Must we wait for women to be represented in classroom materials? I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it took me an entire year of law school before I figured out that I needed to use the Examples and Explanations books (E&Es for those that don’t speak the lingo). As it turns out, case books are just that, case books, not text books. If a student wants something explained to them they need to buy the E&E. If I’d figured this out during my first year of law school there is no doubt that my grades would have been significantly more impressive.
Now a 3L, I’m wise in the ways of working smarter not harder. But I almost forgot about the second major hurdle I faced during my first year: the dehumanizing and “othering” effects of the class materials. When the human aspects of the case were discussed at all women and people of color were rarely represented in a positive light. Many of the cases featured male attorneys in front of male judges. I rarely heard a woman’s voice, which is to say, I rarely heard my voice.
The law I was taught as a 1L was the law of white men and it was taught as “objective,” it’s little surprise that I felt so disenfranchised. Judges were male, criminals were black or Latino, and women were… missing. The lack of female voices represented in the classroom is consistent with the lack of female voice in general (according to NALP women are still underrepresented in partnership and women of color represent a measly 1.48% of partners). Though our numbers are growing, at this rate it will take decades for women to reach parity with men. I, for one, don’t want to wait that long for women to feel welcome and heard in the classroom. Consciously or not, I found myself rejecting all of it during my first year of law school. I felt that “thinking like a lawyer” meant to think like a privileged white man; the kind of colonization of the mind that I’d preached against in undergraduate women’s studies classes. So I screamed, yelled, thought about walking away, and accepted my status as a law school other.
Fast forward two years. Here I am, in a coffee shop cramming for Monday’s criminal procedure exam and fighting the same urges to shut down that I’d all but succumbed to during the fall of 2008. The E&E I bought used on Amazon makes some effort to use female pronouns in its hypotheticals; but most the judges are still “he.” Even in the helper text I am still reminded that I am an Other in this profession. But this battle cannot be fought today. Today my fight it not to overcome the Other status or to fight for inclusion, but rather to accept it for what it is (flawed and exclusionary) long enough to conquer my exam. I wonder if my male peers have more free time than me, since they don’t have to expend energy changing pronouns in their heads, feeling like an intruder in a world that was never intended to accept them.
Amanda Gonzalez is third year law student, community organizer and freelance diversity educator. She writes on issues of diversity, race, gender and sexuality for her blog Reconstructing Law School.