Monday, January 30, 2006

Things that you wouldn't think would still be necessary...

But are.

Today I went out to lunch with M from my study group, and while discussing my ongoing irritation and exhaustion with my Torts professor (about which more probably later, after things gel), I mentioned that another student had started keeping track of the number of sexually inappropriate remarks he made, the number of times he tells stories in which women are victimized, generally as a means of evoking some kind of ethical discomfort in the class. (I think for those of us already sensitive to these things, he's quite literally wearing on our nerves.) I mentioned a discussion I'd had with a fellow 1L at a meeting of the women law students' group (she finds herself similarly exhausted/dismayed by the prof), and M asked how the group was, whether it was valuable.


And I find this surprising.

And probably shouldn't.

M said she's been thinking of joining the group as a way of finding/creating some kind of community that's supportive of a different way of "doing law." I think that's a good idea, and a real possibility. It's funny, because our class is well more than half women, as are the classes ahead of us, but it's apparent that the men in our class have a much easier time connecting with the institution, playing its games, and living out its visions. I meet all of these interesting, compassionate individuals who are charting different paths for themselves in the law, but as far as the overall atmosphere of the school is concerned, it's like they don't exist. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.

I was joking with M that I didn't join the women's group initially because I wasn't sure how necessary it would be, but after a quarter in school, and after spending some time over break looking at law firm web sites and seeing little group photos of 4 male partners and 1 woman, 5 male partners and 1 woman, 8 male partners and no women, 15 male partners and 1 woman...sign me up.

I'm sure I'll have more on this later.

It's later. So now here's more on this.

In the Comments, Wordzguy says, "Not so different in high tech. Have a review of the top management at MSFT, Google, et al. See any women? (If so, are they other than Human Resources?) Boys Clubs, all."

To which I say, absolutely. But imagine if 60% of your programmers were women. Imagine if 60% of MS-level computer science degrees were going to women. How much weirder would that boardroom picture seem then?

There's been a bit of research work done on this, but no one's coming up with any great answers (except that yeah, it's an old boys' club that's remarkably flexible about retrenching itself in the face of change). Lani Guinier published a piece based on survey data from University of Pennsylvania Law School back in 1994 ("Becoming Gentlemen," 143 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1). That article includes information like:

"Despite identical entry-level credentials, this performance differential between men and women is created in the first year of law school and maintained over the next three years. By the end of their first year in law school, men are three times more likely than women to be in the top 10% of their law school class."

"[M]any women are alienated by the way the Socratic method is used in large classroom instruction, which is the dominant pedagogy for almost all first-year instruction. Women self-report much lower rates of class participation than do men for all three years of law school. Our data suggest that many women do not 'engage' pedagogically with a methodology that makes them feel strange, alienated, and 'delegitimated.' These women describe a dynamic in which they feel that their voices were 'stolen' from them during the first year."

There have been a number of studies about law school classroom environments being hostile to women, but that's not what I'm experiencing: it's more like what Guinier describes. A blanking-out, a muffling-down, a shutting-up. It's delegitimation of my career goals, my way of going about things, my approach to life. And on top of that, there's a real sense (adopted by many of the older women in the profession) that you shouldn't complain, you shouldn't change things, you should instead "prove yourself" by sucking it up.

I dunno. Law's institutional history with respect to gender is kind of weird. One of our profs started law school in her early 40s. She had considered it in 1971 when she was in her early 20s, but when she talked to someone in the admissions office at her state's law school, she was "reminded" that if she got in, she'd be taking a man's place, and taking away his draft deferment. She didn't apply.

But I think the real thing is more like: law is very good at legitimating its own fucked up culture, which is not particularly surprising, since rationalizing is basically what lawyers do.


At 3:51 PM, January 31, 2006, Blogger WordzGuy said...

Not so different in high tech. Have a review of the top management at MSFT, Google, et al. See any women? (If so, are they other than Human Resources?) Boys Clubs, all.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.