Nasty Women in the Law


Last week, the Women’s March overshadowed Trump’s Inauguration. So what was it about Hillary Clinton that people found so nasty? What was it that triggered such comments like: “such a nasty woman”?

And what is it about women lawyers that trigger these attacks? Such as: “Marie Henein is a successful female lawyer at the top of her profession. Total bitch.”

In “Nasty Women and the Rule of Law“, Alice Woolley and Elysa Darling analyze this conundrum. They argue that women lawyers face this backlash because being a lawyer requires women to challenge and subvert gendered norms. Women are supposed to be feminine. Being feminine usually means being: affectionate, cheerful, sensitive, soft-spoken, warm, and so on. Contrastingly, being masculine generally means being: a leader, aggressive, ambitious, assertive, analytical, dominant, competitive, and so on. Characteristics that lawyers are generally required to embody.

Woolley and Darling state:

But by acting in this way [masculine], she not only violates our expectations of what women can do, she also violates our standards about what women ought to do…

[W]omen risk being targets of gendered hostility, because being a good lawyer means being a bad woman – it means abandoning or acting contrary to the communal behavior women ought to exhibit, in favor of the agentic values men ought to exhibit. This is particularly so if the woman is an aggressive lawyer, exhibiting the kind of zeal and occasional incivility that the profession frowns upon, since doing so could be considered a violation of a “gender-intensified proscription”.

Interestingly when we look at Hillary Clinton she is often described as masculine. Whereas Ivanka Trump (a power player in her father’s circle) is often described in feminine terms, e.g. beautiful, a good daughter, polite etc. [To read more about Ivanka’s carefully crafted persona click here: INSIDE IVANKA AND TIFFANY TRUMP’S COMPLICATED SISTER ACT. ]

So what’s the solution? How can women lawyers embody traditionally masculine characteristics and avoid all of the nastiness?


I originally posted this blog post on I would like to add to my original post by stating that I completely agree with Woolley and Darling’s paper. Women are faced with a backlash and are often punished or called names for exhibiting “masculine” traits. This backlash often occurs for behaviour that no one even notices coming from a man, a treat that I have experienced first hand. Perhaps the only answer is to stay calm and carry on in the face of sexism.

“I would have quit this job a long time ago if I was listening and waiting for people’s approval.”– Marie Henein (Toronto Life)




The Motherload


The CBC recently aired a documentary titled The Motherload.

In The Motherload different working mothers’ experiences are featured, including “Emilie, a prosecutor for the federal government and mother of three, who has just returned to work after her third and final maternity leave”. Emilie is the daughter of former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.

Emilie laments that as a ten year call she often finds herself doing work that is not matched to her experience or seniority.

The documentary highlights that we see the biggest difference in career trajectory not between women and men but between mothers and men. A professor in the documentary mentions that the workforce is structurally designed to de-skill mothers. Furthermore, we see certain professions or subgroups of professions being ghettoized according to gender.

In the legal profession, some women are choosing to advance alternative careers, but others are being forced through structural obstacles to take on less fulfilling work.

As Richard Susskind states “the legal profession has always been on the cutting edge of tradition”. Perhaps, sexism is a tradition we can leave behind.