Three Student Reactions to “Gender and the Legal Profession’s Pipeline to Power”

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As I left yesterday’s conference, I saw three law review students relaxing in the lobby.  I asked them for a few reactions that I could post on the blog.  They were willing to speak as long as I did not use their names.  I did not record the conversation, but I did take a few notes.

Student X protested that I didn’t want hear comments, indicating that they were not positive.  When I pressed, Student X said, “I was offended by the whole thing.  I don’t want power.”  That student felt that the conference was mostly about complaining about how men have ruined women’s lives.

Student Y said that although there was “nothing new” that the student learned at the conference, “having this dialogue is good, not harmful.”

Student Z said that the student would have liked to see more recognition of inherent differences between men and women.  In response to the presentation by Erika Falk (Communications, Johns Hopkins) regarding coverage of female candidates for President, Student Z said that people do care about women’s emotions; there is nothing wrong with the media covering a female candidate’s emotional responses; the media are not out to get women.  Student Z enjoyed the last panel of the day, “The Pipeline to Power for Women Lawyers in Michigan” and hearing about the different women’s careers.

These comments may take me a while to digest, but I do have a few quick reactions.  The first is, “Was I at the same Symposium that these students were?”

My thoughts then moved to Student X’s disavowal of power (“I don’t want power”).  On the one hand, I can understand if Student X meant to express a lack of interest in becoming a partner in a law firm, president of a bar association, etc.  But at the core of a lawyer’s professional role is power, isn’t it?  To be a lawyer is to have access to power — the power of the law to protect rights and interests.  And even if Student X weren’t thinking in those terms, I had the impression that “power” was a sort of “dirty word.”  If Student X wants to carve out a legal career that allows for equal amounts of time devoted to family and work (something Student X identified to me as desirable), then isn’t that a desire for a certain kind of power, too — a power over one’s own career?

For Student Y to say there was “nothing new” at the Symposium is both understandable (yes, the history of discrimination is a long and familiar story to some) and puzzling.  Was there really nothing new to be learned?  I felt like my brain was popping with new information and ideas the entire day.  Perhaps Student Y felt like I was giving a “quiz” when I asked the students if they felt they had learned anything new.  Perhaps Student Y did not want to say that there was anything new, for fear it would seem that Student Y was not knowledgeable.  Or perhaps Student Y was bored and resentful of being required to attend the program.  I don’t know.

I am curious about Student Z’s comment that the voting public cares about whether a female presidential candidate has emotional reactions to particular stimuli.  Student Z’s comments reflected a “so what” approach — so what if the media focuses on Hillary Clinton’s tears, but not Barack Obama’s? (My words, not the student’s.)  My brain immediately goes to, “Well, that’s not fair to treat male and female candidates differently.”  Someone taking Student Z’s perspective (but not necessarily Student Z, whom I did not engage further on the topic) might say, “But men and women are different, so it’s okay for the media to treat them differently.”  I suppose that is where I would disagree — at least in my world view, neither biological nor socially-constructed differences between men and women have any bearing on either gender’s fitness for presidential office. But, I’m open to hearing more.

I thank these students for talking to me.  Any other student reactions to the program?

-Bridget Crawford

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