“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
― Isaac Asimov
Boston University School of Law has a great male-female student ratio, two of my eight instructors are women, and the female presence in administrative positions and student organizations is awesome. Most importantly, the school’s programming shows that it understands the value of diverse voices. Gender inequality is not a “BU problem,” but an endemic one.
To be fair, law seems to be about on par with most formerly male-dominated fields. Progress has been made. Women are getting jobs, and excelling in them. The issues have evolved. I’d like to hear what aspect you think is most pressing today.
I’ve been thinking about a few issues at the intersection of law and gender, of late: First, assuring that our profession does not dismiss our problems as “female problems”; second, that our words get more attention than our skirts; and third, that all ways of learning, not just ones that work for one type of person, are respected and nourished.
It’s easy to label issues affecting women as “women’s issues,” but doing so misses the bigger picture, and it’s definitely a problem. For example, when I attend law school events related to reproductive justice (the very term represents an effort to broaden the conversation), the room is 95% female–both future lawyers and practicing attorneys and professors–no matter the publicity effort leading up to it. The numbers don’t lean as heavily toward one gender (or another) at any other event, and it’s not because men are unaffected by the Affordable Care Act. It’s not the law school’s job to let men know that it’s OK to care, but this glaring gap isn’t doing anyone any favors.
A recurring theme in law school is about how stuffy we feel in our suits. This naturally segues into how we’d better get used to it. And then, in this conversation I’ve had a half-dozen times, we turn to appropriate courtroom attire. Keeping in mind that this is 2014, I was shocked to hear that some judges care about whether a woman wears pantsuit or a skirt suit. Now, (future employers, this one’s for you) I will absolutely behave impeccably well in any courtroom I’m fortunate enough to enter, and I will certainly dress to bore-slash-impress. But my clothes are no one’s business but my own. We’re better than that, and my law school peers are certainly smarter than that. Trust us to dress ourselves.
The Socratic method is the ancient, lumbering elephant in the room. Frankly, and this relies on some serious stereotypes: It rewards traits societally valued in men (boldness, assertiveness, bravery) and squeezes out traits traditionally valued in women (demureness, politeness, allowing others to take the spotlight). Happily, we realize today that learning styles are not all about our gender or sex. Some of the loudest voices in the room today are women. But for those who do walk a gentler, quieter path, masculine or feminine, the classroom can be a terrifying place. I cringe a little every time I see a smart and shy woman begin her turn before the class with, “Um, I just want to say …” I want to tell her: “Own it! What you have to say is valuable. Don’t let the method get you down!”
BU Law is a great place, in a flawed society. It’s easy to forget that we’re still a part of the bigger picture, but these struggles don’t take a three-year break just because we do. What can we do now?
“I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
― Amelia Earhart