Meghan Corman

My law school class is 60% female, but we still need a women’s student group.

I am fortunate to attend a law school where women are the majority. At Boalt Hall, approximately 60% of the students are women. Because of these numbers, I escaped many of the law school stereotypes, such as men speaking more often in class, or getting more face time with the professors. Perhaps these things do occur, however it is my perception that such gender stereotypes are not pervasive at Boalt Hall. In fact, some of my male classmates have complained that women are smarter, work harder, and get better grades, thus hurting their chances of performing well when graded on a curve.

A more common complaint about the female majority involves the Boalt Hall Women's Association (BHWA). As an active general member and former board member, I often hear, "Why does Boalt need a women's association?" Other comments involve BHWA members being lesbians or man-haters, or perceptions that the organization is frivolous and sorority-like. Such comments are a bit perplexing to me, as BHWA puts on numerous events throughout the year, such as lunches on important issues such as judicial clerkships, leadership forums for women in the legal profession, opportunities for students to interact with faculty, and other activist topics. These events are free for students and are often open to both women and men. Though I suspect some of this animosity comes from the fact that we have prime real estate (a large and comfortable lounge space with many resources, including couches, refrigerator, microwave, first aid needs, magazines, etc., located in an ideally central location), I wonder how much of the perceptions of BHWA stem from the Boalt community's resistance to acknowledge that there are still obstacles and difficulties unique to women when entering the legal profession.

Personally, I have experienced such difficulties both within Boalt and in outside placements. For example, during a moot court oral argument, I was given positive feedback for a strong performance, but warned as to how that strength might be perceived by some. During a different oral argument, I was told I was a powerful advocate, however I should "tone it down" or I might put off some judges. Though I realize such feedback is subjective, and different people will have different opinions, I began to develop a complex about my personal style, and couldn't help but wonder if my gender played any role in how my arguments were received. I am careful not to jump to that conclusion, however it cannot be denied that women are criticized for not being assertive enough, and yet judged more harshly if they do act assertively. As an outspoken woman who is a strong public speaker, I worry about being regarded as "aggressive" or "overly emotional," or any of the other adjectives with negative connotations that are so often used to describe powerful women.

In addition to these concerns, I have also experienced extremely inappropriate conduct from male attorneys. During one of my field placements, an older attorney would frequently stop by my desk and engage me in long, social conversations. He would make comments that made me uncomfortable, and would sometimes touch my shoulder or pick up my hand. I suspect that such interactions are not uncommon for young women entering legal careers. Such conduct is beyond inappropriate, and though we do have recourse, it places interns or young associates in a terrible position: the older attorney has far more power than you do, and to stop the inappropriate behavior, you have to risk damaging your reputation and your future relationships with co-workers.

It is for all of these reasons and more than Boalt needs a women's association, and why the profession needs associations such as Ms. JD. It is because women continue to be held to impossible standards of success. It is because women are still treated as sexual objects regardless of their intelligence, capabilities, or merits. It is because men still dominate top positions within the profession and earn more than women. It is because the profession continues to maintain relics of traditional ways of thinking of women, including the notion that women should wear skirt suits, or pantyhose, or a certain type of makeup. These issues do not go away, even when future lawyers attend a school that is predominantly female.

I am proud to be involved in an organization that recognizes these issues and actively works to improve the law school experience and redress problems in the profession. Through BHWA, women in law school have the support of their peers, share connections and resources, and engage in like-minded collaboration. I look forward to maintaining these relationships throughout my career, and using BHWA as a model for fostering such relationships in my workplaces. I believe in a strong network of strong women, and in using that strength to promote women's rights and equality. I look forward to the day when women become the majority not only at Boalt Hall, but at law schools and law firms nationwide.

Photo by eugenio gp, reprinted here under a Creative Commons license.

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