The Meaning of Contours

Contour
noun | con·tour | \ˈkän-tu̇r\

Full Definition of Contour, Merriam-Webster:
1. an outline especially of a curving or irregular figure
2. the general form or structure of something
3. a usually meaningful change in intonation in speech

From its very beginning, Contours had a clear goal: “to map and shape the contours of debates, experiences, concerns, and aspirations around the intersection of women and the law.”

Now that this project is in its fourth volume, this goal has become further entrenched in us. We have developed a stronger sense of what kind of pieces, or chef d’oeuvres, we are looking to help create for our publication and we have also succeeded in growing deep roots within our law school. As a third-year student who has been involved with Contours since her very first semester at McGill Law, it is with great delight that I realize most of the people I converse with know about our project and its goal. Likewise, last fall, it was also with great delight that I learned that several new students were eager to join the Contours executive team, and they had not even started their first day of law school. After almost four years of relentless effort and outreach, our goal is finally embedded within the McGill Law community and it is my hope that it has the momentum needed to keep propelling forward.

It should also be noted that this year, we have been discovering new dimensions of what Contours is all about. First, as the first Merriam-Webster definition suggests, a contour can be an outline of a “curving or irregular figure”. After discovering many of this year’s pieces, upon reading this definition, I thought to myself, “Right, law isn’t a regular figure after all.” It may not even be a normal, tangible thing. It is constantly changing, and it even embodies irregular anomalies. I think about the lack of intersectionality in law, and why this irregularity matters (Romita’s article, p. 66). I think about the irregular results that criminal law leads to in gang rape cases (Odeta’s article, p. 25).

Moreover, what if that thing that we are trying to outline is not the law, but a thought? Another dimension of Contours is the outline of a thought of a woman in law. This thought, the ever-fleeting, the forever-curving, the uncatchable, unless the woman pins it down on paper. Then, Contours is also about a space where women realize how their fleeting thoughts, their “normal everyday experiences”, can yield an inspiring, lasting reflection. I think about conversations in a car (Andréanne’s article, p. 21). I think about how a Facebook conversation can become a tipping point leading a woman to reveal a culture in which women face micro-aggressions on a daily basis (Rebecca’s article, p. 12).

Finally, as the third Merriam-Webster definition suggests, a contour may also be a “meaningful change in intonation in speech”. Since the very beginning Contours: Voices of Women in Law has meant to represent changes in the intonation of law. A refusal to continue to speak the dominating male language, to be buried under men’s voices. Now these “contours” have grown stronger and louder within the legal community, but the Voices of Women in Law have themselves changed intonation since the beginning of the project. Beginning with the premise of “women’s voices advocating for women in law”, this meant representing only certain kinds of women’s voices without intonations by women from a diversity of groups – women from minority communities and trans women, for instance. I think about the female migrant workers, whom mainstream feminism has failed to protect (Nigah’s article, p. 41). I think about the lack of consideration for women whose assigned sex at birth does not match their gender (Philippa and Lauren’s article, p. 80). As we make space for our intonations and allow them to change, we always need to remember that women’s voices come in different melodies.

While we continue to strengthen the mission that has driven us since the foundation of Contours, we endeavour not only to reshape the contours of law within our communities, but also to reshape our own intellectual and discursive contours, as we discover more intonations of our voices. We very much hope that you will join us in this growth.

Bonne lecture!

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