The Furies

Bar News

Dear Furies, more than 50% of the population are women and more than 50% of solicitors are women ( So why is it that only 25% of barristers are women? What’s going on? [aka WTF?]

(Sigh!) In no particular order: discrimination, unconscious bias, fewer role models, career breaks for family and care reasons, hostile work environments, harassment and difficulties balancing work/life responsibilities. We think we have addressed all the usual suspects, omitting, as is often done, the impacts of race, disability, sexuality and class which most certainly exist and ought not be overlooked. It is customary at this point to offer (white, able-bodied, hetero and privileged) women constructive advice on how to overcome these obstacles to career progression. Again, in no particular order: be mentored, find a network, call out behaviour, join working groups, outsource, ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and, our personal favourite, ‘lean in’. And while we are here, please accept, with our compliments, an empowering pink cupcake for International Women’s Day!

Now that we have given the standard response, let us consider something that is usually missing from this analysis: people who are not women. In the last ABS census, 25% of women (and 56% of women with children under 15 years) cited childcare responsibilities as their main impediment to obtaining full time work or working more hours. Just 0.2% of men cited the same reason as an impediment.

Anecdotally, there are the ambitious and brilliant friends and colleagues (and by 'brilliant' we mean top TER/ university medallist types) who should have made partner, silk or professor in their forties. After years of relentless but necessary work tending to the physical, emotional and educational needs of their children and supporting their husbands’ careers they are only just now considering their own professional advancement in their late forties. This is no indictment on them: one cannot both dance on the parapets and brace the wall from toppling. But we do wonder. We wonder at all of that wasted potential. We wonder at the values and assumptions attending each small or big family decision which ultimately saw her career sacrificed to his. We wonder why a woman not only needs talent and intelligence to succeed but also, if she has a male partner, for him to ‘lean in’ to performing his fair share of the mental, physical and emotional load required to maintain a family.

We do not pretend to have the answers, and everyone will have a different opinion. But if yours is the essentialist or reductive view that it is acceptable for a woman’s ambition to be curbed by her reproductive capacities while a man is unconstrained by his, then we recommend that you engage in the following thought experiment. How might that same reductivism apply to men? How demeaning and limiting would men find that? And if you lack the imagination to engage in that particular thought experiment then you could always watch the darkly humorous new Kiwi offering called 'Creamerie'.

In that bleak future, women perform 100% of all of the jobs except, that is, the one job that men do, ahem, to maintain the population. It is kind of like an inverted Handmaid’s Tale but set on a dairy farm. And it really is not as fun as you would think. Just saying, biological reductivism really sucks.

I resent being cancelled because I believe that recognising trans 'women' diminishes me as a true woman. Why should I have to worry about whether my Twitter feed or next rally will imperil my practising certificate just because some men can’t accept the fact that putting on a dress does not make them women. What happened to freedom of speech? And don’t get me started on men competing in women’s sports!

(Sigh!) We really, really try hard to support other women. We do. We really do. Just occasionally doing that feels incredibly hard. And rightly so, one’s gender does not necessarily determine one’s ideology any more than one’s biological sex necessarily determines one’s gender. If you do not identify as your biological sex, society has particularly crushing ways of dealing with you: ostracism, harassment, assault and worse. Trans people are marginalised in ways most people cannot understand and the enactment of laws in some states in the USA to prevent trans people from, for example, reading to school children, is the beginning of a slippery slope which many people find, quite rightly, chilling.

So, why are some cisgendered women so threatened by such a tiny minority of the population who lack any real power? Why do they not see trans people as allies in the fight against prejudice which holds all people back from fulfilling their potential, including, most significantly, cisgendered women? Given the dangers to all women’s advancement posed by biological reductivism and men’s failure to embrace non-traditional roles (see above answer) we cannot help but think that your zero-sum approach to trans issues is an ‘own goal’.

We are not sure that the Bar Association would or should be concerned with anyone partaking in a sensible dialogue about the metes and bounds of gender identity and its impacts on, say, the provision of sport or medical services to girls and women. But are you promoting those sorts of sensitive, nuanced and respectful discussions or are you stoking moral outrage and resentment? Is expression or repression your true goal? We leave these questions for your careful consideration and make no further comment. But if neo-Nazis turn up to your rallies, that is probably a good sign to rethink your approach. BN

Bar News