“Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution”: A Must Read for the Next Generation of Feminist Lawyers
I’ve been a feminist as long as I can remember, even before I knew what a feminist was. Growing up in a small town in Ontario, I vividly recall being 12 and having my male teacher call me a “women’s libber”. I had written an essay on why the name “manhole” cover was sexist and argued that we should be using a more inclusive term. (Yes, I am keenly aware that there are more pressing issues facing women than being excluded from the name of a piece of metal covering the sewers, but 12 year old Erin saw it as a grave injustice!) I painted on my childhood bedroom wall: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and I argued at every family holiday gathering (much to the chagrin of my grandmother) that it wasn’t fair that the men could just sit after dinner while the women washed the dishes. I’ve always needed to call out unfairness when I see it and to fight for equal rights for women. It just seemed so obvious to me.
Recently, with the headlines showing that women still hold little power in law firms and corporations, the continuation of unequal pay, overt sexism and misogyny in politics, outrageous comments by our judiciary in sexual assault cases . . . I’ve been feeling rather jaded and discouraged. The book “Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution” by Linda Silver Dranoff has changed that.
Ms. Silver Dranoff’s book chronicles both her life as a lawyer and her fight for legal reform and the advancement of women's rights in Canada, including family law reform, pay and employment equity, abortion rights, pension rights, and access to justice, just to name a few. Part legal history book, part memoir, and part “how-to” guide on activism, it was a quick, entertaining, and inspiring read. Ms. Silver Dranoff reveals a behind the scenes look at political maneuvering, how laws are really made, grass roots movements, and most importantly, she shows the impact that one woman working within a sisterhood of supportive women can make on the inequities in our society. She also provides helpful career advice and concrete steps for the next generation of feminist lawyers. This should be mandatory reading for all law students.
The book covers the years from 1969 to the near present, chronologically examining the legislative changes that Ms. Silver Dranoff fought for, as well as the many women’s rights groups she belonged to or founded. All the while, Ms. Silver Dranoff was a single mother and a self-employed lawyer. Being her own boss provided her with the freedom to speak out and pursue her feminist advocacy. While I was aware of the changing of the laws in Canada affecting women’s rights, I never truly understood or appreciated how these changes came about, who was involved, or the effort and courage of these women and allies to use their privileged positions as lawyers to stand up and speak out.
The conclusion to the book is aptly called “Over to You”. This is a passing of the torch and Ms. Silver Dranoff reminds the reader that there is still so much to do:
“. . . I recognize that I might not have grasped the opportunity to contribute as I did had I not developed the confidence to trust my own insights and instincts. I hope that you, dear reader, particularly young people starting out on your own path, find a way to trust your insights and instincts, to summon the courage to become your own person and live life on your own terms . . . I hope that every woman reading this book understands the importance of working together with other women in sisterhood . . . Remain vigilant to ensure that the advances my generation made are not taken away from you. Be aware of the areas that still require attention, and do what you can to be agents of further change. Speak, as I tried to do, for women who otherwise have no voice . . . I encourage those who follow us to do the same, to never ask “What can one person do?” but rather to say, “This is what needs doing, and this is what I will do about it.”
Thank you Ms. Silver Dranoff for all you have done for women in this country and thank you for taking the time to document the history of lawyering the feminist revolution in Canada. I have often asked myself “What can one person do?” This book has reminded me how wrong that thinking is. We will continue to gather, organize, write, speak up, and make further change. We can do this.
(Now, who do I write regarding the changing of the name “manhole” cover?)
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.