My first year of law school, back in 2008, our lunchtime TA session got cancelled at the last minute, so a couple feminist friends and I went to a lecture on feminism. We didn’t know it, but it was being offered by the Federalist Society, which, it turns out, is a bunch of backwards thinking law students, or at least, it was at my school at the time.
The speaker was introduced with a rattling off of her credentials, talking about how she was an economist during the Reagan administration and I realized what we were in for and what a terrible mistake we had made. So then the speaker started. And she started talking about Gloria Steinem, who was coming to campus the next week, and why everything Gloria Steinem does is wrong, and totally unnecessary, since feminism is over. (Which is fighting words.)
I hate it when people point to the pay gap and say, “see, we’re done!” They say, “You ladies are going to be lawyers! We’re done!” They say, “feminism has destroyed the world as we knew it, but women are equal now so ya’ll can go on home. You fought the good fight.” Which the speaker began by referencing Mrs. Hilary Clinton and everything she had accomplished. Mrs. Clinton was a lawyer, you see. And a Mom. And a wife. So didn’t we all see, we were done. Feminism was done. At this point, I passed my friend a note, which read, “it’s Senator Clinton, b*tch.”
The conversation devolved quickly, with a discussion why women don’t go into math and science. You see, it’s because women don’t want to. They might be good at math, but they like English better. Men, since they will have to support families, go into smart fields. At which point, I asked, “Do you think it’s because women don’t get pushed into fields like science and business because they aren’t being told they will have to support a family?” “Oh no, it’s because they choose fields like the Humanities.”
My favorite was the guy who raised his hand and said, “once I’m done with law school, I’m letting my wife go back to school. Of course, we have a kid, so she’s going to do something like education, so she has flexible hours.” “letting” and “of course” were the parts of this statement that nearly made me seal the room and light it on fire.
I don’t understand how somebody can stand in front of a room, and tell women law students, who deal with a harrowing amount of sexism, that feminism is done. The pay gap I see between my male friends, who aggressively used their networks and connections and went after every opportunity that they could, and my female friends, who hung back and were more timid in their job searches, thinking, “nobody will want me” instead of “they would be lucky to have me”, is pretty high. Lawyering is still a boys club a lot of the time. In my trial advocacy class, the professor, a judge, talked a lot about wearing skirt suits and high heels to look more professional. A guest lecturer added that when she argues in front of a judge who likes women in red skirt suits, dammit, she puts on her red suit.
I know plenty of women lawyers who worry about how to balance family and career. I know a lot who would like to opt-out when they have children. I know a lot that would be happy to work part-time jobs. But I also know a lot who are fiercely driven, and incredibly smart. I know, looking at these women, that women still face inequalities, based largely on “choosing to have families.” As the speaker said, when women choose to have families, they should find a way to make it work and still be able to make delicious pancake breakfasts for their kids. Women should also stop griping about how much choosing to have a family will cost us.
But choosing to have a family doesn’t cost men. It simply doesn’t. Particularly men who have wives. On the campaign trail, my candidate was running on a slate with a guy. They both had young kids (under 8 years old). He had a wife. She had a high-powered, hardworking husband. She had to negotiate childcare. He didn’t. Having a family helped him, and it didn’t cost him. Men in law school have a really easy time having kids. Women in law school who have children stop sleeping and sacrifice a lot of things like potential work experience and the development of a professional network. Men who have children are often seen as an asset to the company, whereas women with children are seen as a detriment. Women risk not being hired because they are of childbearing age and men do not face this risk in the market.
A week later, when Gloria Steinem came to campus, I got up and asked her, “there are a lot of people out there arguing that feminism is done. What do we say to that?” Her response? “Look around you. We have a lot of work left.”