jessie

Men, Ms. JD, and the Inevitable One-liner

Editor's Note: As part of Ms. JD's 5th Birthday celebration, we'll be looking back at our favorite posts over the years.

Why is it that every time I tell a man about Ms. JD the response is always something along the lines of: "Oh yea I've been thinking about starting a support group for mysoginists" or "Are you planning an upgrade to Mrs. JD"? Seriously, after a year with the organization I can count on one hand the number of times I've gotten a sincere, rather than dismissive, reaction. It's not just that the individual jokes themselves are not particularly clever that gets me. It's the consistency with which I get this response that perplexes me.

Two years ago I worked for a feminist organization, and when I would tell men that the response was similar: "Oh then I guess you'd be offended if I slapped my wife's ass?" This last gem is striking because it's a good example of another pattern: all the responses are not just lame attempts at humor, they're designed to get a rise out of me. This brings up the other reaction I've encountered: the reverse discrimination cautionary tale. When I don't get the lame one-liner, I often hear about the women who've been promoted undeservedly thanks to affirmative action or who couldn't be fired for fear of a law suit.

Now I know what you're thinking: I need to find new friends. But regardless of my own social issues, I think these patterns are interesting. I don't think discomfort with feeling like the culprit of discrimination is a plausible excuse. If someone told your average white person that they were working for the Black Law Students Association the response would not be, "Oh what a coincidence, I'm starting a white supremicists organization."

I think the pattern is more indicative of a larger barrier to progress: gender inequity is not seen as a serious problem by many men, and so is difficult to change. These guys don't harbor a principled disagreement with what I'm doing -in fact if pressed I suspect most would be generally supportive of the concept of professional equality- they just don't think it's that important. Maybe I'm over-reacting, but there's got to be some explanation besides men being incapable of telling a good joke.

14 Comments

bethb

Men are not the only ones who don't believe women still need to fight for equal treatment-  women don't believe it either.  I've come across older women who think it's odd that there is still a women's movement today when things have come so far from what they experienced as women growing up in the first half of the twentieth century.  But it's not just a generational concern either.  Many women my age have not yet faced gender discrimination in their lives outside of not being able to play football or baseball for their school teams, or at least that's how they perceive it.  Plenty of younger women have grown up reading about what life was like for women before the first feminist movement and think that because we are no longer living their reality, we must have achieved equality.
I think it's a natural reaction to blame men for their inability (or maybe unwillingness is a better word) to believe gender inequity is still an important issue; but it may also be beneficial to look to the women who don't see how they are being treated at second-class citizens in their everyday lives.
 

lisetiffner

This happens all the time when somebody doesn't feel comfortable with something you're doing, but wants to attack you indirectly. At work I get this whenever I make a suggestion on how we should conserve, reduce, recycle, or be more conscious of how we do things. "Oh your just a tree hugging liberal." Uh, no, I'm a republican, but that's beside the point. Just because you're too lazy to put your pop-can in the recycling bin, that doesn't mean that I am anything, it just means that you're lazy. Same thing goes for feminism, just because someone chooses to be insensitive means nothing about me.

Kate Jones

I've noticed, too, that a lot of young women lawyers don't want to be identified as "feminist" because they are trying so hard to fit in and make it.  As a result, they insist that there is no gender discrimination and avoid forming alliances with other  women attorneys.  Puzzling.

KHernan881

I can only speak for myself but… I don't identify myself as a feminist.  Not because of wanting to "fit in" but because such a label requires a lot of qualifiers if it is to be applied to me.  However, if you read my posts on this blog or look at the things I've accomplished or positions I've taken many would regard me as a feminist.  However, there are a number of things that I think "most" feminists would believe in or advocate that I don't. There are a lot of things that I believe in and ways that I live my life that the Chief Feminist (if there were one) would have a real problem with.  This is similar to a growing reluctance among Americans to identify with one particular political party—the generalizations no longer fit.

Kate Jones

I find your comment very interesting.  If you have time, perhaps you could expand on it? I hope others will also join this dialog.  Cause I'm trying to get caught up on women's issues after being out of the loop for a couple of decades. I have many questions and I think I may have some insights to contribute.    
The background I'm coming from is: 
(1) The 1970's - I graduated law school in 1977. Men in my area (deep south) still felt free to say openly that they didn't want women working in their firms. Let me clarify: there were some really nice men who helped me get started and I couldn't have made it without them, but it was very difficult. I had to be aggressive to make my way and I developed into somewhat of a "tough bitch" feminist.   I was happy to think I was a pioneer who was beating a path for women who would follow after me.  
(2) The 1980's from the men's point of view - The men who didn't want women finally started hiring them in big and medium sized firms for two reasons: 
      (a) legal pressure - they faced the fact that they had to put some female faces out there or get sued.
      (b) a silent insidious cynical reason - they figured out, correctly, that a lot of their clients had doubts about women so it would be harder for women associates and women junior partners to develop into their bosses' competitors.   To put this in context, any partner who mentors an associate has to face the fact that the associate may gain skills, develop relationships with the clients, and form a breakaway firm which takes some of the partner's clients.  
Cynical partners figured out that they could hire and promote female associates who would do just as good a job as the male associates but would have a much harder time stealing clients. So it made economic sense to prefer female associates over male associates.   Plus, they could have a cute little female associate to carry their briefcase and smile at them ... an added bonus for a middle aged man.    
(3) The 1980's from the women's point of view - In my area, women graduating law school in the early and mid-80's with good credentials found it quite easy to get jobs at medium and big law firms: as noted above, nice guys plus legal pressure plus  cynical chauvinists had figured out the advantages of hiring women. 
       As a result, many '80's women got good jobs straight out of law school and saw rapid progress in the first five years of their careers.  The male chauvinists were very nice to these 80s women and were happy to manipulate them by assuring them that no one had ever really been against women lawyers, it was just those obnoxious feminist bitches that no one wanted to hire ... 
       Many women I talked to in the '80's were able to say, with complete sincerity, that they were treated very well at their firms and had never been the victims of sex discrimination.  And many of them made it clear that they didn't want to be put in the same category with "feminist bitches" like me.  (I suspect they believed that associating with "known feminists" would be a career disadvantage). At the worst, some of these young women came across as "good little girls" who thought they only had to "please daddy" to make partner and become rich.
       For obvious reasons, I found this annoying as hell.  I was curious to see how it would all play out and sure enough, once the cute little female associates turned thirty, they disappeared mysteriously from their firms and were replaced with new cute little associates.   One group had the nerve to form their own breakaway firm and I think they've had some success (hooray, more power to them).  The rest disappeared completely, as far as I can tell.  I have no idea where they went or what happened to them but I don't see them in court and I don't see them at CLE. 
       By 1987, none of this was my problem. My own practice was picking up steam and I was pregnant with my first child.  My family and my career absorbed me totally until this year, when the younger of my two children became a high school junior and I realized I'm about to finish my "mommy track" years and I'd better start cultivating my own interests.  As part of this process, I started reading legal blogs and I found this one, where everyone is asking the question, "Why are so many talented young women leaving law?" 
        Hmmmm, I might be able to make a few comments that are relevant. 
        However, I do feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle.  What's been going on with women attorneys since 1987?  I just woke up, give me the news.     

Kate Jones

I'm having a little trouble figuring out how these threads are set up (hitting "comment" and hitting "reply" appear, somewhat confusingly, to have identical results, why are there two separate buttons?). 
When I made my second comment, I was attempting to reply specifically to Ms. KHernan881's "feminist on some issues not on others" because she's obviously given the matter a lot of thought and I think her position is, in fact, representative of many young women.  
Although I do think every comment on this thread is very interesting and would be delighted to dialog with anyone on any aspect of this topic .... 
As I said, I feel exactly like Rip Van Winkle.  

Kate Jones

Maybe I should clarify that my comments relate specifically to women litigators (I have no idea what's going on with women who do tax work or transactional work or whatever).  I'm looking at lawyers in courtrooms and observing who is, or is not, handling cases in court.

KHernan881

You know I couldn't even attempt to qualify my statement about not identifying myself as a feminist.  I am not sure that I know what the definition of a feminist is or isn't and perhaps that was the real point of my comment.
I've shared alot about myself in my blog posts here but I would also like to keep as much anonymity as I can and still keep what I post interesting and reliable. 
In general, I am politically a libertarian-leaning conservative (to me that means I am a social liberal and a fiscal conservative: I believe in small government). 
I am a working mom/wife from a lower-middle class family but am now solidly in the upper-middle class. 
I am in my thirties and am considered a second-career attorney because I spent many successful years in the US Army before law school. 
I am pro-business and pro-America. 
I am big on individual responsibility and advocate getting up on your own when you fall down before expecting somebody to help you up.  At the same time, I think we should help each other up even without being asked. 
I've kicked down plenty of doors that were shut to me in my road to getting where I am in life.  I like to think that I've held these doors open for others behind me but I won't deny that I am fiercly competitive down to every inch of my body and soul. 
I have had very little handed to me along the way but I have also not encountered a whole lot of failure.
I love to see women succeed and think Ms. JD is an awesome organization to help facilitate that.  At the same time, nothing would bug me more than being accused of acheiving success just "because" I am a woman and there was a quota or something that had to be met.
I wear makeup.
I didn't breastfeed in public or even in front of family and friends because I am a private person and don't like to make others uncomfortable. 
I wear both pants suits and skirt suits interchangably and don't really think it matters.  However, I would never wear pants to a formal event or even to a cocktail party. 
I changed my last name when I got married because it seemed like the right thing to do— but I regret it today. 
I can't golf very well but I wish I could because I would like to hold my own when golfing with male colleagues.
I've always kind of taken the "join 'em" attitude towards male-oriented professional activities.
I sacrifice most of myself for my family, (in a way that my husband would never dream of doing and in ways that I never ask of him, either).
I'm a BigLaw corporate attorney and fairly new at that.  I plan to stick this career out for 20 years or so and then pursue elected office.
 Does that help, or is this just too much information now.

lenagraber

I get the same responses as Jessie described quite a lot and I am getting increasingly defensive/self-righteous/lecture-minded about it.  If I talk to many of my [male] friends about other things I do, such as volunteer accompanying asylee hearings or the worker rights clinic, they are supportive and interested.  If I bring up something that I am organizing for the feminist forum, they start making cracks about burning bras or how it's so silly that women don't just stay in the kitchen.  <div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div>It doesn't matter that they think they're joking, because their consistent inability to express encouragement is almost as bad as actually believing what they are saying.  That said, I think consistent confidence and pride in my feminist activities has made a difference and had a real effect on them as well.  The more good information and reasons I present to support the feminist movement the more headway I make.<div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div>I do think part of those reactions is defensiveness or feeling like culprits, but it's true that's not the whole story.  I don't really have any good guesses, but I think the broader social villainization of the image of feminists definitely also plays a role.  I also think that a lot of people think discrimination is something that used to happen until the sixties or seventies, and now it's over.  Or, if they have half an eyeball and acknowledge that racial discrimination is still everpresent and endemic, they still might not be as aware that the same is true for women. </div></div>

Kate Jones

Hi, KH881, you sound very insteresting and very individual!
Let me know when you decide to run for office - I'll vote for you (if you're in my state) or send a contribution (if you're not). 
Incidentally, I feel your concern about keeping some anonymity. 
Will someone  tell me how the "anonymous" submission button works? I'm a little concerned about being completely candid online - even though I'm using a pseudonym - because I'm afraid that people in my geographical area will eventually figure out who I am and I don't want to say anything that would give offense to them (or at least not undue offense). But when I tried to make one post "anonymous" as an experiment, my pseudonym showed up anyway…    
 

KHernan881

yeah, when you preview your comment it looks like your name is going to appear.  However, once you post it, it disappears and says its from anonymous.
 

KHernan881

You can click on this link to a Ms. JD thread about the Federalist society to see why I try to steer clear of attaching too many labels to myself:
http://ms-jd.org/federalists-v-women#comment-44

Kate Jones

I found the link extremely interesting.  I find myself very ambivalent on the whole conservative/liberal thing.  In fact, sometimes I think that I'm going in both directions at the same moment.
I paid for health insurance for 25 years (age 25 to age 50) and never made a claim. In other words, I subsidized health care for other people for 25 years.
 Then I lost my health insurance when my insurance company withdrew from doing business in my state and abruptly cancelled all existing policies including mine.   Since I was past 50 with (by this point) some relatively minor preexisting medical problems, I was unable to find replacement health coverage.  So I've been uninsured for five years and I tend to postpone routine preventive care (mammograms, etc.) while hoping my luck won't run out because I've got two kids in private school and I'm always low on cash.  At the same time, I pay high  income taxes and a big chunk of my tax money is used to provide health care to poor people who can't afford health insurance.  
So the net effect of all this is, I'm paying for health care for other people, yet I don't have access to the same level of care that I provide for others.  I feel like the character in the Jessie Jackson speech, the hospital worker who makes the bed in the hospital every day for 30 years and then when she gets sick she can't lie down in the bed. 
I can't quite figure out if I should be supporting national health care (so I can finally get my share of the government goodies) or demanding a tax reduction and deregulation of the health care industry (so I can afford health care and/or qualify for health insurance).  
In the long run, once my youngest is out of college and I don't need the high income, I think I'll quit private practice and take a part time job somewhere with a low salary and fabulous benefits (I have a couple friends in government who've told me they'll find me a spot if I want a job with health insurance).   Of course, if I get cancer in the meantime ... you'll see me at the local charity hospital.    Sigh.  

jessie

I just wanted to share this post which successfully demonstrates the diversity of definitions and identities associated with feminism.  It's an awesome collection…

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