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Defying Gender Norms and Becoming a Better Advocate

Think back to a time when you experienced bad customer service. Perhaps the waiter was slightly rude, or an agent charged you more money than they originally stated. What did you do? Did you complain or haggle for a better deal? During my undergraduate studies, after we examined the wage gap between men and women, the class noted that men are also more likely than women to challenge things. Women are less likely to complain about bad service, are less likely to ask for raises, and are less likely to speak their concerns. This is partially because of the desire to maintain a good public image and to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of confrontation. These were all contributing factors, in addition to plain gender biases, that exacerbated the wage disparity. Think back again to what you did that time you had a bad experience, or even a time where you had to bargain for a raise. Does what you did match these tendencies?

My bad customer service story came when I moved cities last year. I had to cancel a hotel reservation and was charged much more than the cancellation fee on my receipt. I called customer service to ask about the discrepancy. Maybe it was a mistake. After speaking with the representative, he told me that it was not a mistake, but that those are their fees. The receipt was wrong and there was nothing he could do about it. I knew this was unfair. A business should not be charging more than what the customer agreed to. In contemplating what to do next, I thought about the economics study. In my head, I remembered, men are likely to get more because they ask for more. Was I going to be another statistic that did not advocate for my justice? I decided I was not. Although I felt uncomfortable, because it was not something that I normally do, I asked to speak with a manager. I explained it was not my fault their system erred, and the price on the receipt was the price I agreed to. He gave me a refund.

This was a trivial matter, but in my heart I felt that I had won a war. I did something that was not in my usual pattern of reactions and defied a gender norm. Through these moments, I learn to be a better advocate for myself and others. Just as it was for me, self-advocacy can be a challenge for people who are unable or embarrassed to articulate their stories. Thus, it is important for me to grow into a fearless advocate for others.

One of the most noble tasks one can take on is using their voice to empower others. Often times people say they are a “voice for the voiceless.” Although this characterization does not come from a bad place, it is inaccurate to describe the genuine passion that we, as future lawyers, will have when representing our community. It is important to remember that the people we serve, today, tomorrow, and far in the future, have always had a voice. They have opinions, thoughts, and ideas that contribute to the world. Unfortunately, those ideas are often ignored or suppressed through things like communication, financial, or prestige barriers. It is our job to uplift their voices and make them be heard. We cannot mischaracterize their stories, but we must give them light through translations. I do not merely refer to linguistic translations, for even those who speak English can be left with their voices unheard. I also refer to translating the wonderful stories of those with lesser education and less financial means. People who have less access to education and financial resources tend to be ignored because they cannot articulate their words in a “sophisticated” manner or cannot pay for someone else to do this for them.

Through my public service career, I aim to translate the meaning of people’s stories. I want to represent my underserved community because I know that it is full of life and magnificence that is waiting to be heard. This summer I will be interning for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office where I will have the exciting opportunity to learn about and contribute to the legal system. Although I may only be drafting memoranda and conducting research, I will be able to partake in the progression of the city’s legal system and help shape it towards a more representative and just system for all.

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