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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Well-Meant Sexism is Still Sexism

Mulling over the past half-week, I came across a memory of Monday night that made me cringe. A very nice, well-meaning, older attorney had graciously described BCALP as a "wonderful group of ladies."

To be fair, I believe 100% of the members of BCALP are female. We are all paralegals, secretaries, legal assistants, and judges' assistants, and in Alabama (and many other places in the legal world), it is taken for granted that these positions are filled by women. So few, if any, other people probably frowned at this description of our organization. As I said, he was a very nice man attempting to thank us for putting on such a fun night.

Still, try as I might to ignore it, I can not. I am simply not one of "those ladies." My job is not the type of thing reserved for the "weaker sex." There are plenty of men, plenty of attorneys even, who would not be as productive at my job as I am. I am not good at my job because I am a woman, though. I am good at my job because I am dedicated, thoughtful, intelligent, and relateable. I am good at my job because I have half a brain and I try.

Likewise, though the members of BCALP all just happen to be women, our collective gender does not make it an organization of or for women. It is an organization of and for legal professionals. Labeling us as a group of women diminishes the perception of us as professionals. Coming from a male attorney, it sounded almost patronizing. It is much harder for a group of "ladies" to be taken seriously than it is for a group of "legal professionals."

The worst thing about it is that these moments, moments when my profession is shoved into a box full of only women or into a box full of people who "couldn't" be attorneys or a box full of , I get these major cravings for law school. I realize that this is my problem and no one else's, but it is still a problem. I don't start craving a law degree for myself, for my career, or for any good reason at all. I start craving it because I feel that someone is not taking me seriously. Deep in my heart, I know another degree would not make them take me any more seriously, nor would it increase my value or worth. And yet, when I am lumped into a group of women rather than professionals, that desire rises into my chest like a bad case of indigestion.

I am amused by my feelings, too, because I would not label myself as a feminist. I simply like to be taken seriously in whichever roles I choose to fill.

So since I cannot say it to this well-meaning man, I will say it to my readers here: BCALP is an organization of professionals. We all happen to be women, but this does not preclude participation of men. The fact that many paralegals, secretaries and other assistants are female is not a necessary one. These jobs are not better performed by women, just like the job of attorney is not better performed by a man. Take me seriously as a paralegal. Take me seriously as a person.

Stepping off the soap box now.

1 comment:

  1. Reason #101 I cringed when the (now defunct) Michigan NALA affiliated association created, published and sold a cookbook for its fundraising project one year. Talk about stereotypes!