Tag Archives: Stereotypes

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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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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