On Jan. 23 and 24, the Feminist Collective of McGill Law held their third annual photo campaign to start a conversation about feminism. This year, the campaign has shifted towards a legal perspective of feminism, rather than on the feminist movement in general. The event saw 100 students participate–a significant increase from the 33 that took part in April 2016.
By getting people to complete the sentence “Law needs feminism because” and have a photo taken with their completed phrase, Rachel Kohut, third-year law student and organizer of the campaign, wanted to encourage participants to define the terms ‘law’ and ‘feminism’ using their unique perspectives. Kohut said she hopes that the photos can act as a medium to advocate for more diversity and inclusivity within the legal profession.
“The legal profession continues to struggle integrating feminism into practice,” Kohut said. “In your first years of law school, you’re often reading early 20th century texts written by men, and although efforts have started to be made to change this, it can still be demotivating at times. Add on conversations about how you ‘should’ dress or what you should and should not disclose during interviews, and when you should ‘ideally’ have a kid if you want to make partner, it is no wonder that many women leave law firms after only a few years of practice.”
The campaign has gained traction and publicity across Canada. This year, law faculties at 13 other universities joined the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause (#LNFB) social media campaign, including the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. Seneca College is also joining the effort, organizing a photo event for paralegals, law clerks, and legal assistants. Furthermore, #LNFB has also expanded to health care, with the McMaster School of Medicine planning to launch the #healthcareneedsfeminismbecause movement in May 2017.
McGill Law remains the anchor of the growing project by orchestrating photo campaigns with other law faculties across the country, organizing a national forum on March 11, and providing institutional support for a movement that is now growing into an organization.
Kohut attributes the success of the campaign to its artistic elements, accessibility, and timing.
“I definitely didn’t expect the campaign to go this viral, my Facebook inbox exploded with all the messages I was getting,” Kohut said. “People are ready to talk about feminism in law and #LNFB provided the means.”
Ellie Marshall, leader of the #LNFB movement at UofT, knows Kohut through mutual friends and was eager to join the campaign.
“The campaign is still ongoing at UofT, as we plan to have another event later in the year to hear student voices on feminism and the law,” Marshall wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “There were about 50 students actively involved in the campaign and many more interested. We’re happy with the positive response and new channels for conversation that have opened up.”
Kohut said that there are days that can be overwhelming, but that her favourite part of the campaign is hearing people talking about their struggles in law school and visions for the legal profession.
“It is easy to get caught in the law school bubble,” Kohut said. “It’s nice to break that bubble and see people coming together from different law schools. People are organizing and it’s very empowering, you know that you’re not alone.”
Florence Paré, a fourth-year law student, said that the McGill #LNFB event in January was well organized.
“Individuals were assigned specific time slots, pictures were taken very quickly and professionally, and other people’s quotes of the day were still on the table, so we got to read a few for inspiration before they were published,” Paré said. “It was an enjoyable atmosphere [….] I thought the campaign was nice and I’m curious to see what will come out of it.”
The #LNFB national forum on March 11 will encourage discussion and collaboration among students and legal professionals on feminism. The forum will explore four themes to help participants to gain a better understanding of how to reshape the legal profession: Feminist legal mentorship, student experience, alternative legal careers, and legal recruitment. The forum will be held in Montreal and profits will be used to publish a book that combines the #LNFB portraits and stories together into a cohesive narrative.
Kohut is both surprised and proud of how far the movement has come.
“The next step is really about honing what’s already been done by feminist lawyers before us and to continue building a strong sense of community,” Kohut said.