On August 29 2017 we were joined by Gavin Crichton and Liz Strange of Active Inquiry, who worked with us to explore two of the Project’s core themes – judging and feminism – using techniques drawn from the work of Augusto Baol. The idea behind using these techniques was to encourage us to get ‘out of our heads’ and to consider the ways that body imaging might help us explore these core themes and express the perspectives and power dynamics that surround us in various contexts (including when acting as a judge).
After a series of initial games and exercises to ease us gently into the techniques, we were encouraged to make, with our bodies, representations of ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘the criminal’ and ‘the judge’. We then shared these with one another and discovered surprising levels of similarity: for example, images of justice often involved scales, and images of the judge were often quite negative. This provoked some interesting discussion about – amongst other things – the relationship between judging, judgments and being judgmental.
We were then asked to create individual images of feminism. There were 3 ‘types’ of image which this provoked, and when we were grouped together by these types we were encouraged to reflect on the images and to name them. What emerged were – (1) a quite politicised image involving raised fists, which was named ‘enabling power’; (2) an image that focussed on voice, being heard and being listened to which was named ‘communicating our truths’; and (3) an image which involved a group of us standing together in an open stance, which was named ‘supporting one another to be and move forward’.
We were then asked to create images of ‘the judgment’, and to reflect in this a time in our lives when we had judged another. This provoked quite a lot of discussion about discomfort with judging, or feeling guilty about the consequences for those involved, as well as the constraints of the judging process. Again, this produced ‘types’ of image which were grouped together – (1) body images involving sort of defensive moves, with hands out or stop gestures; (2) images of trying to plough through to find the truth but also feeling constrained and constricted by the weight of that process; and (3) images of frustration or smugness as an exercise of judgment. In our groups we reflected on the meanings behind these images, and were then asked to make 3 changes which would make the judgment image more feminist. (1) moved themselves from being in a line to being in a semi-circle, made the movement gestures circular and ongoing, and built-in eye contact between each member of the group in order to acknowledge – but not obliterate – the kind of knee-jerk nature of judging others; (2) changed from standing to sitting so that they were all on the one level, moved chairs to be sitting beside and facing one another, and lowered level of hands to highlight the dialling down of emotion; (3) changed from both making separate images of ploughing through to working together more collaboratively with more open boundaries between them.
This provoked an interesting discussion about the fact that it is important not to assume that merely by making the process seem more sanitised and civilised (e.g. by having a calmer environment) we can ensure just outcomes. We also reflected again on the personal challenges of being a judge (finding a voice, being comfortable with that voice, taking responsibility for the decisions, dealing with the consequences of the decision, and so on). And we discussed how the exercise of only being allowed to make 3 changes was a useful one that reflected the reality that in the Feminist Judgment process we can’t change everything, so will always be constrained in the number of changes we can make. On the other hand, we also noted the power of the changes that we could make to the process, irrespective of the subject matter of the individual case before us, where there would also often be scope for change.
In the final session, we began to delve in more detail into a judgment scenario based around a surrogacy case that Sharon provided. We created a fictional judge (Jane Jones) and created an environment for staging the process of writing the judgment. We explored the various voices and influences that would be ‘present’ for the judge in writing her judgment – including the voices of her friends and family, her children, her judge mentor (who was concerned that she use her discretion wisely, with an eye to how her decision will be regarded by peers), the personification of ‘legal precedent’, the parties to the case, the families of the parties to the case, etc. We explored the ways in which these could create a lot of ‘noise’ which would be filtered out or listened to in different ways by different judges – sometimes being acknowledged and sometimes not, depending on the boundaries of what makes for credible judgment writing. The different presences arranged themselves in the space in relation to the judge, and were later asked to move to different locations to reflect how the judgment could be made more ‘feminist’. Part of this involved a coming together of ‘precedent’ and her judge mentor to work together to look at best outcomes rather than pulling in opposite directions.
At the end, we reflected on lessons learned from the process – key questions came up about being mindful of who the judgment is being written for; what voices are and are not present and listened to as part of the process (and why); and what changes in process or substance will make a feminist contribution even if not a distinctive feminist outcome. The theme of discomfort with the process of judging (in all senses of the word) came up again, as did our ability to explicitly acknowledge that discomfort and its emotional impact on us as judges.
Hear Gavin Crichton explains more about the work of Active Inquiry and our workshop here: