Member Groups

Women and the LawThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

November 2011, vol. 17, no. 2

Chair’s column

(The following comments and opinions are those of the author only and not intended to speak for the Committee as a whole)

As many reading this edition of The Catalyst know, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin published a cartoon in its September 13th issue depicting a female attorney cross-examining a witness and the presiding male Judge remarking to the female attorney, “Don’t bully the witness, Miss Greer, he has a wife at home already.” The cartoon is an ugly reminder to women attorneys that negative stereotypes of women in the workplace (in this case the courtroom) and at home still persist. Of course, I, like many other practicing women attorneys in the legal profession, already knew that. In my experience, it is not uncommon to be privy to a conversation in the courtroom, in chambers, or in the lawyers’ lounge, wherein some snide or stereotypical comment is made regarding women attorneys (or women in general) on such “important matters” as her body parts, physical appearance, aggressiveness in the courtroom (no doubt being indicative of sexual prowess or, in the case of this cartoon, a “nagging” female), etc., etc. Much of the time, these remarks are in the guise of humor—similar to the cartoon. Now, I can take a joke, and I love to laugh. Good humor helps make life tolerable. However, not all “jokes” are funny. And nothing irritates me more than someone using the guise of humor to convey a socially unacceptable or immoral message that the speaker is really just afraid to say directly. When confronted with such a scenario, I am generally inclined to see it for what it is and call a spade a spade. Unfortunately, I hate to admit, at times I have wrestled with speaking out when an inappropriate remark is made. In my experience, sometimes when a woman lawyer speaks out against such remarks, that woman lawyer may be labeled a “stiff” (another more inappropriate word may be used by some) and not able to “take a joke.” As a consequence, that woman lawyer may then be ostracized by the network of lawyers and judges with whom she practices on a daily basis and put in the “them” category (versus the “us” category). This type of ostracizing can not only have negative effects on that woman’s person, but also on her advancement in the profession, and in some instances, the legal representation of her clients both in and out of the courtroom.

I am not accusing the publishers of the cartoon in the Law Bulletin of intending to convey such a message. I think they were just careless and did not consider the effects, like those mentioned above, that publishing the cartoon would have on women attorneys and the stereotypical messages that would be relayed to the Law Bulletin’s readers. For what it is worth, and at the risk of being accused of “not being able to take a joke,” I want to publicly address the cartoon with the primary purpose of bringing awareness to the subtle, yet pervasive, negative stereotypes that still exist regarding women and women attorneys in the legal profession. I hope that the publishers of the Law Bulletin and other persons of influence in the legal community such as Judges, bar association leaders, etc., acknowledge the continuing existence of these stereotypes and take affirmative action like diversity initiatives (including the funding of such initiatives) to help combat these stereotypes in their respective spheres of influence. ■


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