In an effort to document my progress towards understanding the word “feminist” and where on the spectrum of feminism I fall, I think it wise to begin at where I stand now. I can’t confess to a feminist epiphany moment. Maybe it’s yet to come.
All I know is that I have gone through life thus far largely uninterested in this social phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong. I support women in power. I support gender and racial equality in pay and in all levels of treatment in society, but I have never been moved to educate myself about the “female situation” in society or feminist issues. I have not been moved to speak out. What, then, brought me to this moment?
My story is inextricably intertwined with race. My first summer as an extern in the Santa Clara courts introduced me to the gilded cage of law. I had entered a circus, a stage, a game, where the stakes changed the course of people’s lives. The arbitrator stood tall in the center of the room, obviously the seat of authority. The protagonist attorneys buzzed around, penguins milling around in a sea of unrelenting, somber black. The villains were escorted in by armed guard, dressed identically in their orange jumpsuits, chains jangling from their ankles with every shift of their legs. With roles so scripted, where does justice fit in? The social oppression is tangible. As the summer progressed, I felt more and more claustrophobic. I observed my supervisor, a juvenile judge in Superior Court, molded by her physical appearance as a young-looking, Vietnamese woman. She maintained a stern demeanor, was super sensitive about issues of respect, forbade innocuous jokes and required those who worked under her to maintain the same. Without these trappings, she feared her colleagues and those in her court would not take her seriously. These characteristics defined her role in Superior Court in a way that had nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with perception. For that summer, forced to subjugate myself in her image, I was imprisoned for the first time in my life. Imprisoned by my dress, by my race, and by my gender.
The deeper I journey into this profession, the more hopeless it all seems. To be able to choose to educate myself in the law, to be an attorney, is empowering. Yet, this empowerment is tempered by structures that lead to dead ends. The pot at the end of the rainbow is un-tasteful compromise. I want to start a family, I want to raise my own kids, I want to work, I want to share in my responsibilities at home, I want to make the world a better place, I want to write books, make art, help the disadvantaged and travel. I want to be respected for my work, not for the way I dress and not for having the right pieces of paper or the right items on my resume. To rely on these things is dehumanizing, alienating, and something I want no part of. However, I cannot avoid them, and they stand a necessary evil in the way of my objectives.
A Big Law job, the Holy Grail sitting at the end of law school, is something so many would greedily grab with both hands. But what are we grasping for? Long hours, shitty work, lack of respect, and as a bonus, the side effect of entry into the belly of the legal profession – access into the dominant lens of white, male capitalism. It is an inherently violent system premised on an outdated and ineffective tradition, one that bears overturning.
What is my goal then, in the face of all these musings? All too often, these injustices incite a reactionary response, whether it’s brushing it off, or being upset by it. However, there is another option, the one least chosen and most difficult. It requires analysis of the situation on a number of levels and seeing it from differing perspectives. When situations are distilled into black and white, they never reflect reality. I hope this class will begin to help me break these interactions down, to help me make the choice to be constructive, instead of destructive, and ultimately – to transform the reactionary into the visionary.