Injustice: Women in the Law

In a series of articles and editorials in The New York Times last year, journalists and legal industry experts reported and declared, respectively, that law school is for many students a losing proposition. David Segal reported that while an increasing number of students flood law schools every fall, fewer and fewer of those students are able to find meaningful jobs in legal fields. That means that many recent law school graduates find themselves drowning under piles of loan debt; law school tuition, after all, commonly costs more than $50,000 for each year of the three-year Juris Doctor (JD) program .

Why am I discussing this issue on the Women’s Center blog? In the early 1990s, women made up about 50% of law school student bodies; that number has not been matched since then, and that is in decline. In 2010, 47.2% of JD students were women (Graphic: “Women as a Percent of JD Enrollment, 1972-2010”). Even with that decline, many women choose to go to law school every year. Many of these women will encounter difficulties paying for law school, as law firms are cutting back on the number of law school graduates they hire, largely out of dissatisfaction with graduates’ abilities. Many law schools teach theory that is not easy to put into practice, and law firms consider teaching new hires a waste of resources. Additionally, there may be some gender discrimination involved in lawyer hiring. Less than half of new associate lawyers are women, and many of those lawyers are “overrepresented in positions with limited chances for advancement.” In the upper ranks of law firms, women hold only 15% of “partner” positions.

Once hired, and even promoted, women may continue to encounter unique difficulties in their legal careers. At a conference in Washington, D.C. last November women lawyers discussed how their gender impacts their careers. Several speakers shared that they had decided not to get married or have children because, in law firms, associates who can stay late at night and work weekends are sometimes more quickly promoted. Other women described being judged negatively by non-lawyer mothers who criticized their decision to enroll their children in daycare and continue their careers. Tellingly, these women lawyers’ male colleagues had not run into this kind of gendered criticism as often, nor had they had to make difficult decisions about balancing the desire to marry or have children with the desire to advance their careers.

How can we, as women interested in legal careers, prepare ourselves? If you are interested in working in a legal or policy field, make sure to come to “I Object!” on Tuesday, April 10. From 5:30 to 7 PM, three Boston-based women lawyers will discuss their careers, how they handled paying for law school, and how they negotiated family and career conflicts. Come with your questions and your concerns.

It will take more than preparation to change the legal-career climate, however. Women should be able to have both a fulfilling career and the family life they desire. What do you think law schools and/or law firms could do to help women students and lawyers balance work and life? Share your insights and ideas in a comment. It is up to our generation to effect change and enable women to really smash the glass ceiling in legal careers. Currently, the percentage of lawyers who are women is at about 32% and rising slowly; it will take over a century to achieve parity with male lawyers. Additionally, only 22% of federal judges and lawyers are women. This is unacceptable.

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Are you there God? It’s me, Suzbob

As I headed home for spring break last week, I thought I would return with an impeccable junior paper, a rested body, and settled summer plans. Needless to say, none of these things happened. I spent time with my parents and dog, enjoyed the outdoors, and found great nostalgic treasures in my childhood room. But whenever I opened my computer I was dismayed to read a seemingly endless string of reports detailing the increasing threats to  resources for women’s health, access to contraception, and protection against violence. I scrolled through each article in disbelief that these discussions could happen in 2012. 

Here are some articles that that caught my eye over the past week: 

To be honest, I’m still processing my thoughts on how to respond to all of these issues. It seems like those who attack contraception, abortion, etc. base their claims on the belief that such practices threaten the church and the American family. This confuses me. I’ve attended church pretty consistently since I was eight (first, a Lutheran church in Maryland–now at Memorial Church here in Harvard Yard). I received my first communion, was confirmed as a voting member of my church, and was heavily involved in our youth group. I’ve learned both implicitly and explicitly that individuals and their decisions deserve respect, that people of all genders can be excellent leaders, and people with different political and religious beliefs can still form a supportive community. For example, many of my childhood church leaders were women who either ran my confirmation class, conducted the church choir, or served the congregation as associate pastors. I’ve stood by them during service trips, chili cook-offs, and making sure that our church was prepared for the Jewish reform community that on Saturdays shared our sanctuary. They have shown me how a Christian community could be inclusive and positive. Admittedly, I’ve never had a conversation with any of my pastors about sex, abortion, or birth control. Instead, I’ve had countless discussions regarding the power of tolerance, compassion, respect, and most importantly love. I consider these lessons (as well as the ones that my parents have instilled) to be the basis of the moral and ethical code that I frequently employ in my gender equity work. My church and my family (composed of liberals, conservatives, and apathetics) have taught me to accept rather than to reject.

Today, my ability to accept dissent is challenged by hateful words and alarming actions. Usually I am a really positive person. Not quite skipping-in-ameadowwithsingingbirds positive but I’m pretty high on the upbeat scale. Reading these reports, however, has really challenged my belief that differences can be tolerated with grace in the 21st century. 

But after this initial reflection, I think it’s safe to say that I believe that women should have access to safe abortions, that all genders should be safe from domestic violence, and that taking the Pill is not a reflection of the moral standing of any individual. I accept that women have the ability to make judgments regarding their own bodies and I respect their decisions. I have compassion for those who face violence in their own homes and am in awe of their strength to endure. I acknowledge that sex should not be a concept that we fear and loathe, but a tool that brings people together in powerfully intimate ways. 

I believe that these conclusions are not in conflict with my experience in the Christian church. Instead, my beliefs surrounding women’s reproductive health are immersed in the same lessons that I was taught as a child—tolerance, compassion, respect, love. If policy surrounding women’s health must be dominated by Christian themes, I wish that it would return to these first Sunday School lessons. Differences will always exist, but hopefully we can reinstate a common commitment to positive and respectful progress.


“Why We Need Women’s Week”

Thank you to the Crimson staff for a great editorial on the importance of Harvard College Women’s Week in promoting conversations about gender and gender inequity on campus:

“Though Women’s Week 2012’s awareness- and discussion-based events represent a kind of activism that is markedly different from that of protesters of the 1960s and 1970s, it can rightfully be understood as a continuation of the feminist activism that shaped Harvard’s history decades ago. Women’s Week’s events span a wide range of relevant and challenging topics—such as gender in children’s literature, succeeding in the workplace, gender in hip-hop, and the concept of virginity—and in doing so explore expectations and representations of women in all areas of society: in popular culture, in the public sphere, and in the private sphere.”

Congratulations to all of those who helped make Women’s Week 2012 such a success!

Feminism and HipHop Women’s Week Event

Last night, Ticknor Lounge was filled with young men and women of many different races and levels of familiarity with hip-hop music who had turned out for “Feminism and Hip-Hop”, an event co-sponsored by the Harvard College Women’s Center, the Association of Black Harvard Women, and Latinas Unidas. A thought-provoking slideshow of female MCs and Music Video Honeys (typically women featured as dancers in music videos) streamed in the background while students and a moderator engaged in a lively discussion about what it means to be “successful” in the hip-hop industry and why women in said line of work are held to much higher standards than their male counterparts. Nicki Minaj was frequently compared to her less sexual predecessors such as MC Lyte and Queen Latifah.

Nicely done Women’s Week! Keep the ball rolling; two more jam-packed days of riveting events.

Regulation

When I heard on NPR that the National Advertising Division (NAD), an organization that monitors accuracy in national advertising, was banning a CoverGirl ad featuring Taylor Swift due to its excessive airbrushing, I was thrilled! False advertising is illegal! It’s been highly regulated and enforced in the medicinal industry, and the food industry has really been cracking down too. Do those in charge finally see the potentially damaging effects of false advertising on the mental health of cosmetic consumers?

The cosmetics industry racks in over one hundred billion dollars a year from consumers trying to make their skin appear as flawless as Taylor’s is here. Sorry foundation fans, but chances of achieving that are slim, especially because the product that CoverGirl is using Taylor to sell can’t provide flawless skin. Such magic is only feasible with an airbrush and a highly paid make-up team.

These images cause consumers to compare themselves to generally unattainable standards. What’s that? Do I smell a nationwide inferiority complex a’ brewin’? However, the actions taken by the NAD to ban this and several other airbrushed ads from public release is a step in the right direction.

While we’re on the subject of regulation: I hate to harp on the ridiculousness of most of our childhood heroines, but Disney princesses could have benefitted from a regulatory committee of sorts. Jasmine, that mermaid brat, and many others feature waist-to-bust ratios that require the removal of one’s lowest two sets of ribs. While the messages of these films were intended to be uplifting, and encourage independence, (although catering primarily to Western-cultured audiences), could they not be delivered by singing young ladies that better reflected the girls and women they were trying to reach?

While I paint an extreme picture, it is not so extreme to envision a regulatory committee on film. In fact, until the 1950s, Hollywood films could not show a man being the cause of a woman’s death, nor could they be in bed together at the same time. These regulations strike me as extreme, but mild regulation pertaining to children’s films is something worth thinking about.

Of course this raises important questions such as, “Well how much is too much?” and “How does one prevent this regulatory body from stomping too hard on the 1st amendment rights and artistic license of the film makers?” That is further down the road then I care to travel at this moment. I simply wish to drop a popcorn kernel in the pond and see how many ducks take interest.