Dear Editor of the New York State Bar Assocation Journal,
Comment on: More War Stories From the New York Courts
by Harold Lee Schwab - current issue
Let me begin by qualifying myself as one who may speak to the problem of ongoing sexist culture in our profession as represented in our own published media. I have been a member of the legal profession since 1989 in Arizona and 1990 in New York states. I have also been a fiery criminal litigator all of these years alongside 8 years as a judge pro tempore during the 90s in several local courts. My Ph.D is in cultural anthropology with an emphasis on gender studies and legal anthropology in conflict resolution. My LL.M. is in Intellectual Property/Copyrights-Trademarks from Cardozo. For these many decades I have subscribed to and read the bar magazines of those communities as well as various others, including the American Bar Association.
Even back in the eighties during my early years as a law student and lawyer, I have been surprised to find the imagery, male suits and other tropes employed to represent and embody this profession in all bar magazines to be filled with antiquated* male supremacy and not representative of women in law. I was consistently shocked each time I received and flipped through the periodicals' imagery and kept thinking it will catch up with reality very soon. Sadly, it hasn't at all. I am finally commenting after many such urges over the decades and present the recent issue of the NYSBA as a classic example of backwardness in the year 2015. I received it today, with the bullocks**-like macho all male Vikings fighting each other as just another example of the endless representation of this profession being about aggressive tough males or men in suits or men playing "hardball" (a very popular trope in bar magazines) battling away as the smarter or stronger half of the profession with occasional images of women as female sidekicks or pathetic clients or do-gooder non-profit litigators on behalf of equally disempowered downtrodden plaintiffs. I'm not saying there aren't images of Ginsburg or O'Connor or Judith Kaye when they are in the news (even then women are underrepresented in the factual reporting, too-- just look at your current Viking war stories text for proof of that), but the fictional and advertised images are hugely imbalanced. The default two hands shaking will always be male hands with shirts and suit sleeves, for example. At a minimum in the current issue, you could have included at least one Xena or Valkyrie or something representing a female warrior (which actually did historically exist!) even if in the stupidly sexist way they are often represented. But woman in the profession couldn't even get that little nod in this issue whether about reality or imagination! This ongoing syndrome is highly revealing about the enduring reification of male supremacy in our legal culture. It doesn't help would-be clients feel secure in calling a female rather than a male lawyer or litigator to represent them. The reality is that at least half of this profession is composed of strong brilliant women as counselors and as litigators. The female litigators populating government attorney offices or the court contract criminal defense bar are awesome tigers on behalf of their clients. But your media imagery keeps clientele from picking a woman out of a yellow pages listing when they are seeking private counsel as they plunk down up to $100k for a male advertised litigator and pass over more competent women in private practice. Our bar associations should protect and guard us from that male-favored promotion of harmful and outdated presentations.
And, a second side point should be noted here; many of both genders in the profession should no longer be exalted as macho "warriors" but, rather, mediators and peacemakers should be praised above warriors in this conflict-ridden and anxious world.
Let's do two three things going forward: 1. acknowledge the reality of women's presence, power, and successes in this profession; 2. use imagery not only to honor that but also to seed the future with less exclusion and sexism; and 3) heap more praise on peacemakers than gladiators (for the benefit of our clients, the profession's image, and the world at large). If you start paying attention to the bar magazines in this light you, too, will start being sensitive to how they continue to be offensive and backwards in representing genderized and aggressive power in law practice. It's high time for a better-late-than-never change in 2015.
I realize that I haven't followed the template for getting my letter published as it is too long, however, I want to make this point to you. If you want to publish it, I welcome your edit.
Arizona and New York
* See 1980s work by Erving Goffman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erving_Goffman and Gender Advertising
** Bullock (in North America), a young bull (an uncastrated male bovine animal)
Law Office of Williamson & Young, PC
Kathleen G. Williamson, J.D., LL.M., Ph.D.
PO Box 249, Tucson, AZ 85702
(520) 623-8414 Tucson, AZ
(212) 537-6684 New York City
(928)-852-0064 Central and Northern Arizona