Erica Rancilio

Refusing to Play By the Rules

To me, being a woman in the legal profession is an experience in perspective and solidarity.

In general, being a woman in the legal profession means every day I must move forward. I must politely demand the appropriate balance of professionalism and familiarity in my working relationships. I must ensure that mentoring does not give way to paternalism. It means that I am enraged that some firms continue with the antiquated skirt requirement. And when my professor called me "honey" in front of participants at a law conference, it means I had to determine the most respectful and effective way confront him about the inappropriate behavior. Being a woman in the legal profession requires a certain blend of vigilance, creativity, mental and emotional energy, anger management (or just anger), and persuasiveness.

Additionally, being a woman also requires me to look back as I enter and attempt to maneuver the legal profession.

Driving home from my summer job today, I listened to a white male radio host blasting war protestors as ungrateful of the liberty that war necessarily protects. And my immediate thought, cynical though it was, was how groups experience liberty differently in the U.S. Given the incidence of mental illness and poverty in transgender America, I wondered what the War on Terror means to those who have no legal or political identity, no real representation in the government, no job, and no real homeland to secure. While many middle to upper-class women are moving towards full citizenship in the United States, there are many people who are still socially disenfranchised, devalued, and legally marginalized.

To me, equality for women in the legal profession is even more than demanding the appropriate level of professionalism from my peers, or shattering the glass ceiling. Real equality means that I must reject the system that kept women out of the legal profession in the first place. I refuse to gain entry in the legal profession by turning my back on, and in turn devaluing, those communities and identities still striving for equal citizenship. If I were to accept the 'us/them' dichotomy and separate myself from the disenfranchised, this would essentially validate prejudices and attitudes that kept women out of Bar Associations and top corporate offices for so long. In addition, playing by old rules undermines true acceptance of women in the legal profession and places our emergence on par with a settlement offer. It says "we don't really buy it that you belong here, but we'll tolerate you." Instead, the legal profession must accept that women may refuse to play by men's rules to get ahead, and instead wish to find our own way. This is an especially important concern, given the fact that our personal and political identity is still intimately intertwined with many disenfranchised groups. As I enter the legal profession, I know that I cannot further equality for women by running as fast as I can away from the messy world of discrimination and prejudice to the comfortable confines of a 70-hour work week. Instead, real equality will come when I take action to look back and demand the ability to take others with me on my climb to the top.

As if training male counterparts to remove the word "honey" from their vocabulary weren't difficult enough on its own...

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