A Few Observations About Mentoring

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So I’m at a really great law prof conference. Best highlight so far was seeing Bridget Crawford, and listening to her interesting observations about the intersection of tax law and feminist legal theory.   In addition to being a brilliant scholar, Bridget also does a terrific job of mentoring law students. Like many law profs I know, I struggle with boundary issues. I want students to feel comfortable discussing legal theory with me, but I do not want to know anything about their sex lives. Bridget seems to have an awesome natural ability to radiate exactly the correct amount of friendliness and engagement, and I truly envy this.

One of my roles at this conference was to mentor a junior scholar in my subject area. My mentee was Alabama law prof Shahar Dillbary and being an “official mentor” to him was an unexpectedly wonderful experience. He and I approach trademark law from very different places philosophically, but I learned a lot from reading his current work in progress, and I was very impressed by his thoughtful, energetic and well organized presentation of it.   And he is a fun and lively conversationalist as well as a nice person.   He is definitely somebody to watch.

Finally, I have some overtly feminist angst about mentoring junior women. I really don’t like it when law profs begin a talk by deprecating themselves and apologizing for how inadequate some aspect of their presentations will be. I especially wince when a junior woman law prof does this, because she gives the men in the audience who are looking for reasons to dismiss her ammunition.   So when a junior woman I like does this, I ask her fairly pointedly to knock it off.   But I know that by doing this I am advocating a strategy of adapting to law professing as a Man’s World, and I am discouraging some women from “being themselves,” which is very much in tension with important tenants of feminism.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to A Few Observations About Mentoring

  1. barbara burke says:

    Professor Bartow,

    Perhaps these self-deprecating law profs are simply responding to the normative expectations of the audience. Viginia Valian’s research talks about how men overwhelmingly react negatively toward women who act assertively. Instead of telling them to knock it off, maybe we should try to see it as a reasonable reaction to what they have learned since adolescence. The problem is that while non-assertiveness holds women back neither is it highly-valued when seen in women.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    I agree that some men react negatively to aggressiveness in women. But in my experience, women law profs who self deprecate a lot suffer far more deleterious consequences. Law is a profession that generally rewards assertiveness, for better or worse.