Guest Opinion: Gender discrimination? Problem solved!

BY TAMMY PETTINATO

I HAVE THE SOLUTION TO Harvard Law School’s gender problem. Listen up, ladies, because this one’s for you: Quit your bitching.

Before I entered law school, I too believed in gender equality. I read Lani Guinier’s study detailing women’s problems at Penn Law School – lower confidence, lower class participation, lower grades. I wanted my law school experiences to be different. Now I realize that my expectations were simply too high.

What changed? Well, since I’ve been here, the discussion I’ve heard on the so-called “gender problem” has convinced me that I was over-reacting. Harping about institutionalized sexism merely reflects a negative and unhealthy belief that women deserve better.

Most influential has been the commentary surrounding the recently released “Study on Women’s Experiences at Harvard Law School.” When the study was first released, I fell into my usual negative thought patterns: “Gender discrimination isn’t fair,” I whined. “I want equal education for equal tuition.”

Luckily, the Working Group on Student Experiences, which conducted the study, quickly set me straight. Little did I know that, as the group noted in last week’s Record, some women get A-pluses and some of them speak in class. It’s a wonder women have any complaints at all! Sure, downplaying overall gender-related performance differences with individualized examples and citing Jeremy Blachman’s humor column might not have shown the best evidentiary judgment, but I got the point.

The fact that, on average, women get lower grades than men isn’t a gender issue. In fact, the lower grades could very well be, as the Working Group’s letter suggested, “mostly explained by variations in hard work and luck.” Of course! I’d forgotten how lazy and unlucky us women-folk are…except those who get the A-pluses.

Others have also asserted that focusing on women when discussing institutionalized sexism ignores the greater issue, which is, apparently, that some men don’t speak in class as much as others. For example, the new “Gender Justice Working Coalition” has pointed out that grade differentials between men and women aren’t really about….well, grade differentials between men and women. In their own Record letter last week, they discussed the harms of focusing on women’s experiences at the expense of focusing on everyone’s (read: men’s) experiences.

It’s too bad this new organization chose the name it did as someone might get the mistaken impression that the group aims to admit that sexism exists, that it’s not ok, and, that it tends to affect women rather than men. Tellingly, I almost joined the organization, back when I was consumed by my feminist instinct to get all uppity about the fact that women’s issues are soft-pedaled to protect men’s egos. Perhaps the “Law School Hurts Us All” Working Coalition would have been a more accurate choice.

Speaking of instincts, though, Professor Todd Rakoff also had some insights into the gender/grade disparity. Rather than blame sexist institutions, he suggested during the Dean’s forum on gender and the classroom that we blame the law itself. “(The law) is based more on hard-nosed logic and less on feelings,” said Rakoff. To think I’d forgotten that women would rather be hugging and talking about feelings than arguing like men in a court of law.

Sure, it bothered me that Rakoff’s language paralleled that of 19th century laws banning women from practicing law because of their feminine natures. But I do like reading Bridget Jones’s Diary more than my Administrative Law casebook, and I cry sometimes, especially when I’m sad. What if I were to accidentally write about having a crush on Hugh Grant in the middle of a brief or start crying when a judge asks me a difficult question? No wonder women get lower grades than their more logical, hard-nosed (heck, let’s just say it – more rational) male counterparts – we’re too busy thinking about how non-mutual collateral estoppel makes us feel to study.

The opinions I’ve heard about why women get lower grades than men have been numerous and varied, but they all seem to share one common characteristic – their denial of institutionalized sexism. At first, I found the banal truisms like “Some men don’t like to talk in class either,” offensive. I questioned the logic of focusing on the variations between high-achieving and low-achieving men when discussing a study that purported to be about women’s experiences. To be honest, I still don’t understand why the finding that not every person at Harvard with a penis is a “gunner” bears any relation to the finding that women as a group make lower grades than men as a group. However, my inability to see the connection could itself be a product of my gender – after all, as one classmate suggested with a straight face, maybe women are just stupider than men.

Could all of the equivocation be more evidence of sex discrimination? After all, is there anything more insulting to women than to deny that this study says anything about gender discrimination? Than to deny them even their anger by implying that focusing on what the study has to say about institutionalized sexism is an improper reading of the findings? Than to tell them that they shouldn’t worry about what’s being done to them as a group because, after all, it doesn’t happen to every single one of them? In short, is there anything more demeaning to women than downplaying the results of a gender discrimination study because talking about it from the perspective of the affected parties, women, might make men uncomfortable?

But those questions are the product of feminist brainwashing. The only gender problem at Harvard Law School is with women like me who keep forgetting that the women’s movement is over. Maybe if the crazed radicals among us put more energy into being happy for men and less energy focusing on petty things like the possibility of institutionalized discrimination against women, we’d have more time to study.

Heck, we might even get more dates. Now that’s what I call fixing the gender problem, right ladies?

Tammy Pettinato is the Record’s Photo Editor.

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