Through Feminist Lenses: the "fairer" sex?
Back in 2007, Ms. JD blogger sintechno asked, “Why Do Women Dominate Public Interest [law]?” That article described a nearly 2 to 1 ratio of women in public service careers to men; a 2004 Harvard Law School study also found that women from HLS pursued public interest work during summers and after graduation in significantly higher rates than men.
The post by sintechno pointed to a few possible options contributing to the gender imbalance work-life balance concerns of women, who might find the public sector more desirable, or perhaps the “male culture” of large law firms, making public interest law more hospitable to women. I would add another: not only that women head more into public interest law, but that men feel a pressure to not.
These gender differences can certainly be explained in part by the salary differences between private and public work and the societal pressures that men feel, still, in 2012, to be the “breadwinners” (whole ‘nother can of worms). But, just as corporate law is “masculinized,” public interest jobs are in many ways feminized, or at least ring of qualities socially associated with professions of women, like low pay and helping others.
This is why the treatment of “fairness” in law schools is so important. “Fairness” is more than a fringe concept or the wrong answer in a cold call, but what, I believe, can push someone towards a career in public interest or take on more pro bono work they would not do otherwise.
That Harvard study I cited above also noted that 2L and 3L men in the survey were significantly less likely to choose “helping others” in important factors in choosing a career than were 1L men. Salary differentials influence this number. But societal norms about masculinity do too, as does what goes on at the law school level in terms of framing fairness and pubic interest. Legal education would do well to counteract messages rather than supplementing them. For men, for women, and for the public at large— it’s only fair.