Tag Archives: shelley kierstead

a week ago today: Feminist Friday #1

Thanks to all who joined us for this fun afternoon event.

I forgot my camera, so no actual pictures of Profs. Kate Sutherland and Shelley Kierstead in mid talk, no documentary pictures of the pizza (!) and cookies, no pictures of our Dean Lorne Sossin performing the seeming miracle of finding multiple connections between a talk on the legal battles of Lucy Maud Montgomery and the rise of parental alienation as a new concept in family law, no pictures of law students from all years filling the room,  no pictures of Osgoode’s newly renovated room 207, nor the radically unfinished rest of the renovation of our building, no pictures of the (fabulous) gifts we present to all our guest speakers, nor of the extraordinary administrative genius behind the IFLS, Lielle Gonsalves.   The collage is a mashed together after the fact attempt at reconstruction you might have seen had you been there.  Neither Kate nor Shelley has published anything on their topic yet, so it was a great opportunity for a preview of work to come.   Thanks to Mary Jane Mossman for pioneering the idea of Feminist Fridays!

I know I can’t really do justice to Kate’s talk or Shelley’s, but here’s a nutshell account of each:

Kate looked at Lucy Maud Montgomery’s rather reluctant engagement with the legal system in long battles with her (rather sleazy) American publisher.  Through LMM’s diaries and the chronology of the cases, a picture of a rather conventional person nevertheless determined that her publisher should not take advantage of her as a woman author emerged.  LMM’s court cases cost her money and some serious stress, though she was vindicated in the end.   The gendered aspects of the context are really interesting – LMM’s books weren’t considered high literature, but she was very successful and thus had the funds to litigate against the publisher, whereas the more respected but less well remunerated Poets on his list could not.  Her detailed accounts of her experiences are revealing in terms of social mores about litigation and the kinds of pressure that the Publisher used to try to gain the upper hand, with varying levels of success.  Kate’s perspective as a writer of fiction and a fan of LMM, as well as a legal expert, brings a unique frame to this piece of Canadian/women’s/legal/history.

Shelley explored the use of critical discourse analysis to investigate the way that Parental Alienation Syndrome has recently received judicial and media attention in Canada.  She argued that the Syndrome is usually portrayed in highly gendered ways – describing mothers unfairly alienating children from fathers.  Judges professing to be at a loss for what to do have at times agreed that children should be sent to special intensive programs located in the U.S. for a kind of “deprogramming”.  Shelley remarked that the law states that the focus ought to always remain on the best interests of the child – probably not best met by sending them involuntarily to treatment programs, but also that both media reports and many judges appear ill informed about the nature and incidence of parental alienation, presenting a decontextualised account which appears as a threat to mothers with custody – a new accusation which could be levelled against them. As family law expert, Shelley offered an alternative account of PAS, and linked the tropes appearing in the media to what she described as an increasing assumption (with problematic gendered effects) that shared parenting responsibility is the ideal post divorce/separation outcome.

DeanSossin had to bring these two pretty disparate presentations together.  He did that handily – I almost had to cut him off, he had so many points of connection to share.  One which I found particularly interesting was about the way that settling disputes through court doesn’t often lead to ideal outcomes – in LMM’s case, it took years and lots of money before she was vindicated, and she was subjected to the public exposure that she didn’t want,.  For the families who end up in court to settle separation/divorce and child custody issues, there is a vast array of literature on the ways that court at best settles only a fraction of the issues and at worst provides a new way to increase the emotional and economic damage.

So – thanks again – see you October 29!

-sonia