Guest Post by Nick J. Sciullo: On Womyn and Humyn With A”Y”

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This story is a story of the law review process and one scholar’s attempt to do something, anything, about the patriarchal underpinnings of law schools, law, and legal thoughts. My ideas on feminism have not always been well tolerated and include alternate spellings (womyn and humyn with a”y”). In law school, I wrote exams and research papers utilizing those spelling conventions and while I’m not sure if it was ever accepted by my professors; I did make it out of law school to tell my tale. Not too long ago, I published a feminist criticism of the 2002 Farm Bill with the Whittier Law Review, where I was able to address my ideas in a more scholarly manner. That article was graciously mentioned on this very blog.

The alternative spelling debate has made its way into both the popular and academic press. It might still be radical, but it’s becoming an increasingly debatable and debated issue. These are the discussions we need to have: How does language constitute our reality and what in-roads can we make to question the implications language has on issues of race, gender, class, and sexual identity?

I went out on the journal circuit again with a provocative (at least I’d like to think so!) piece on critical race theory, identity politics, and rhetorical theory entitled, “Conversations with the Law: Irony, Hyperbole and Identity Politics or Sake Pase? Wyclef Jean, Shottas, and Haitian Jack – A Hip-Hop Creole Fusion of Rhetorical Resistance to the Law.” It was a really fun piece to write and something to which I devoted countless hours, days, and weeks. It was accepted by several journals, over two years ago. I ultimately chose, rejecting some great offers, to publish with the Seton Hall Sports and Entertainment Law Journal because the Articles Editor was incredibly enthusiastic about the piece. It’s not every day that one receives a response from a journal that goes beyond the”we accept”or”we reject”stump speech.

Problems started almost immediately however. The editorial process was slow to say the least. Two years and what seemed like three editorial boards passed and no publication, but I eventually started to make progress this year and it seemed like the article would be coming this Winter. “This is great,”I said to myself,”I’m finally going to have this article out the door at a journal that was enthusiastic about my piece and hopefully I’ll make at least some minor waves in the legal academy.” Unfortunately, events didn’t quite play out like that.

I found the Journal difficult with which to work and lacking in an appreciation for feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory. I utilized”womyn”and”humyn”in my writing in approximately 5-7 places in a 50-page manuscript, citing my previous article, which explains my use of this spelling convention. I wasn’t forcing anyone to accept my views, but I did expect as a scholar, and as an individual with subjective worth, for my philosophical persuasions to be taken seriously.

My alternate spelling was flatly refused. I don’t dispute that it’s not standard spelling. I’m pretty sure that’s obvious to us all. The Journal was unwilling to bend in the least. Instead of asking me to explain why my position was valid, I was asked to explain why the journal uses standard spelling, making the Editorial Board’s misguided case for them. I was willing to work with the Editorial Board to replace”womyn and men”with”society”or”persons.” I knew comprise could happen, so I retorted by making the edits.

When I made these edits, I did indicate that the changes in my writing and any resulting awkwardness were a result of the demands of the Journal, which I viewed as an instance of rhetorical violence. I was being censored and the only reason I was receiving was”tradition, tradition, tradition.” As you can imagine, I was not pleased with this tired law school refrain. I thought we had come to a compromise and that it was not inappropriate to call a journal to task for their rhetorical choices. As scholars and/or practitioners we’re asked to do just that on a regular basis. When someone advocates strongly for a position they should be ready for vehement opposition. It’s the nature of advocacy. I was ready for it, but I wasn’t ready to have my voice silenced.

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and the end of my publication contract with the journal. I attempted to rewrite the note, easing my criticism of the journal, but that revision was flatly ignored.

It was a truly depressing exchange and really shook my confidence that horizons across the board were broadening. Law school is a wonderful time to not only study the law, but to study what doesn’t make sense in our legal world, and think about what one can do to make the law better.

There’s no right or wrong feminism and there’s never going to be a time where everyone self-identifies as feminist. That’s okay, but we need to work with that and say,”Let’s at least be open to these discussions and not suppress them even if we’re inclined, for whatever reason, to disagree.” We mustn’t adhere to the same jurisprudential theories, but we ought to be supportive of allowing a scholarly exchange that opens up rhetorical space, not closes it off.

–Nick J. Sciullo

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