Nasty Women in the Law

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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?

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I originally posted this blog post on slaw.ca. 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)