Lerners' Associate Lawyer reflects on Changing Ways' Being a Male Ally event
I recently had the great pleasure to help create and host a very powerful event to engage men in a conversation about what it means to be a male ally, and how men can show up, step up, and stand up as allies to women in the #MeToo era. In my capacity as a Director on the Board of Directors of Changing Ways, and Chair of a Committee of that organization working to organize an education and advocacy campaign on the topic of reconsidering what we think of masculinity and what it means to be a man, I was fortunate to be involved in the planning, promotion, and execution of an all-male panel discussion (moderated by the incredible Susan Toth) about “Being a Male Ally”. We had an excellent turn out and an open, vulnerable conversation with the panelists and the audience.
The conversation was wide-ranging, and the feedback has been steadily flowing in. In broad strokes, here’s what we heard: this is an extremely challenging area in which we’ve all fallen short and we all have much to learn; there are many opinions about what it means to be an ally and even more strategies about how we can get there; this conversation, although important, was only the beginning. Changing Ways and the broader community has to be committed – and I know I am committed – to continuing these difficult and sensitive conversations. And we know that these conversations are uncomfortable, they are supposed to be – change can’t happen in your comfort zone. We also acknowledge these conversations may be difficult for some to even think about having, given the subject-matter.
Indeed, we heard from one almost-audience member who decided not to attend because of the emotionally overwhelming nature of the conversation. So I want to thank her for raising these concerns and acknowledge her thoughts and feelings. And I want to extend my personal appreciation generally to all those who have broken the silence and created the moment and the space for this important societal self-reflection to occur.
I also would like to clarify some misinformation about this important event. The Being a Male Ally event was not “sponsored” other than with the generous donations of time and effort of its participants and organizers. King’s University College graciously provided a number of tickets to enable a handful of male allies to join the conversation. Changing Ways did not actively solicit sponsorship for this event. Any funds Changing Ways does raise during this campaign will be used to develop programing for adult men in leadership and role model position for boys and young men – coaches, teachers, faith leaders, parents, and other men with spheres of influence – to help these model masculinity in a healthy way and to start these conversations with boys from their youth.
It is likely that our almost-audience member mistook a tweet from the Lerners Plaintiff Personal Injury Group promoting the event as sponsorship, or maybe my own involvement as an organizer/host. It is unfortunate that she made this connection and that it impacted her so negatively, as she would certainly have been a welcome voice in that conversation. This raises a few important points worth comment. First, as lawyers, Lerners’ members have a legal and ethical duty to represent our clients’ best interests zealously, even where we may not necessarily condone our clients’ beliefs or behaviours. Second, Lerners is not a monolithic “they” which adopts and accepts uncritically the views and statements of its Partners or its clients. The Firm is comprised of more than 100 lawyers of different personalities, each with their own clients and styles.
Personally, one of my driving purposes behind spearheading this event for Changing Ways and a broader campaign challenging men to rethink their thoughts about, and behaviours toward, women is the recognition that problems still linger in the legal profession just as they do in every industry. It’s a sad reality, but it is true. And Lerners, as an organization and through its individual lawyers and staff, is doing its part to change the conversation and the culture. Internally, Lerners holds itself to a high standard, and continues to implement lessons learned from within and outside of the Firm. Externally, Lerners is also promoting and sponsoring pro-social and pro-women causes, campaigns, and events. Lerners’ lawyers are expected to sit on and lead Boards and Committees of dozens of community organizations, non-profits, and charities, many of which offer services and supports in the gender-violence space. Lerners lawyers have been on the vanguard of advancing the rights and interests of women in our justice system, just as its lawyers are leaders in advancing and defending defamation lawsuits, and every other manner of case. The Firm has also developed a practice area of lawyers specifically working for women (and men) who have survived sex abuse, while other lawyers assist those who have been the victim of unauthorized distribution of intimate photos.
The members of Lerners who are working to advance this important work and this challenging conversation (myself included) are doing this work in earnest. And sometimes we fight uphill battles against firmly entrenched worldviews, but we continue to strive to change the conversation in positive ways and we will continue to support the voices that lead this change.