By Lauren Butler • September 07, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law
"There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women." –Kofi Annan
When I started looking into organizations I might want to get more involved with, what drew my attention to Ms. JD was its message of women empowering each other and building a safe haven to connect and reach out to other women in the legal community. Being a senior in high school, it’s rare to see this form of unity between girls my age. I’ve noticed a power struggle that forces girls to either climb the social ladder in hope of becoming the “It Girl” or break borders and defy what society tries to make them become. It’s refreshing to see a group of women that I can look up to that have succeeded in moving beyond these boundaries to become the lawyers they are today.
I still remember the look of disbelief on my uncle’s face when I told him that I want to be a lawyer. To him, I was this soft spoken girl with a big heart that couldn’t possibly succeed in a male-dominated industry. But it is because of my passion for helping others that I have a passion for law. Law gives you the opportunity to stand up for what you believe in.
In that moment, I was able to give my uncle three responses as to why I will be able to succeed in a male-dominated industry:
1. Measuring someone’s ability to perform based on their gender is not only close-minded, but sexist. Although women are often portrayed as “The Damsel in Distress,” which is of course far from the truth, being a woman does not prohibit me from working in a law office. I am equally as qualified as my male counterparts.
2. My ability to be empathetic will bring a new and valuable perspective to the table. Having emotions and connecting to people is part of being human and should not be disregarded.
3. If I study just as much as a man does and go to class as many times as he does, I do not see how he would be considered more qualified than me or I less qualified than him. Being successful in any career is hard work, but it should never depend on one's gender.
Even though I disagreed with my uncle’s statement, it still brought this question to my mind: Will I always have to defend myself or speak louder to be heard in a room full of men? When I asked Laura Bladow, Ms. JD’s Programs Manager, this question, she pointed me in the direction of Yale Law School’s “Speak Up” study, which looked at student participation at Yale Law School. The authors found that 58% of classroom participation came from men, and that women’s participation in the classroom had only risen 1.5% since a similar study was conducted in 2002. Thinking about this, I couldn't help to ask myself, why is that? And have I encountered something similar in my high school years? The answer is yes.
In my 9th grade history class, we would always have class debates, and I noticed how I was one of the few girls raising their hand to respond to a teacher’s statement. It was a challenge for me to state my opinion firmly, and to not lose my voice when I disagreed with my male classmates. I noticed that whenever one young man spoke, all the other young men supported his statement, giving him the confidence to continue speaking up. As for me, I did not see my female classmates chime in to support me, which caused me to shy away from the class discussion and feel isolated from my peers, though I think ideally women should all be helping and supporting other women.
Liz Hague, a member of the Ms. JD Board of Directors, mentioned something similar as well, although she is at a different place in her life than I am: “I think that women do work together and support each other, and I see it every day in my office. But, speaking generally, unfortunately sometimes people who rise to positions of power do not feel like they need to support other women, because they were not supported along the way or because they are afraid of their own position of power being challenged.” For me, it was shocking to see the same things that are happening in my classroom between young women continue to happen in between women in professional settings. It is so important for women to realize that supporting and empowering each other as a whole will benefit us in the end.
This was something that drew my attention to Ms. JD. Reading the blog posts on the Ms. JD website and seeing the videos on the Ms. JD YouTube page, I saw lawyers. Women that are successful lawyers who are supporting each other and being themselves. This reassured me that I can successfully be a lawyer without molding myself to fit someone else’s criteria, even without a lawyer in my family to ask questions of and look up to. Being a volunteer for Ms. JD gives me the opportunity to talk one-on-one with lawyers and ask questions that will help me in the future. Liz and Laura have already given me a lot of great advice, such as the courses to take that will help me gather the tools to be a success lawyer and that I should live in an area where there are good opportunities to take advantage of.
Through Ms. JD, I am able to see the reality of the challenges that I will face, and believe I can overcome them through hard work and motivation instead of seeing these challenges as insurmountable.