Beth

Through Feminist Lenses: On Wearing Them

It’s funny how quickly we can be shaped by the systems we are in. I remember sitting in my Torts class in August of 1L year, reading the words “reasonable man standard,” and practically wanting to jump out of my seat with my feminist theory critique: “reason” itself is gendered! Objectivity is a Western, male-centered, hegemonic viewpoint! An even besides that, "the reasonable man” – come on, it’s the 21st century. Similarly, my law school is in Virginia, and early on in our 1L year, our career services office recommended to female students that we think twice about wearing a pantsuit over a skirt to an interview, particularly with older male attorneys in the area. What about butch woman? What about, you know, the fact that women have worn pants for 50 years?

If presented with these scenarios today, I’m sure that—whether I’d want it to be or not--my reactions to both scenarios would be subdued, largely because I’ve come to expect it from the legal profession and doctrine. I’ve spent a year and a half swimming in the established legal doctrine. Familiarity, for me, breeds acceptance, and to some extent, complacency with the legal structure or norms that we’ve got in place.

In closing out this column and moving on to my second half of law school (...only halfway there? really?), I’d encourage both myself and others to keep going back to our 1L selves, or even our First-Crack-at-the-Casebook selves. There’s something about encountering an entire new area of law on that first time you open up a casebook, where you’re presented with the strange and wacky antics of what seems bizarre to you, but after spending time outlining and memorizing and studying and studying and studying, begins to look like something unchanging, fixed, not up for debate. For me, in reading about spousal inheritance laws on my First Crack at the Casebook, my margins are covered with my often colorful view of the laws – “total b.s.!!” “could it get more 1950s in here?” “WTF?” In studying for my final, these issues have somewhat faded from the forefront; when I look at these comments in my casebook now, they’re an important feminist argument, but not what’s being tested. I sometimes think, “Why did I write all that? What was I thinking?”

But I must remind myself to keep the critique flag flying, despite having to work with what we’ve got. Whether it’s skirts or Torts or inheritance, if there’s something that doesn’t seem right, it’s true we might want to work with it now (although over-cautious, I started wearing skirts to interviews) but that’s only part of the equation. The other half—remembering where we want to be—requires raging, feminist rant-y marginalia, or expressing that something falls short. 

And for this, I thank Ms. JD for the opportunity to think more about seeing law/legal education “through feminist lenses” for the past year! Look forward to seeing the next group of WIR in action.

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