The patriarchy of the legal profession

The very first thing I remember hearing when I began to tell people that I wanted to become a lawyer was that “law is not the place for girls.”

With a short string of words, the entire purpose of my existence had been laid out before me: choose a less demanding career, take care of my future family, and continue to remain one step behind the males in my life. It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked at hearing this. I was devastated to hear that despite the great lengths that women have come in the past century, there continue to be certain predispositions about which careers are “suitable” for women.

Nonetheless, with time, I started to understand the justification behind the remarks. When my parents tell me to go avoid law and go into medicine, I can’t even blame them. When young women such as myself consider law, a haunting voice remains in the back of our heads wondering if we want to face the degrading sexism of the profession.

In the workplace, female lawyers can be paid up to 38.6 per cent lower for the same job and position as a male. They are viewed as “unstable” and “unreliable”, and are therefore deterred from the more esteemed positions that men tend to fill. Not only that, but being a woman of colour puts me at a further disadvantage as the pay gap is even higher. The absurdity of these judgements never cease to shock me; rather than acknowledging the time and experience of these women, they are discredited and deemed as less worthy than their fellow male co-workers. This is not to attack the men in these fields, as they, too, have poured their hearts and souls into acquiring their positions .

Even if I manage to fight the Everest of judgements that are thrown at me and become a lawyer, the patriarchy of the field will serve as an obstacle to reaching higher-paying positions. Rather than being driven to become a partner at a firm or even open up my own, my ability to handle my career and my family will undoubtedly be questioned. I will be told to consider taking on smaller cases, or to choose an easier field of law. Without a glance at my accolades or qualifications, the first quality to be noted will be that I am a female, that I am apparently incapable of bringing stability to a firm, and that I am therefore less qualified than a man in the same position.

These judgements continue to exist, but that does not mean they cannot be changed. Change does not come easily and it will take years before there is true equality in fields such as law, engineering, and mathematics, but this does not mean it is impossible. The lengths that both men and women have come in the past century are direct results of fighting for equality and viewing such gender gaps as opportunities for growth rather than dead-ends. It starts with something as simple as disproving the fallacious claims suggesting an individual’s worth is determined by their gender. The first step is in seeing men not only as professionals, but as caretakers, and recognizing that both men and women can fulfill roles that don’t conform to a stereotype. It begins with voices — our voices — the next generation of professionals who will enter the workplace in the coming years.

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