On July 23, 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever in the United States Congress, delivered a powerful speech after Republican’s sexist remarks
Why should we care? After all, she is just a young illuminated American (female) Democrat with a Hispanic background in a country that is (still) majoritarily dominated by White Anglo-Saxon (male) Protestants. Right. Phew, it makes me feel better as an alpha male, so much better, to not have to care about 50% of the world’s population that is composed of women simply because of their gender; to ignore life-changing scientific discoveries made by women; to underestimate the key role played by women in the world’s past and current politics; to cultivate my ignorance by not being or becoming aware of the great accomplishments made by a big bunch of human beings simply because they are women; to not be cognizant of the major role played in history by many women as if they never existed; to discard the importance of the existence of some prominent jurists in today’s world only because they belong to the ‘wrong’ gender.
Why would we want “women lawyers and women judges through their differing perspective on life [to] bring new humanity to bear on the decision-making process [and] to succeed in infusing the law with an understanding of what it means to be fully human”? Why should we have to tolerate having women sit as judges in important courts of this world?
What a tremendous waste of time and resources. As you may have guessed it from my name, I am Canadian, French-Canadian more precisely, and I am a federal prosecutor in Canada. My immediate superior is a woman, younger than me should I add here, then I wonder, why couldn’t I just ignore what she says, when she gives me wise guidance and astute legal advice based on her years of experience, by relying on the sole fact that I am a man, and that I must know better, right? Some of you may already know me through the webinars I have given so far in India; some of these webinars were given along with the Indian professor of law, Dr. Shruti Bedi who has an outstanding brilliant legal mind, but let us bring it back to me, to whom it really matters here. Brilliant legal mind or not, professor Bedi is a woman, then why should we even care, right? The Right Honorable Beverley McLachlin, former Chief Justice of Canada – the first woman to hold that position and the longest-serving chief justice in Canadian history, wrote in a speech given in 2003 titled The Civilization of Difference:
Yet for much of Canadian history, women have been relegated to an inferior status in society. Why? Again the familiar premise – women are different. The obvious biological difference between men and women was extrapolated to apply to all forms of feminine functioning. Women had smaller and less clever brains. Women were congenitally weaker. Women functioned emotionally; only men could think. From here it was but a short logical leap to conclude that women should not be permitted to vote or practice medicine or law and should be barred from public office. The effect of these illogical leaps into stereotype was to deny women first-class status. Their identity as thinking, responsible human beings was challenged, their humanity denied. People perhaps, full persons, certainly not.
Let us be honest, just between you and me – and I am talking to the male readers here, we all miss these good old days where women were basically at our service when we, men, could comfort ourselves with ignorance, putting our souls in comfy old-fashioned slippers, going back to a time before Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was published. I was reassured in my convictions to discover that not only Canada but also India has problems with women. When researching on this topic, my attention was caught by the title of the article written by assistant professor Kashmira Khanam, ‘Problems of Women in Modern India’.
I thought, perhaps, that I could find in this article some solutions to tackle this problem. If I was lucky enough, maybe I could also find there some tricks to help me assert my male supremacy, even if this is, I know, blatantly obvious. Everybody says that the world is changing, that it changes fast, some even say, wisely, too fast. Therefore, let us, at least men, try to stop the clock ticking and turn it back; let us remain ignorant. Ignorance is bliss, no?
No, it is not. If you need guts, as men, to stand up for women, get some. Kashmira Khanam wrote, “Women’s are the wealth of India and they have contributed in almost every field and made [our] country feel proud at every occasion. They are in front, leading the country, making milestones and source of inspiration for many” (pg. 301). With respect to Canada, the Right Honorable Beverley McLachlin wrote:
If Canada has not won the war against the exclusion of women, we have fought the first important battles. We have rejected the exclusionary politics that once denied women access to the levers of influence, power and full societal participation. We lead other nations in the opportunities we open to women. We have more senior female judges, more female university professors, more practicing physicians than many western countries. Personally, I believe that in my own profession, the law, it is easier for a woman to succeed in Canada than almost anywhere else. Yet despite these achievements — and they are not inconsiderable — we still have terrain to take. Women’s equality issues remain very much alive.
This terrain to take should not only be conquered by women being alone in their struggle for themselves, but men should also help them. Those who consider gender inequality in all its dimensions as an issue of lesser importance should kindly be reminded of the importance of women in this world, in so many respects. If you are still not convinced about that, please read this text again, repeat.
Dear readers, I now have to leave you, I am thirsty and I would like to drink a cup of coffee, then I asked my wife to prepare me one cup but she replied, “read your text again, repeat”, as I just wrote. Maybe I did not fully understand what I just wrote myself here by asking her for a cup of coffee. Well, this time and from now on, I should make it myself and also, after I read my text again, make her one.
Disclaimer: This work was prepared separately from this author’s employment responsibilities at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. The views, opinions and conclusions expressed herein are personal to this author and should not be construed as those of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada or the Canadian federal Crown.
Sébastien Lafrance is a Crown Counsel (Prosecutor) for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
He is also a Professor & Member of the Scientific Committee at Université Libre d’Haïti teaching law, political science and international relations, and was a part-time Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa.
He has published book chapters and articles on criminal, constitutional and also labour laws.