Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Silent Type of Feminist

This summer, as I organized my materials for on campus interviews, the thought of editing “feminism” out of my resume never occurred to me.  When the first round of interviews was announced, I was shocked.  I wasn’t invited to interview with a single firm.  I cursed King Hall and Career Services and contemplated dropping out of law school.  At the suggestion of a classmate, I edited “feminism” out of my application materials for the next round of OCI bids.  I didn’t think it was going to make any difference.  I was convinced the lack of interviews had more to do with the economy, my background, or my average grades than my feminist activities.

Surprisingly (read: disturbingly), the second time around, I received invitations to interview.  Firms not traveling to Davis contacted me to set up phone interviews.  A few firms who declined to invite me to interview sent kindly-worded  “rejection” emails.  The interviews were even more disconcerting. These firms, who would have never contacted a “feminist”, seemed to like me.  The interviewers thought my background was interesting.  They commented on my “good” grades.   Confused, I reviewed all of my cover letters.  The overwhelming majority of them were sent to  women; most firms have female recruiting coordinators.  I found myself wondering if my resumes were rejected by (male) partners, or if they never made it past the recruiting office, because Ms. Recruiter immediately dumps all fem-resumes in the electronic trash bin.

The legal profession claims to be changing.  Firms brag about maternity leave policies and alternative work schedules.  Although firm leadership positions are still dominated by men, more women are making partner every year. But, if including the word “feminist” on a resume is sufficient to close all interviewing doors, what type of women are being hired at these female-friendly firms?  Are firms really changing, or have they remained the same, but with a hiring system that weeds out women who might speak up and challenge the status quo?

As we interview with firms who exclusively represent employers in employment law, or firms that consider environmental law the business of securing permits at any cost, I find myself compromising on a lot of issues.  I tell myself that dropping the feminist title isn’t that big of a deal—I’ll still fight for gender equality and refuse to be bound by stereotypes.  But I know this isn’t true.  The reality is that all these little compromises are quickly adding up.  As I anonymously write this posting (for fear that a potential employer may “google” my name), I recognize the possibility that I’m becoming the ideal female law firm candidate--the type of woman who won’t speak up. 


Anon5 said...

The difference in treatment you received from the recruiters based on the presence and absence of the word "feminist" is troubling. The choice between being silent about your feminism and speaking out is really tough, but if compromising now would give you the opportunity to fight back later, that may be the best choice. Ideally you wouldn't be faced with such a difficult decision, but thinking strategically may be the only way to even get a chance to change things.

Naomi said...

Is debate healthy or harmful to a job? Should one speak up about the issues one believes in, or leave that to discussions extra-workplace? I've spent time in a job where everyone there was of one political affiliation, and I was the other. My solution was just like yours: I stayed silence for the sake of peace and the sake of keeping the job. But I felt like it shouldn't be an offense, much less a fire-able offense, to speak out and express my feelings, as long as I did so with respect to them. However, I was not brave enough to do so. Thus goes life.

Eve said...

I understand the fear of not finding a job for the summer or post graduation, but I'm not sure why anyone who is a feminist would want to work for a firm that is opposed to hiring feminists.

There are two general approaches to fighting the system: from within and from the outside. I chose to become a lawyer after becoming frustrated with the limited social change I was creating from grassroots organizing. However, I made a commitment to myself not to hide my identity or political affiliations. If an institution or employer isn't interested in a feminist, it's their loss.

I think it's a slippery slope when we choose to hide ourselves or assimilate for the sake of gaining access to the system. It exemplifies our privileged ability to "pass" as non-feminist, straight, white, etc. By choosing to assimilate we are rewarding a system with which we should be challenging.

samina hitch said...

I agree that we should make commitments to our real identity in our work-life. In my personal experience, I was advised by my colleagues to not mention that I was a mother in law firm interviews, though motherhood was inextricable from my everyday identity. I ignored the advice, and asked each law firm about the work/life balance of other mothers and fathers at the firm. Sometimes this conversation was a turn-off (this is the risk we take), and other times it loosened up the tension in the room for the interviewer (who could finally relax and talk about their own kids instead of their billable hours). I ended up getting placed with a firm that was satisfactorily child-friendly. I felt free to talk about my “real life” while at work – having disclosed from the beginning that I was, indeed, nothing more or less than I presented myself to be.

Similarly with the OCI situation, “feminism” may have complicated your job applications last time -- but if it is important to you for the firm to know about your interest in feminism, then it is important to be a risk-taker and mention feminism or gender theory in the interview process…and you just might open up the interviewer to (quietly) talk about her glory days as a feminist revolutionary in D.C. before she buckled down at a law firm to buy a big house in the suburbs and support her husband and children (I have witnessed this conversation, too)…I think that being yourself has its advantages, especially in the field of law, because it will take you to places where you will feel free to express your identity, instead of "covering" constantly with a fear of losing your job after your real identity is revealed.

Kathleen said...

While I disagree with this post from an ideals-oriented standpoint, practically I do not think I can say with certainty that my behavior is/will be different. With many firms pulling out of OCI recruitment, deferring their hiring processes, and hiring fewer (if any) new associates this year, being picky is becoming impractical. After a disappointing OCI season, I expanded the scope of my job search, both geographically and in terms of practice areas. Ideally, I will find work in a progressive, feminist-friendly locale that pays enough to meet my bills, offers regular hours, and surrounds me with positive and helpful co-workers who give me interesting, fulfilling assignments. In reality, I find myself making similar compromises to this author.

What happens if I don’t receive my ideal offer? Realistically, I need to pay rent, hopefully eat, and slowly chip away at this enormous, ever-accumulating debt to the government. If that means keeping my head down and my politics (and deeper identity convictions) to myself, I cannot say that I would refuse to make that sacrifice. I realize the choices I am making are damaging, privileged and perhaps ultimately unnecessary. However, as a dull, constant anxiety clouds my job search, I am with the author on this disturbing track - tailoring myself to our broken system with every direct application “send”.