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In the Shadows of RBG

"I said on the equality side of it, that it is essential to a woman's equality with man that she be the decision-maker, that her choice be controlling." -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The world was recently rocked with the news of the passing of the legendary, iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RBG was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. Ginsburg spent her legal career advocating for gender equality and women's rights. She has been a strong and positive influence for women everywhere. Ginsburg has spearheaded the advancement of women's rights.

With all of the advancements and improvements in the world, however, being a female in the courtroom still sometimes feel off-putting. I can recall being in law school and being told countless stories of female attorneys being kicked out of the courtroom because they failed to wear a skirt suit or a dress, despite being appropriately dressed in courtroom attire. I remember thinking that all of those accounts couldn't be accurate, not in today's world. Sadly, I now know they may be.

I can even recall an incident in law school where a classmate of mine chastised our black, female law professor for allowing another classmate to use a colloquialism in class. His exact words were "I don't appreciate the use of colloquialisms in class and no other professor would allow it either." Meanwhile, several of our other male professors would not only use colloquialisms in class but would frequently use profanity as well. This behavior went praised and laughed at.

Women have historically been treated unfairly in many aspects in human life and the courtroom has been no different. While things have improved tremendously, the imbalance between men and women has not been completely eradicated. Recently, I was in court on a custody case in which my client was the Plaintiff. Despite us bringing this case, the Judge looked to the male attorney on the other side to give the history of the case. Frequently throughout the hearing, he would only address the male attorney or look at him for approval to support any assertions made by me. And although the behaviors are so passive and covert that they aren't egregious enough to voice complaint, they are overt enough to sting. Still, despite a perceived favor to the other side, the opposing counsel understood the odds stacked against his client. Instead of fighting a losing battle, the defense urged settlement talks and I was able to procure a favorable outcome for my client.

However, even in the face of challenges and adversity, it is our job as attorneys to fully represent our clients. Which calls for us to be firm and make our voices heard even if it makes us look "aggressive" or "overly assertive." Even though doing so can make us appear as a "bitch" or many times in my case "the angry/hostile black woman." Unfortunately, that's a sad reality of doing your job well. I can't pretend to intimately know the struggles of men, but it's hard to imagine they experience much of the same. In almost every aspect of life: sports, finance, journalism, in the court room, etc., being aggressive is deemed a rewarding quality.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a trailblazer for women's rights. Despite all of her efforts, we still have a long way to go. I look forward to a time where women and men are truly treated equally in the courtroom and everywhere else. A time where women can express themselves and stand firm in their positions without negative connotations. Legal utopia.

Denethris Barnes

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