university to pass one of the first sexual harassment policies in Canada. Anita then studied law at Osgoode Hall Law School, which in the 1980s could be a hard and hostile environment for feminists and lesbians. While there, she was active in the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), which had a number of caucuses across Canada. In her third year, she undertook a directed research project on the issue of pay equity, meeting feminists who were working in the field, such as Carole Geller of the PayEquity Coalition, with whom she later worked.

 

After graduating in 1986, Anita articled with the Official Guardian of Ontario (now the Children’s Lawyer), which provided an interdisciplinary environment due to its focus on child protection and mental health. Her principal was Susan Himel, now a judge on the Ontario Superior Court.

 

In the late 1980s, Anita moved to Vancouver, where, through her involvement with NAWL, she met a number of feminist lawyers, such as Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day, who hired her as a researcher on their important 1989 publication Canadian Charter Equality Rights for Women: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back? She then (re)articled at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and was offered a position despite the fact that they did not normally hire back articling students.

 

During this time, she was asked to represent the first complainant under the University of Toronto’s sexual harassment policy, who was an engineering student. At issue was whether leering constituted sexual harassment. The defendant, 60-year old chemical engineering professor Richard Hummel, was accused of following and intensely staring at female swimmers at Hart House Pool. The board held that his actions did constitute sexual harassment. The decision was immediately appealed, and the defense hired Morris Manning, a prominent criminal litigator. As co-counsel, Anita retained Kate Hughes, who later represented LEAF in its intervention in Meoirin v. BCGSE, the landmark gender discrimination case. Anita’s client won the appeal, but the decision was not uncontroversial. Maclean’s columnist Barbara Amiel strongly criticized the case as “the utter debasement of the genuinely serious nature of sexual harassment.”

Anita worked on other groundbreaking cases, including a worker’s compensation case that established Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) as a compensable injury. In that case, the victim had been brutally attacked and raped, but had no lasting physical injuries. Anita worked with Vancouver feminist legal consultant Sandra Goundry and an expert witness to show that RTS constituted an injury, and her client received a full disability pension.

 

Anita started her own law firm with a colleague in 1992, sharing a library and other resources with another small firm. She eventually ended up taking institutional as well as individual clients, and has, somewhat unusually, worked for unions, employers and individuals. She has done policy work as well as litigation and education. She has also collaborated with other lawyers on many files. She was an appointed adviser to the City of Vancouver Women’s Task Force.

 

Anita’s talk contained many nuggets of wisdom. She told students interested in pursuing a feminist/social justice legal career to follow their passion, and that volunteering with people or organizations doing the kind of work that interested them is a great way to make connections, which could turn into paid opportunities down the line–sometimes in unexpected ways! It is important to help other lawyers and activists and they will reciprocate sooner or later. She said that creativity, persistence, preparation and hard work were crucial in her pursuit of the kind of career she wanted. Most of all, she reminded students to stand by their convictions and principles and to draw strength from them. In her experience, people are drawn to those who have strong core principles, including feminist principles. It is important to speak up and to “stand up and be counted” whenever possible. You may be attacked for your convictions, but others will rally around you. Finally, Anita told us that it is important to be respectful of one’s clients and that she had learned a tremendous amount from her own clients about strength and grace in the face of hardship.

 

This piece is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in LawFemme Volume 10, Issue 2.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Legal Profession