Are Women Judges The Meanest?

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.



Thank you for your logical comments on the findings of this survey.  I read about the results myself along with the rationale of relating better to same gender and found myself discouraged.  Your rationale and logical breakdown of the situations and biases that exist made me feel much more optomistic about the state of women judges.  More optimistic you ask?  Well, yes.  You see, the situations you have described generally concern the older male attorney and the woman judge.  I am optomistic because I believe that the new generations of male attorneys who went to law schools with equal numbers of men and women and had female professors will be less biased by the gender of the judge and more open to criticism and authority coming from a female bench.  Although the general population will probably still view women in power as "bitchy" when they assert themselves (e.g., Hillary Clinton) for a number of years, I hope that the Bar will be able to rise above such generalizations to accept authority no matter who it comes from.


One of the most recent examples in my own life of the plight of the female judiciary was watching counsel in trial disrespectfully argue with the judge about her choice of break time that day for the jury's lunch.  I watched, knowing that I would never see anything of the sort happen to a male judge.  Female judges don't get the auto-deference on certain discretionary choices that male judges do.  In turn, this makes female judges reasonably irritable with having to constantly be on the defensive, which makes them sometimes less effective in the end, though no fault of their own.

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