Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE LEGAL WORLD : A (Wo)Man's World


One day I want to become a lawyer. Be able to defend people; possibly own my own legal firm, and ultimately end up as a judge. Thanks to the women who fought so hard to give me my rights, I’m able to contemplate what I want to be later on in life. But, even though I’m pretty sure about my future in the legal world, I know it won’t come without a cost.
I’m used to being treated as an equal by my peers, family, and professors. I can’t really say that I’ve experienced discrimination based on my gender. So I’m a bit worried that when I become a lawyer I won’t know how to handle myself in a “man’s” world. Let’s face it, women make up only a fraction of the legal profession. Women comprise 29.1% of all lawyers according to the American Bar Association Research team. That means that less than 20% of these women are named partners within their law firms, and only 11.1% actually make it as judges (U.S. Supreme Court included). The odds of me becoming a judge are a bit slim, statistics-wise, but not impossible.

And so, I actually want to talk about why it’s important for women to have a voice within the legal world to make this possible. The few women who are already lawyers, judges, paralegals are placed second to their male counterparts, simply because of gender. Women are criticized on their education, their clothes, their ability to simultaneously be a mother and a partner. What’s worse is that even though the law supports women when it comes to motherhood and other circumstances, the perspective of their male coworkers often times devalue the nature of the regulation. Take for instance the FLMA (Family & Medical Leave Act). It clearly allows for women to take time off one they are pregnant, in labor, and after their pregnancy. In fact, it is mandatory for each work place to have this (it can also be for men who need to take care of their families). But, even with this law, women are discriminated. They are seen as weak and undervalued.
And because of their underrepresentation, there really is no avenue for them to change the perception men have about them. Women need to realize that they have just as much power as their male counterparts, and the sooner they take a stand within their legal professions, the sooner they will have respect. Women have to stand tall. If former women who had no rights to fall back on were able to FIGHT for their rights and defy all stereotypes, what’s stopping us? We have the rights, we have leverage! We’re in the legal profession for a reason. If men try to bring us down by stereotypes, then we can easily pick ourselves up using logic and the law. Women are lawyers, paralegals, judges…they should act like it. I know that retaliation, being ostracized, discrimination can hurt and can make for a horrible environment to work in. Still, it’s not enough anymore to be the one who understands men, who goes out of her way to make things more peaceful in the work environment. Doing that doesn’t solve anything.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that women shouldn’t walk around with a burden on their shoulders and shouldn’t take anything from any male coworker (of course only when she’s disrespected). She obtained a position for a reason, and she should remind herself of that reason every time she feels as a minority.

The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
 Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer! 

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