Ferguson

The Feminist Mystique

I am taking a seminar (the second one of my legal education but the first in which active participation is encouraged, if not mandated) but this one scares me in two very divergent ways. Firstly, the professor who teaches it was my first year torts professor and for whatever reasons (and I have confirmed reports that I am not crazy, that this indeed did happen), the woman had it in for me.

Now, in a smaller group setting, I thought perhaps she had mellowed down a bit. Forgotten her animosity--because the bitter cold of Ithaca can do that to you, you know. It can wipe out any grudges you might think you have, because your brains, when frozen into a solid state, only have room for so much.

Alas, this was not the case. And it wasn't just the kind of hate I got from partners at law firms, the yelling sort that one can sort of laugh off. It was that passive-aggressive kind, the type you don't know how to handle because if you can't tell exactly how it manifests itself; so how can you pinpoint where it's coming from, or why? You don't want to be the crazy student disliking another student for some phantasm-like hatred you made up. Thank god for my classmates, who saw the toxic statements, too. Otherwise l might have left law school and headed straight for the nearest loony bin. My 1L year, I was intense. I sat in the front year. I didn't miss a class. I took computer notes on our readings. I was never unprepared. Never spoke out of turn. Got to class early every time. Did nothing wrong. And yet--and yet--the woman had it in for me.

Now, I have her as a seasoned 2L in Feminist Jurisprudence. And we are dancing a new game. At least for Torts, she wasn't’ teaching a subject she was familiar with; and it was only her first year in Cornell. She, just as we, was still feeling out the school and each other. However, now she can teach her own book, written by--well, by her--and she can conduct her small seminar in the exact way she wants. I figured the subject matter sounded fascinating. I went to Brown; I was friends with many lesbians, many of them militant; my mom marched in many of the movements for feminism in the 1960s; I believe in equality for races. However, when the professor asked me which school of thought I adopted (radical feminism/liberal feminism/socialist feminism), I told her the truth: I said I'm very apolitical. I think that the courts should deal with feminist legal issues, that change should come from the inside. That males are not the enemy but must a factor in gaining women’s rights. With the attitude that women don't need men, I said, the feminist movement will fall.

Clearly, this was the wrong answer in a room fraught with strong radical feminists.

But I sat there, fielding dark stares from other students and from the professor, and realized that I could have lied. I could have said easily that I was a radical feminist, that I thought "down with men," that I had a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in my back pocket which I never leave home without... but that would not only be lying to myself, it would be lying to everyone surrounding to me.

The choice before me was to face the wrath of the class now, or to face myself in the mirror tomorrow. I’d much rather face their wrath.

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