On Sunday November 3rd, I attended an event on campus put on by the Women’s Law Association. The event consisted of a screening of a documentary called “Miss Representation” as well as a panel discussion and Q&A with some notable Loyola alumni. The trailer for this film can be found here.
The film was written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and delves into how the portrayal of women in the media leads to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power. I didn’t agree with every point the movie made and thought that some aspects were overly generalized, but I did jot down a few points that stuck out to me:
- Women with high self-objectification have lower self-efficacy.
- 67 countries have had female presidents or prime ministers. (The United States is not one of those).
- 65% of teenage girls and women have an eating disorder.
- The rates of depression have doubled in women between 2000 and 2010.
While it might be easy to place the blame solely on the media for these stats, it is likely there are other confounding variables at play.
One aspect of the film that did hit home for me, though, is that women tend to be highly critical of each other, and I think that can be seen throughout aspects of the legal profession, and is something that I think a lot of us can keep in mind.
After the film, we had a short panel discussion with some Loyola alumni (who all have stellar resumes). Professor Elizabeth Pollman led the panel discussion, and we heard from:
- Tracey Freed, Senior Counsel at Sony Pictures & LLS Adjunct Professor
- Cassie Palmer, Kendall Brill & Klieger, LLP
- Cindy Panuco, Hadsell, Stormer, Richardson & Renick, LLP
- Laura Blau Michel, The Rubicon Project
It was particularly interesting to me to hear these women share their experience and perceptions on gender in the workplace, although it was slightly disheartening to hear that they all thought the themes from the film were alive and well in the legal field today.
Tracey Freed shared that other women or female colleagues have insinuated that she has only gotten to where she is because she is good-looking, and more than one panelist said that upon walking into a courtroom they’ve been asked if they are the court reporter. Cassie Palmer told a story about when she was clerking for a judge, the media always included the fact that the judge was a woman in headlines about her decision declaring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional. Cassie also mentioned that the prominent legal periodical The Daily Journal’s profiles of female judges focus more on their personalities, hobbies, or family lives than their accomplishments as judges.
While these facts were disheartening, I know that advancements are being made. The firm I worked for last summer had a women’s initiative – a program designed to focus on needs specific to women working at large law firm. Firms are also becoming increasingly receptive and liberal with their maternity and paternity leave policies, as well as allowing reduced work-loads and flexible schedules. (One woman at the firm I worked for came in at 6 so she could leave by 3, while her husband worked a more traditional schedule, allowing for maximized parent/child time).
One student in the audience asked the panelists whether they also noticed the gender disparity in law school. While Laura Michel said she did not, Tracey Freed said she noticed that her male classmates came off as more confident and were assertive in class, while she was less likely to speak up and less sure of herself. I have noticed this somewhat during law school. Often, women will couch their statements, sound hesitant, or back down – and that is something that can translate into negative results in job interviews and beyond. Sometimes learning to be assertive (and NOT speaking in any sort of valley girl/vocal fry/uptalk voice) is a challenge, but a necessary one.
I am lucky in that I have never really felt like a minority due to my gender, but I did notice while working for a big firm this summer that I was viewed differently, at least by a couple of my fellow summer associates. One, a male, once asked me if I was worried about how I might eventually balance being a lawyer with being a woman (i.e. wanting to have a family and raise children). While I was aghast at this individual’s lack of tact, I explained that it’s possible to do more than one thing well, and priorities shift over time. But more than anything, this was a lesson to me that things may not be as equal in the legal field as they always seem.
I appreciated this event because it made me think about pretty important things I might not otherwise think about.