Just Because I’m A Woman, Doesn’t Mean I Wear Skirts

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I have something to get off my chest that has bothered me for a while now. This has to do with women wearing pants. If you read that and are wondering how such a minuscule nuanced necessity of everyday life could somehow be a topic of bother, this is part of my point.

Growing up, I never personally experienced (or personally recognized) forms of sexism. My parents always taught me to be an independent, capable, badass person, and that’s what I strove for. I will watch shows like Mad Men, and part of me wishes I lived back then but with the brain and soul I have now so that I could wreak some havoc on the misogyny.

But, it seems being in the legal field in 2017 still has its similarities. Many of us remember being told (by a female professor) in our Basic Legal Skills class before first year oral arguments that the women needed to be sure to wear makeup, a modest skirt suit, pumps, tights, and a pearl necklace. Granted, men were told to wear suits, but they definitely were not given the plethora of further details on how they should appear.

Today, I sat with many of my classmates again at a continuing education program. A session commenced and was led by a 60-to-70-something year old man. He quickly started spouting off on how women should appear in the courtroom (after a 10-second aside on how men should wear a dark suit and tie). Now, my point here is not to paint this speaker in a bad light. He stated that this information was obtained from focus groups and his personal experiences on how juries respond negatively to female attorneys wearing pants.

But, I still sat in awe of just why, at 27 years old, I was essentially being told what to wear to work — as if sexist societal norms were some type of excuse — as if my own hard work into this profession didn’t speak for itself that I could determine proper suitability (pardon the pun). I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the speakers and legal scholars in his position would instead take the initiative to invite change on this topic rather than perpetuating a centuries old expectation, then the focus groups would too.

The speaker continued on, in a slightly uncomfortable manner, that in the courtroom, female attorneys should limit jewelry (even as far as removing an engagement ring leaving just a wedding band because otherwise the jury may think they are rich/entitled), should never wear open toed shoes (he saw a female attorney wearing strappy shoes once and couldn’t believe his eyes), and that skirt suits were “just better.” He so graciously informed us all that female attorneys in pantsuits, most times, seem uptight.

This brings me back to my main point. Pants. I asked myself, “Rachel, why in the hell is it a problem for women to wear pants instead of skirts in a courtroom, and why do people seem to go into greater detail regarding the acceptability of a woman’s appearance than a man’s?” I continued to ask myself, sarcastically, “Am I not able to gauge what is acceptable attire because of my small little woman brain?” And, “Why is this short gray haired man offering me fashion advice?”

I began to wonder if it derived from an implicit notion that men have needed pants for protection from the elements throughout the ages, and women have worn skirts as a display of vulnerability and fragility? And so since man = pants and woman = skirts, and since men (typically) never wear skirts then women should never wear pants? Maybe I was over analyzing.

That couldn’t be it — women wear pants all of the time outside of the courtroom without a blink of an eye. Could it be an implicit notion that, actually, law = man, and so the peculiarity of a woman in law wearing pants offends and encroaches even more grossly onto the law’s masculinity? Or maybe it’s easy to chalk it up to a “that’s how it’s been so that’s how it is.” But, is that enough? TC mark

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