Tag Archives: feminism

Actually, Justice Looks More Like This Show Getting Cancelled

USA is wheeling out a new “legal drama” called, “Fairly Legal,” about a woman who was a lawyer at her father’s firm, but quits after her father dies, and begins working as a mediator. The preview begins with a narrator with a male voice saying, “So, what does justice look like? About 5′ 5”, brunette, great smile . . . .” This sexy embodiment of justice, called “Kate,” is played by Sarah Shahi of “The L Word.” The preview continues with Kate doing lots of cute things, like winking at the camera, and running around in high heeled shoes and tight skirts. You can see for yourself by clicking the link…

http://widget.usanetwork.com/singleclip/singleclip_v1.swf?CXNID=1000004.19010NXC&WID=4984adb196fcedf7&clipID=1261580

Now, I’m sure a lot of people reading this will say, “What are you worried about? No one watches USA anyway.” And that may be true. But, there is always the chance that someone, especially some little girl, or a girl in middle or high school, will turn this on, and get the idea that this is what lawyers look like. Yes, girls are already bombarded with images telling them how they should look, but there is something even more appalling when these ridiculous beauty standards are tied together with a profession that does not depend on or care about the attractiveness of the people who are a part of it. Kate is portrayed as a successful attorney and a successful mediator. Her good looks and sex appeal are part of her success. All she has to do is wink at the guys and she gets her way. This presents a few problems: (1) The risk that people watching will believe that a woman needs to be “attractive” (read: look like Kate) to be a successful attorney, and/or (2) more generally, that a woman must look like Kate in order to successful at all. It also presents a problem for female attorneys who do look like Kate, but got where they are because they worked hard, and not because of their looks. Male attorneys and judges may think, “She only got this far because of the way she looks.”

It is frustrating to no end to constantly see being conventionally good-looking tied together with happiness and success for women. Jessica Wakeman, writing for “The Frisky,” points out that a man with his own show is allowed to be brilliant at his career without having to meet certain height, weight, and attractiveness requirements, and she gives the great example of “House.” House is a white, male doctor who is somewhat of a misanthrope, and also a genius at diagnosing mysterious medical conditions. Can you think of a show that starred a female professional who was brilliant at what she did, where the emphasis was not placed on what she looked like? Can you think of a show where a female who was brilliant at what she did was somewhat misanthropic? Of course not, women must be attractive AND social butterflies in order to be good at their jobs.

I still remember seeing “Ghost World” in the theater for the first time. It was like a whole new world opened up. Girls! Being misanthropic! And sarcastic! And they’re not wearing all-name-brand, shiny, gold, skin-tight crap! You should see “Ghost World,” or read the comic, if you haven’t.

As a law student, I can personally attest to the fact that the majority of women in law school do not look like this Kate character. The vast majority do not run around in high heels and wink at people. The same can be said about female lawyers I have worked with in internships. While, of course, there are many attractive women in the profession, being a good lawyer does not depend on that at all. The women I’ve met while in law school care much more about being good at what they do, and about fighting for their clients, than about what they personally look like. I have never read an opinion in which the judge decided in favor of a female lawyer for being good-looking. I have, however, heard of female lawyers being referred to as “baby,” or “sweetheart,” by male lawyers and male judges, and I’ve also heard of female lawyers receiving sexually suggestive e-mails and phone calls from male clients. As long as shows like “Fairly Legal” continue to get on the air, more men will get the idea that it is OK to treat women as sexual objects, including female professionals. It may also lead women to think it is OK. What is really scary is the idea that shows like this can make some girls think twice about going to law school because they do not look like Kate. If you are reading this, and it did that to you, listen to me very carefully:   It is all bullshit.

Call or e-mail USA to tell them that this show should be cancelled. Contact information is here.

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Seriously, What is it With Skinny Jeans?

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately by the news.  There is almost too much going on right now.  You’ve got Arizona making a bunch of crazy laws, the Times Square scare, the Gulf oil spill crisis, and (while it isn’t all over television news, it has been making quite a splash in the legal community) the racist email written by a Harvard law student.  Is that all?  I feel like I’m missing something.

Well, as I was slogging through a bunch of these grim stories on my Google reader, I realized something: Skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news a lot lately!  Really, they have!  It’s weird.  And since it is weird, I began to question myself:  What if skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news no more than usual?  What if this is just me acting out of a need for “lighter” news in these trying times for our nation?  Or, are skinny jeans and leggings really loaded cultural symbols that reflect societal opinions and beliefs?

The story that began all of this came out of Australia.  On May 1st, a jury acquitted a 23-year-old man accused of raping a 24-year-old woman because she was wearing skinny jeans.  Yes, you read right.  Apparently, skinny jeans are the type that cannot be removed without collaboration and teamwork.  The jury found it unbelievable that a man would be able to pull these jeans off of this tiny, tiny woman (42 kg, or 92.4 lbs., according to the article) without her help.  Over at Feministing, Jos Truitt argued that this decision “smacks of slut shaming and victim blaming.”  Truitt continues, “I think focusing on the skinny jeans is meant to suggest that the survivor was dressed provocatively, which in turn is meant to imply she must have wanted it.”  I agree with Truitt, and the Italian court that reportedly said, “Jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt,” when upholding a rape conviction in 2008.

Moving on to skinny jeans appearance #2.  This story also happens to come from Australia, but involves people from many other places as well.  An amazing and, as she would say, fancy girl named Natalie from Australia has a blog in which she writes about art, design, fashion, and advocates for fat acceptance.  Natalie posts many pictures of herself on her blog to show readers her outfits and accessories, and she also lists where she bought her things.  One such picture of Natalie ended up being posted to a facebook group called, “There’s a weight limit on leggings & skinny jeans.”  I felt ill when I heard this existed and even more ill when I saw that it has over 700,000 members (including a facebook friend of mine… who has since been de-friended).  Anyway, Natalie wrote an incredible blog post on how she dealt with this situation, and on how she deals with society’s rejection of body type-diversity in general.  I wish I were as level-headed and confident as her all of the time.

Skinny jeans: Some collaboration required.

After reading these two stories, I became very suspicious of skinny jeans.  Here we have one piece of clothing that is being used to deride women who wear them in one instance (rape case) and to praise them in the another (facebook group – albeit in a way that simultaneously insults others through exclusion).  But, isn’t this bizarre?  You, skinny girl, who we, as society, deem worthy to wear these skinny jeans, should feel exalted, loved, and worthy as part of a select group who get to don these denim duds without derision.  But, be careful!  We also think you are kind of slutty for wanting to wear them in the first place because you are showing everything, and if you ever claim, “rape,” we will know that it just isn’t true because you just had to help him get those crazy jeans off of you!

I really had it with skinny jeans and leggings when I read a recent article in the New York Times called, “On Formspring, an E-Vite to Teenage Insults.”  Now, this article deals with another world of issues that, as a law review article author-turned-blogger might say, is beyond the scope of this blog post.  The basics are that there is a new website/social media tool called Formspring, which allows you to post a question about yourself and have a bunch of your friends answer it anonymously.  Now, why on earth I would ever want to do that, I just don’t know… but 13-year-old-me would probably be all about this, and according to the NYT, many 13-year-olds are all about it.

The NYT spoke to Ariane Barrie-Stern, a freshman at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City, who said, “I think it’s interesting to find out what people really think that they don’t have the guts to say to you.  If it’s hurtful, you have to remind yourself that it doesn’t really mean anything.”  Except it did mean something to Ariane.  She stopped wearing leggings after she received a comment about a certain pair that she had worn.

Where did all of these expectations about “the kind of woman” that wears skinny jeans and leggings come from?  Why are they the expectations that they are?  Where did skinny jeans and leggings even come from?  I can’t help but see skinny jeans and leggings as more wheels in the machine that make women overly self-conscious.  They’ve become another part of the daily puzzle when getting dressed to walk the lines between being pretty and attractive, but not slutty or “inviting,” and certainly not “manly.”  This is the year 2010, people.  It’s about damn time to once and for all shift the focus away from what we, as women, should or should not be wearing, and put it on what we can and will be learning, achieving, and changing.

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Not So Soft

One very, very common stereotype of women is that they are sweeter, nicer, and gentler than men.  I’ve learned through conversations on the topic that many people, including women, do not even understand this to be a problem.  Being nice is a compliment, right?  Sure, but not when it’s applied to all women as a generalization.

Michelle Cottle has a great article in the May 13,2009 edition of The New Republic called, “Pink Elephants,” about the “strange feminism of Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney.”  She writes:

“Forget civility and compromise: [Palin, Bachmann, and Cheney] stand out for their ability to rant, rave, name-call, fingerpoint, and peddle the most outrageous distortions in service to their cause.  (Death panels anyone?)  And none seems burdened by the reluctance to self-promote that so often undermines professional women.

…I cannot help but be impressed by – and even a bit grateful to – these conservative girls gone wild.  Say what you will about their ideology; these angry female fringe-dwellers are arguably doing more than anyone to tear down some of the most tiresome stereotypes about women in politics.

You know what I’m talking about:  Every few years someone writes a book, publishes a study, or simply drops a quote suggesting what a kinder, gentler, less competitive, more collaborative, less power-crazed, and fundamentally more ethical place Washington would be if only the gals were in charge.”

Unfortunately, this stereotype doesn’t just exist in politics.  I’ve heard it in law school, too, from both professors and classmates.  Would corporations be nicer to consumers, the environment, etc. if more women were in charge?  Would law firms be less competitive and provide better client services if more women were partners?  In a class in which U.S. v. Virginia was discussed, many classmates agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruined the Viriginia Military Institute (VMI) by requiring it to admit women because their presence would “feminize” (read: soften) the adversative methods of the Institute.  They did not use those words exactly, but the language in the case itself shows that was really VMI’s concern.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes:

“Virginia next argues that VMI’s adversative method of training provides educational benefits that cannot be made available, unmodified, to women.  Alterations to accommodate women would necessarily be ‘radical,’ so ‘drastic,’ Virginia asserts, as to transform, indeed ‘destroy,’ VMI’s program.  . . . Neither sex would be favored by the transformation, Virginia maintains: Men would be deprived of the unique opportunity currently available to them; women would not gain that opportunity because their participation would ‘eliminat[e] the very aspects of [the] program that distinguish [VMI] from . . . other institutions of higher education in Virginia.'”

Ginsburg answers Virginia’s arguments by pointing out that there is no proof whatsoever that VMI’s adversative method would suffer by admitting women, and that such arguments raised by Virginia are the same ones that are “routinely” used to deny women opportunities and equal rights, such as admission to practice in the professional fields of law and medicine.

Regardless of how Palin and Cheney feel about the decision in Virginia, they do seem to fight the stereotype of women advanced by Virginia in the case, and still believed by many in the legal profession.  And for that, I give them props.

“we learn America like a script

playwright

birthright

same thing

we bring

ourselves to the role…”

Not So Soft, Ani DiFranco

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Guilty

I have been thinking about writing lately and about sharing that writing, but each time I am about to do it, I think of the words of Helene Berr in her journal.  For those not familiar, Helene Berr was a Jewish woman who grew up in France and studied at the Sorbonne.  She started keeping a journal a little bit before the Nazis occupied France, when she was 21, and she kept writing until she was arrested.  It is an absolutely incredible book that everyone should read.  Unfortunately, I don’t have my copy at hand, so I can’t quote her exactly.  As I recall, she said she thought it was disgusting that anyone would write something with the intention of having others read it and enjoy it.  She must have specifically been talking about authors of literature because otherwise she would find most journalists disgusting.  But, then again, maybe she was talking about them, too.

Reading that sentence in her journal was actually quite shocking because it reminded me that I was reading someone’s journal. Helene Berr never meant for me to read her words.  The thought of this level of intimacy with someone I will never meet chokes me.  The idea that she never intended me to read her journal makes me feel ashamed, but also makes the intimacy that much more intense and her words more precious.  Because Berr writes so poetically and with such perspective and clarity, I forgot that this was technically not a published author.  This was the journal of a 20-something graduate student.  And, oh hey, I’m one of those, too.

Make no mistake:  I am not comparing my writing to that of Helene Berr.  I am trying to explain why her opinion has meant so much to me and why I have been so afraid to disappoint her by writing with the intention of having other people read it.  I haven’t found a way to justify the writing of a blog for other people without making myself feel guilty.  Vanity, self-love, narcissism?  Yep, it’s probably all of those.

…But, what if those things aren’t that bad?  I think they might actually be a little bit good.  I personally enjoy reading other people’s blogs immensely.  I love watching reality shows (there, I said it).  And I love radio shows like This American Life.  All of these things take me into other people’s lives.  There are no lessons to be learned, no moral judgments to make – I just want to know about other people!  And if no one ever thought their story was worth sharing, if no one ever thought that they had anything of interest to say, these blogs and shows wouldn’t exist!  If vanity, self-love, and narcissism are needed to facilitate this kind of human communion, then they might be O.K. with me.

Well, now that I have established that, 1) I love myself, and 2) it is O.K. for me to express that love for myself by writing for others on the internet, I will share a somewhat related article I read over the summer.  In this small piece, a female law firm partner says that women are not generally good leaders in law firms because they are too much like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.  (Don’t worry – you can keep your sparkly red shoes and your weird-looking friends.)  The problem is that women are too much like Dorothy in that neither ask for credit where credit is due.  Dorothy asked for nothing from the Wizard after all of her hard work, and women in law firms ask for no credit or recognition from colleagues for their hard work.  If women don’t do this, she says, they will not be seen as leaders because no one will know what they have done.

On the one hand, I think this is ridiculous.  Just logistically speaking, how can your colleagues not know what you have done?  Won’t some other partner or underling see the documents you prepared that were so great with YOUR name on it?  If not on the documentation itself, isn’t there a schedule you keep with what you were doing recorded on it that someone else will see?  Won’t someone wonder where you were all morning and won’t you answer, “Oh, I was at court and I [insert great thing here]?”

Also, there is a seriously fine line between being a bitch and being a leader.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest everyday-feminist problems.  If a woman speaks up for herself, she runs a high risk of being called a bitch.  If a guy speaks up for himself, he is more likely to be revered for his “manliness” in doing so.  In fact, if a guy doesn’t stand up for himself, what is he called?  Most likely a euphemism for a female body part.  If you disagree with these distinctions, you must at least admit that there is no word used towards a man that is equivalent in meaning and nuance to “bitch” as it is used towards a woman.

On the other hand, why should women let this fear stop them from making their accomplishments known?  The reasons for this fear are socialized.  Sure, women now can (most of the time) get the same jobs as men, get paid as much as men, and attend VMI, but in the details – in everyday decisions and interactions, socially-constructed gender roles resurface.  Women feel as though they need to be submissive in order to attract men.  Women feel that if they are assertive in taking the credit for the good things they have done, they will not be submissive, and therefore be unattractive to males.  Perhaps this is because of the idea that it is “manly” to be assertive.  If being assertive is manly, and Sally is assertive, then Sally is manly, thus making her unattractive to her potential heterosexual male mates.

Maybe I’m being silly.  Maybe competitive law firms really are places where people are so busy that they have no idea what you do.  Or, maybe if the law firm is big enough, there are so many lawyers working on one project, that no one will notice that you did something out-of-the-ordinary unless you make it known.  Although, if this is the situation in the law firm generally, I don’t see why a gender-specific call to action was necessary.

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