By sintecho • May 23, 2008•Balancing Private and Professional Life
The Las Vegas Review Journal's "Judging the Judges" survey asked lawyers who practiced before Clark County District Court judges to rate the judges' courtesy. Of the attorneys surveyed, two-thirds were male. The results ranked female judges as significantly less courteous than their male counterparts with even the highest-ranked female judge still scoring lower in courtesy than "all but two of the male judges." According to "experts who study judges and the courts, attorneys and litigants favor a judge similar to them, whether in age, ethnic makeup or gender," which could explain why the primarily male survey base would be biased to find male judges more courteous than female ones. Legal Blog Watch posits that the dispairty "may just be that when a male judge acts sternly or impatiently, he's merely regarded as firm or strict, whereas a woman who conducts herself the same way is labeled as strident or obnoxious."
When I read these results, I couldn't help but wonder if women judges just have to work harder to get the respect that should come with their position automatically (but doesn't, unfortunately), and if the lawyers who may have needed "encouragment" by said female judges to give the judges the respect they deserve might be bitter in filling out the survey. I've had the experience of older male attorneys not taking me seriously on the job, and I've sometimes felt forced into taking a hard stance to stop what seems to me as a conversation where I'm being belittled or even verbally abused. I've had (more than once) a male attorney then accuse me of being the rude one, and each time, I've been very taken aback since, in my view, I was only responding to the caller yelling at me first (and in each case, I never raised my voice--it's funny how women just speaking firmly in a normal tone can be viewed as MORE rude than a man actually using a raised voice).
I've also been in courtrooms where male attorneys push around relatively new female judges (i.e. talking over them, arguing back with contemptuous "with all due respect, Your Honor" lines thrown in to offset their rudeness, and basically just refusing to accept the female judges' rulings as final). I can't claim to have watched an entire genesis of a new female judge turning hard to demand the respect she's not given automatically, but it doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine it happening. I also think women walk a very fine line in being taken seriously without being "bitchy" and that only certain personality types (the lucky snarky and funny ones among us) can do it successfully without resulting to firm behavior that will inevitably be interpreted as rude. In some ways, this "courtesy" measure by which these judges were judged could easily turn into a proxy for "bitchiness," and there are lots of reasons a man might view a woman in a position of power (like a judge) as "discourteous" regardless of how objectively courteous that judge is. Honestly, if I were the LV Review Journal, I would be wondering how to eliminate the bias from my survey since I think it's completely ridiculous to think that results so skewed are in any way a real measure of whether men or women judges are more courteous.