It is cliché to say that women are the weaker sex. It was not too long ago when the things women were allowed to do were very limited. They were not allowed to wear skimpy clothing. They couldn’t even go to school. If they did, they only had limited subjects to study. Women were passive. They were fine about not being prioritized by the law. Then again, this did not last long. There were strong and courageous women who fought for their rights. The women of today are reaping all the benefits, especially when they were finally included in the law.
This year, a number of non-residents enrolling in law school are increasing. More foreigners are taking up law. Compared to the part years, more minorities are venturing on the field of law. Some of these ethnic minorities are women. Women, who are also members of the ethnic minority, studying law, are something that is unfamiliar to most of us. It just goes to show that women are getting braver as years pass.
It is then important to study women in law in comparison to the different ethnicities and minorities. First, we should look at how women are doing in the industry of law. This will include women as a group of people taken care and prioritized by the law, and women as a member of a group that creates the laws for commoners to follow. In short, women practicing law and women being governed by the law are the two sides of the coin that should be scrutinized.
The Law’s Representation and Treatment of Women
In the past years, law paid attention to women. The constitution and basic human rights show it all; however, this attention given to women by the law is very scant. All considerations and explorations, when dealing with rights and when creating a new law, are all centered to the male species. Humanity is explored to be able to come up with a sound law. Then again, this exploration is confined to the exploration of men. The women almost have no place in the law (Tilly and Gurin 1990, p. 485).
There was an era of the feminine mystique. During this time, women are passive and submissive. This was also an era of general conservatism. This is partly because of the American society’s pervasive permeation, in which all people engaged in psychoanalytic thinking. Consequently, the people made use of the law and of social science as well, as a social control. People failed to see that the law should also be a means of social inquiry (Tilly and Gurin 1990, p. 485).
The law, during this time, only described the role of the women in society. It described where they stood, where exactly in the society should they be found. No one had the initiative to analyze the role of women in society. Their capacity to think and do things was generally underestimated, which is exactly the reason why the attention paid to them was very scant (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
What the law should have been capable of doing during those early times was to explain why women grew to be that way. There should have been researches and studies conducted to be able to come up with a more substantial and sensible constitution, where women would have been given the voice they rightfully deserve. Such act was not expected, because this occurred during the time when the only voices of the nation were the males. Everyone was busy about other social problems and issues, and complacency about gender issues got the better of most of the people in a given community (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
Women, as represented by law, were just members of a group who were different from men. The difference came only in discussions of biology and physical structure. Physiology was highly important in defining the conditions of women, but this did not last long. After some time, interpretations became brand new. Not everyone kept on believing what was already written. Pieces of information established began to be cracked open. Psychological passivity is no longer a trend, and people started to ask why (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 206).
All old data were studied again, and this time, with newer tools, and of course, newer interpretations. More considerations in studying the old data were added. Other areas of gender and sexuality were being explored. Studies by social scientists helped women define themselves. They were able to explain why they were not experiencing their freedom for the past years. Women now know that they were passive and submissive because they were trained to be passive and submissive (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 207).
The law and society both have a big influence on the general make-up of a woman. Society, since day one, has offered the woman alternatives. She was capable of choosing things for herself, and society has given her all the options she can choose from. The problem came in when the law, especially when it matched the power of society, controlled not the woman’s options, but her motivation to select from the choices given to her (Tilly and Gurin 1990, p. 485).
Motivation of Women Controlled by the Law
How, then, was motivation controlled? The law developed women through social science. It has controlled the women to automatically know that they have roles to fill. Women are trained to act as models. Why is this so? There is an accepted image of a woman, which every woman should emanate. All members of a society are governed by expectations. Something is always expected from them. An image is always expected from them. An act, a response, a reaction, a deed, an expression or the lack of it all, are all expected from them (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 209).
Because of this, women in law are seen as light, soft, weak and small. They are slow, passive, rounded, cold, relaxed, peaceful and dull. They are domestic. They are expected to wait for their husbands from work. As they wait, they are expected to cook meals for their partners. They are expected to wash the dishes and do the laundry. They should keep the house clean, take care of the children, and watch after the pets.
Because of how the law defines a woman, the woman has grown accustomed to the image asked of her. The woman is the patient one. She is grateful, kind, nice, moral, affectionate and loving. She is at the same time silly, sorry, careless and clumsy. The law has generalized women and failed to recognize individual differences (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 209).
It is not surprising that there were no women lawyers during the old times. Women are expected to stay at home. They could not think of a simple law to add to the constitution. Today, all these are now being erased, as more women are already taking law, and there are women who take positions in public offices to create laws. It should not be forgotten, though, that they still experience restrictions. Women in law are still governed by laws, whether these are written or not, because society said so (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
There is huge evidence for gender bias not only in developing countries but also in the United States, where one would expect that the law profession had already reached its maturity. The Employment Law Center together with The Women in Law Committee conducted a survey with some stunning results. According to 85% of the respondents, who are made up of women lawyers, they perceive gender bias in the legal profession. Two out of three say that their male colleagues don’t accept them as equals (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 207).
Interestingly, a number of women lawyers in the workplace seem to increase women’s perception of fairness. It’s not only the number of females in the workplace that contributes to this perception of inequality, however. Some of those surveyed claimed that the gender bias is caused by the belief in the workplace that woman lawyers are not part of the network of “old boys.” There are also cases where male lawyers unfairly try to make their points by physically threatening their female colleagues (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 209).
It’s even more difficult in the United States to be a female lawyer and a member of a minority group at the same time. In this case, the person may be subject to a double bias in the legal profession. Women lawyers belonging to a minority group perceive both gender bias and ethnic bias in the workplace. According to them, the rules of professional conduct should be changed to prevent the racial and gender-biased behavior by their colleagues.
The law profession itself may be in danger of retracting from its upward development as the discontent of female lawyers start to climb. Findings of the survey indicate that while more than seventy percent of the respondents still wanted to stay as lawyers, about twenty-four percent said they would choose to be in another career. Also, more than sixty percent of those surveyed believe that they don’t have as much opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts. It’s probably wise for the legal profession to accept more women because according to the survey, more than half of the female respondents preferred to work with other females.
The legal profession and the courtroom itself seem to be teeming with gender bias based on the beliefs of women lawyers. More than seventy percent of the respondents feel negative bias coming from the opposing counsel and sixty percent say bias is also produced by clients. Almost fifty percent of the female respondents felt that their superiors have a gender bias, while about forty percent claim that bias is also present among their peers. Note that women lawyers are more likely to feel negative bias from the opposing counsel than from their peers. The most direct effect of gender bias in the legal profession is indicated by the fact that more than thirty percent of the respondents made career changes because of their perceived negative bias. Moreover, thirty-seven of the respondents did not make any changes in their careers because they believed that the situation would be the same if not worse in other careers. It’s clear here that pessimism is the only thing that binds some women in the legal profession. Had these women felt that other careers are less biased against women, they probably would have chosen other fields (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
Women lawyers deeply feel the gender bias in the legal profession. Results of the survey indicate that almost ninety percent of the respondents felt that there is a pervasive but subtle gender bias in the profession. In addition, almost forty percent believed that they would never be equal with their male colleagues (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
The gender bias in law forms a kind of “glass ceiling” which prevents women from advancing to other areas of the profession. While fifty-three percent of those surveyed believed that half of the women in the workplace received partnerships and promotions, sixty-four percent believed that male lawyers still received more partnerships and promotions. Gender bias is not the only challenge for women in the legal profession. Respondents say that they have negative feelings about having little time for their families, working too many hours, and difficulty in balancing their personal and professional lives. Despite these challenges, however, women are still very competitive in law. More than eighty percent of the respondents claim that they are satisfied with their jobs because of the challenges in the legal profession. They also enjoy the setting and the unique opportunity to meet other people.
In 1992, the Ninth Circuit Gender Bias Task Force released some important findings on the issue of gender in the legal profession. They concluded that gender is still a relevant issue in law. The appointment process, conducts of lawyers in the courtroom, outside and other areas of the legal profession all have cases of gender bias. The report also claimed that males and females have different views on the prevalence and definition of gender bias in law (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
Like in other professions in the modern world, women are also subject to sexual harassment in the legal profession. The survey reveals some stunning statistics on the existence of sexual harassment in law. Nearly half of those surveyed claimed that they experienced sexual harassment at the workplace. This is disappointing considering that only thirteen percent of respondents reported that they felt sexual harassment decreasing over the past five years.
It is always difficult to pin down the meaning of sexual harassment because of the number of behaviors that can be interpreted as sexual violations of women. The Judicial Council Advisory Committee released a report on gender bias in the courts in the 1990 in order to identify some behaviors that constitute sexual harassment in the legal profession. According to the report, acts and words that focus on the physical appearance or sexual attributes of women who participate in courtroom proceedings are considered cases of sexual harassment. The report identified other cases of sexual harassment in the legal profession such as the use of gender issues as a tactic during courtroom trials. Expressions that women are inferior or that they should not be lawyers are also considered to be violations of the law prohibiting sexual harassment. Furthermore, sexual harassment need not be done directly in order for it to be violative of the law prohibiting sexual harassment. The report recognizes the participation and encouragement of gender bias by judicial officers as constitutive of sexual harassment (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
Based on all of the statistics regarding the situation of women in the legal profession, it is clear that all sectors of society should work harder to promote gender equality in law. The legal profession should be more concerned with gender equality since it promotes justice in its field. If the legal profession itself crumbles down to the pressures of tradition and stereotypes, then what hope is there for other areas of society to achieve something higher in terms of gender justice? Law firms must consider and accept more women lawyers to be free of the gender bias that apparently exists and proliferates in the law profession today.
Governments also must strive harder to produce more laws that would guarantee women equal footing with men in the workplace. While it is true that gender discrimination cannot be eradicated by laws alone, it is important that sanctions be imposed on all citizens so they will be more aware of the rights of everyone for fair treatment. There should be stricter guidelines on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace so women will feel less pressure while doing their jobs. Laws must also be more specific on what constitutes sexual harassment so women will be more protected from sexual injustices (Aggarwal, University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Center 2002, p. 205).
Society will be improved once women’s status in the legal profession is elevated and developed more. It is time for the legal profession and society in general to recognize the huge contribution of women lawyers in promoting justice and equality. Also, more studies should be conducted on the perceptions of women regarding gender equality in law so that more immediate actions could be taken by the government and civil society. Once the legal profession is free of gender bias, then the government and other sectors of society could move forward on addressing the issue of gender bias elsewhere. Women are as talented and as hard-working as men in law, so they should be treated fairly and provided with equal opportunities for advancement.
Tilly, L and Gurin, P. (1990) Women, Politics and Change, Russel Sage Foundation, USA.
Aggarwal, N. and University of Delhi and Women’s Studies and Development Centre (2002)
Women in Law in India, New Century Publications, Michigan.