Tonight’s the night for #girlbossyeg 2018! We have an incredible group of female leaders from the Edmonton community on our panel this year. Here’s a chance to get to know one of our awesome panelists a little bit better: Grace Cleveland!
Grace is a writer, educator, and soon-to-be lawyer. Grace presently serves as team lead of ReconciliAction YEG, an award-winning law blog focused on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. She is also a teaching fellow at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College where she helps her students engage with diversity, power, and privilege in an interdisciplinary environment. Most recently, Grace brought the national initiative #LawNeedsFeminismBecause to Edmonton and organized a successful campaign featuring law students, professors and high profile legal professionals.
We asked Grace a few questions to gain more insight on her perspectives on these important issues.
Grace Cleveland: I love the idea of communicating and collaborating with others to explore how we can all press for progress across our varying professions. I think when different perspectives come together, the possibilities are endless. There are simply not enough forums where people can get together and talk about gender equality, so when I was offered a panelist position at this year’s #girlbossyeg, I jumped on it!
IV: This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Press for Progress.’ In one to two sentences, please describe what that means to you and how we can all be mobilized to ‘press for progress.’
GC: The law shapes all of our lives, but not necessarily in a positive way: in Canada’s judicial system, victims of sexual violence are still the ones put on trial, and in Canada’s legal profession, women make up 50% of law school graduates, but less than 15% of partners. This needs to change.
IV: How can we enable feminism in our careers?
GC: For me, feminism is all about empowerment. How do we empower women in the legal profession? For starters, we need to retain more female lawyers down the line. To make the practice of law more friendly to women (and especially those with children), firms should be considering initiatives like in-house daycare, or allowing for schedules that are flexible on when and where work gets done.
We also need to recognize that the legal profession is not immune to sexual harassment, and to find ways to empower victims to speak up when this happens instead of staying silent for fear that their careers will be jeopardized.
IV: Why do you think law needs feminism?
GC: There is no doubt that sexism is a reality faced by countless women in courtrooms across the country. Female lawyers are referred to as ‘little lady’ and constantly spoken over. Female rape victims are asked why they couldn’t keep their legs together. These are not just one-offs or bad apples, far too many judges and lawyers hold similar biases. For this reason, a response that individualizes the problem is a missed opportunity to address the systemic nature of misogyny.
We should be exploring how and why Canadian society is cultured to hold harmful beliefs as unchallenged truths. We need to graduate law students with a better understanding of how oppression exists within, and is continually reinforced by, certain laws and processes and how these effects are made worse for those positioned at the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, race, class, and ability.
Because judges start as lawyers, and lawyers start as law students, we need to be mandating feminist legal theory and methodology as a graduation requirement for every law student if we want to effectively intervene in the transmission of the socio-cultural norms that have brought us to where we are today.
IV: How can we bring social justice alive in the workplace?
GC: I think social justice can be an intimidating phrase. The good news is that little, everyday actions can add up! In the workplace, it starts with kindness and inclusion. We need to make space for marginalized voices and we need to take their words seriously. We need to realize that injustice for one really is injustice for all. Finally, we need to always be asking ourselves what kind of a future we want. After all, our children deserve equality.