Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to Fordham Law Women
In my first week at Fordham Law School this past fall, I was excited to see that one of the student groups was Fordham Law Women. I eagerly joined, thinking that here was a place for women to share experiences and ideas, and explore the challenges that face women in law. Other than an invitation to meet with upper class students, I didn’t hear from them last semester. In January, as the panic about summer jobs settled in and interview season began, I received an email about their first event of the year:
Dressing for the Job!
Come get the inside scoop on what to wear this upcoming interview season! We will be hosting a stylist, hairdresser, and professional makeup artist to share tips & tricks to finding YOUR perfect interview look! Personal Consultations will be available to every attendee and two lucky girls will also get their hair professionally styled!
We plan to serve food & drinks (*wink*wink*) at the end of the presentations, which will be given by a stylist from Style for Hire, a hairstylist from Mizu, and a professional makeup artist! We’ll be dressed in our interview best, so feel free to wear (or bring) a look of your own for personalized advice!
I can’t really describe the feeling that came over me upon reading this email. I think it was a mix of disbelief and disappointment, coupled with growing anger. Women are already a minority in the legal world, underrepresented, underpaid, and underestimated. Though we make up 47% of law school graduates, only 33% of legal professionals are women. In court, just 27% of federal and state judges are women. In law firms, women make up 45% of associates, but less than 20% of partners. We make 86% of what our male colleagues earn. Instead of supporting other women facing these challenges, this bubbly, giggly email sounds like an invitation to sleep over and play dress-up when we are, in fact, already capable, intelligent women who can dress ourselves.
I don’t mean to knock the value of looking professional. It shows your potential employer that you are serious and focused. But looking professional isn’t hard to explain, and it doesn’t require a make-up artist, hairstylist, or fashion expert. It just requires a shower, an iron, and clothes than fit reasonably well—not too tight, not too baggy, and not too exposed. That’s it. Your appearance won’t tell your interviewer anything about your intelligence, your capabilities, your work ethic, your strengths or weaknesses, or your ability to fit in at their company. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need to send a resume—you could just send over a photo and be done with it. But instead, you send a resume, and if they are interested in you based on your work, experience, and grades, they request an interview to meet you, not to look at you.
What we could really use is a presentation teaching us interviewing skills that help us emphasize our strengths, prepare us for common interview questions, and actually better our chances of getting a job. An interviewing event for women at Fordham Laws could be really useful, fun, and beneficial. Instead of make-up artists, hairstylists, and fashion experts, they could invite women working at firms in New York to talk to us about sex discrimination in the workplace and the challenges that face women working in law. They could hold mock interviews with upper class students or practicing attorneys who have been through this before, or give presentations about what to expect and how to emphasize your strengths, experience and skills. As part of this event, a presentation on what qualifies as appropriate professional attire would be entirely reasonable. But to trash everything else and focus entirely on our appearance sends the damaging message that what matters is how we look.
By focusing solely on our physical appearance, Fordham Law Women proposes turning interview season into a fashion show. It’s doing a disservice to the women of Fordham Law School and insulting our intelligence and the hard work it took us to get here. The women in my classes are amazing, strong, fascinating and brilliant. I am constantly surprised by the breadth of experiences, interests, and communities we represent. We are not here to play dress up because we think suits are cute. We are here because we want to study law for an endless variety of reasons. We have worked hard to get here and most of us have made considerable sacrifices to do so.
Being up to date on the hottest fashion trends and artfully sculpting your cheekbones won’t make you a more competitive candidate for that summer job. In 2013, I would think that at the very least we could recognize that women are more than objects for our viewing pleasure. This event just reinforces the misogynistic stereotype that women are not thinking, intelligent beings but playthings to be dressed and undressed to please others. What kind of a message is that to send to aspiring women lawyers?
(The statistics in this letter came from the ABA: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/current_glance_statistics_2012.authcheckdam.pdf)