Where are all the feminist lawyers? Discuss. Kat Watson’s essay on the topic was posted on The F Word last week. I was alerted to it by a critical blog post in response written by another female lawyer type who had been irked by it (that post has now been removed hence no link). It irks me too, but not for entirely the same reasons.
The post ponders the question of the alleged absence of feminist lawyers, and prescribes the creation of a “coordinated, active group of feminist lawyers or law students” as a cure for this apparent malaise.
The post refers to the “ever-impending prospect of starting a career at the bar without knowing who to look to as a feminist leader in the field”. You want role models? For goodness sake, didn’t she even do a cursory google search before paying her BVC fees? Can it be possible that someone can gain entry to the profession without being able to use Wikipedia?
Try these (a sample only):
Helena Kennedy QC (Amongst many other things, Author of [amazon_link id=”0099224410″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Eve Was Framed,[/amazon_link] President of The Helena Kennedy Foundation)
Baroness Hale (First woman in the Supreme Court, [amazon_link id=”1849460531″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]supporter of the Feminist Judgments Project[/amazon_link])
Theis J DBE (Mother, Barrister, QC, Former Chair FLBA, High Court Judge)
So, in answer to your question “Where are all the feminist lawyers?”:
We are out there working, achieving, juggling, surviving. In amongst it all some of us campaign for justice in small ways, some in big ways, others just get on with doing a job that would not have been possible for their mothers, and doing it well. Many work quietly to improve diversity at the bar, by mentoring, guiding and supporting young women and young men of talent. They put in extra time to give them a helping hand and to keep an eye out for them. Most challenge discrimination and backwards attitudes when they encounter it. Very occasionally, some of us write about feminist issues.
The law, particularly the bar, is not an easy environment for a woman, or at any rate for a woman with children. There have been many improvements, and although it remains only in isolated pockets, I speak from experience when I say that direct sexism still exists at the bar. But I’ve learnt that feminism is about more than challenging minor acts of chauvinism (women committee members being habitually referred to as “girls” for example). Every time a woman returns from maternity leave, successfully juggles caring and professional responsibilities and achieves in her career it is an achievement that feminists should be proud of. It is to the credit of the individual women (and their supportive others), and to some extent to those within the profession who have pushed change through, that this is possible. Just doing my job day in day out, quite apart from the fact that many of my clients are vulnerable women, is a feminist act. I do being a feminist every day. I don’t particularly feel the need to be a member of any club to prove my feminist credentials – I am a member of the bar.
But that aside, I have to take issue with the proposition that there is “no coordinated, active group of feminist lawyers or law students”. Apart from the Association of Women Barristers obviously. Or the Association of Women Solicitors. Or organisations like the Haldane Society. Or the various Specialist Bar Associations with their Equalities / Diversity Officers and subcommittees.
Maybe we could do with a whizzy new organisation, but based on the examples of “feminist” issues set out in Ms Watson’s post I gather its focus would be on law reform not on legal practice per se. Those matters it seems to me are primarily matters for politicians and for political, representative and lobbying groups to deal with, although professional bodies and specialist bar associations etc often contribute to public debate and consultations about such matters that affect their members or their client groups or that raise points of general public interest (eg FLBA or Sound Off For Justice).
Why is there not more? Because we’re busy people who prioritise our clients. Because we represent those clients, fearlessly, independently of our personal views or convictions – be they female victims of violence, or male perpetrators. When we campaign we campaign for justice. When we gather it is to defend it.
I don’t have F branded on my forehead like some feminist Rimmer. Instead I wear a wig*.
So, to Kat Watson: You may think we’re invisible. But you’re not looking hard enough. You are emphatically NOT the first / only feminist lawyer.
Prescription: more experience. Advice: learn from observation not keyword searches.
* in point of fact I rarely wear a wig as I practice in family law, but I do wear the “dark suit” uniform. I don’t understand the offence taken at the wig – it isn’t gender specific. In fact it renders uniform all members of the bar, be they male or female and thus is a neutralising device rather than a sign of male domination.