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Redux: Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman (with appreciation to Tammy Wynette, Linda Ronstadt and Anne Reed)

Monday, August 31, 2009
posted by Rita Handrich

tammy_wynette210We agree with Tammy Wynette (which surprises us) and with our friend Anne Reed (which doesn’t surprise us at all) . Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. And those days just don’t seem to stop coming. Anne’s blog post covers the positive and the negative of gender in the courtroom, citing older research and wondering if changes in gender roles and perceptions would make things different now. Alas, sometimes it’s still hard to be a woman and the new information coming out doesn’t make any woman want to burst into song (unless it’s an old Linda Ronstadt song).

Let’s do a quick review of the studies out recently that serve up one hit after another for the women among us. First, we find out that if you are a woman attorney who wants to be a judge, it helps (even in 2009) if you have a masculine-ish first name (like Jim).

Then, a new survey from USA Today reports that about 70% of Americans think women “should” take their husband’s last name when they marry. We would see this as reflecting more traditional values. But the study doesn’t stop there. Fifty per cent (that’s 50%!) say the government should mandate women take their husband’s last names upon marriage. This even caught the attention of an evolutionary psychologist who says there is no evolutionary biology reason that a woman should take a man’s last name as long as any resulting children have his name!

And then in a brief ray of sunshine, we hear a study debunking the myth that women are “sort of more tentative than men, aren’t they”? Alas, myths, like stereotypes exist for a reason. Whether women are more tentative or not, we tend to believe they are and when women behave in non-gender-stereotypical ways, we tend to evaluate them more negatively.

There isn’t much good news out there so what do we do for our female colleagues, witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants?

  • We teach them how to connect with jurors (see this pdf article from The Jury Expert).
  • We monitor speech for indicators of tentativeness and offer feedback to make language and non-verbal presentation confident, assertive and approachable.
  • We make them ‘like’ jurors by finding ways they can connect through testimony, demeanor, activities, attire, life experiences, values, et cetera.
  • We coach female attorneys to make direct eye contact, present clear evidence, tell an intriguing and persuasive story, and sequence the case narrative effectively. (Just like we would coach a male attorney.)

In short, we remain aware of the uphill battle women have in the courtroom and we stay attuned to attitudes around the country (even when we don’t agree with them) and we do pretrial research to identify biases against female parties or attorneys and modify our approach based on lessons learned. Having quoted Tammy Wynette and Linda Ronstadt, let’s close this one out with another female artist speaking to women everywhere—Ginger Rogers who famously said she “did everything Fred Astaire did except backwards and in high heels”. Yup. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.

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