March 13, 2005
Female Blawgers, Lawyers, & Law Students: Critical Thinkers or Hysterical Harpies?
Posted by Christine Hurt

I woke up to find Maureen Dowd's NYT op-ed in my email box, and she writes on how critical female opinion writers are seen as castrating while their male counterparts are seen as smart and tough.

If a man writes a scathing piece about men in power, it's seen as his job; a woman can be cast as an emasculating man-hater. I'm often asked how I can be so "mean" - a question that Tom Friedman, who writes plenty of tough columns, doesn't get.

Ms. Dowd herself analogizes to the world of blogging (which includes blawging), in which the outnumbering of men to women may be a result of women not wanting to be seen in that light (or of readers seeing women bloggers in that light).  However, I have seen this dynamic in several arenas:  law school classrooms, law practice, and to a lesser extent, in the blawgosphere.  But, the dynamic is two-fold or more:  women are on the one hand expectated to be less aggressive and so discounted on the front end, and women who are assertive are criticized on the back end.

In my law school, the urban legend of the day was that Charles Alan Wright would not call on women in class. 

When women began being enrolled at Texas, so the story goes, Prof. Wright continued to call on men, but not women.  The story went that he felt that the Socratic method was too aggressive to use on women.  The administration told him to call on everyone or call on no one.  Whether the story is true or not, by 1992, he did not call on anyone.  He would ask questions in the air and wait until someone volunteered.  This wait could be unendurably long!  This anecdote is not an isolated instance of someone viewing the Socratic method through a gendered lens.  With the push to humanize legal education, many have written that the Socratic method should be abolished because women law students either do not enjoy it or do not excel in it or are not hard-wired for it.  Why?  Who knows.  Women don't grow up wrestling with our friends or trash talking during basketball games.  This complaint is hard for me to grasp because I loved being called on in class.  I can remember almost every day during first year that I was grilled. 

In practice, I also noticed that women associates were expected to act much differently than our male counterparts.  Male counterparts could ignore the staff for days on end, and no one would notice.  Female associates could not even speak sternly to secretaries or legal assistants without getting a pretty bad label.  One night I could not get any assistance with my 9:00 p.m. FedEx deadline because three secretaries were ordering dinner for half an hour.  I opened my door and said loudly and firmly, "Could someone come in here and give me some help?"  This was known as "the night Christine lost it" by the staff for years to come.  A more senior female associate was also in no way different from her male counterpart, but after sending out an assignment to her legal assistant via email, the legal assistant forwarded the email (and unfortunately replied at the same time to the associate) with the phrase "How do you spell bitch?" -- then spelled the associate's name.   I'm sure female litigators out there have stories after stories on being a woman in a world of hard stances and trash talking.

Even in law teaching, studies of teaching evaluations have discovered that the same qualities in male and female professors will be perceived differently.

In the blawgosphere, one thing that I have noticed is that a lot of disagreement goes on among fellow blawgers.  I was initially uncomfortable with this and would get nervous, "Oh, no -- X just criticized Y's post!  What is Y going to do?"  Then I realized that life would go on, and next week Y might agree with X.  This is the way of intellectual discourse, but I don't think it comports with the way that women build relationships.

So, do we change law school and legal practice and the blawgosphere to conform to the way that women are raised to be sweet and build consensus?  No.  I think we should teach our girls to speak up without fear.  To raise their hands and volunteer, even though they may be completely wrong.  To disagree with each other without fear of losing respect or friendship.  To not fear having others disagree with them.  I have noticed that although there are few female law professor blawgs, there are plenty of female law student blawgs.  I think the tide is turning.

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