This is a post about “mansplaining” and misogyny in the courtroom. This is a post dedicated to all the women out there who come in and crush it in the courtroom. Oftentimes in heels or itchy pantyhose. Oftentimes after dropping their little ones off – that is, after they’ve fed/bathed/clothed them. This is a post for the women who can’t be aggressive without being called the “b” word, or who feel like they have to compensate for not being a man in a man-driven profession and go too hard in the paint, too adversarially. This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, because I see this type of thing going on and have been the butt of it myself.
Mansplaining is the patronizing way that men often speak to women. A recent article I read on Matador Network stated that research has “found evidence to suggest the issue is legitimate”, and that “some studies show that men dominate 75% of decision-making conversations”. Further, when women are talking they are more likely than men to be interrupted. I wonder if some men even know they’re doing it. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t notice it more in older men than younger men. That’s where I got the title of this blog post from: a colleague and I used to laugh about the way some older attorneys and judges treat female lawyers: “Hey sweetie, welcome to court. Is it bring your daughter to work day? Where’s your dad, you know, the attorney, at?” This joke came up when I was entering a courthouse, briefcase in hand, perfectly tailored suit on fleek, and an older male courthouse employee asked if I was a court reporter and when I replied no, asked if I was there to get a divorce from my husband and then pointed me to the clerk’s office.
I attended an amazing Continuing Legal Education seminar last week about professionalism and ethics. Most of the attendees were female. Towards the end of the day, a judge got up to speak about professionalism in the courtroom, and led a candid and compelling discussion on what he sees in a courtroom. He started off talking about how adversarial the practice of law has become, how he sees more and more attorneys unable or unwilling to work together with their opposing counsel. (Read my “Frog and Scorpion” blog post to hear my take on it). I thought about what he was saying and raised my hand. I asked him what his thoughts were regarding how women get treated in his courtroom. I asked him how would he advise a woman, young or more seasoned, to deal with “mansplaining” and the misogynistic way we often get treated by our male opposing counsels.
He then led a great discussion about how everyone needs to work together to change the way we practice law, and that we as attorneys must take the high road, even when dealing with a difficult opposing counsel. He also discussed situations where it may be appropriate to bring someone’s conduct before the judge.
But, he also said something more touching. I’ll paraphrase, but he discussed having daughters and a wife, and acknowledged that as a man practicing law, he’s never had to deal with being mistaken for the court reporter or someone from the clerk’s office. He said he’s heard it in the courtroom, but he’s never had to deal with being called “honey” or “sugar”. He said that when he does hear those type comments, he condemns them immediately. Just hearing his acknowledgement made me feel better about writing this post.
So, men’s conduct treating women like they’re second class has a name and women are increasingly calling men out on it. I recently let an opposing counsel know that he did not have to explain to me how to get a court date – that I was well aware of the procedure. I don’t usually feel the need to be snarky about it. Because, of course, if I were to be snarky about it, I’d get labeled as some crazy feminist psychopath. It’s an interesting fine line that women have to traverse. Men don’t. Men are applauded for beating their fists to their chest and being the loudest guy in the room, but women are shamed for it, mocked for it, ostracized because of it.
However, things can and will get better if we work together to accomplish it. No more shaming or name-calling other female professionals. Women demand an equal voice in every professional walk of life. At home, everyone should be given an equal voice at the dinner table and we women will not go gently into that good night because we’re done letting men dominate 75% of the decision making. Let’s even the playing field and take our additional 25% back!