One of our readers recently made a comment about needing more estrogen on the blog, and that comment provoked a few thoughts that I've been internally debating for almost three years now. Female law students vs. male law students: where do the differences stem from and how much of it is just gender stereotyping?
Let's begin with the socratic method. I have interviewed several professors that were applying to teach at Penn, and a decent number of them have discussed using different teaching methods to accommodate both genders. Apparently, male students are more likely to raise their hands and think about the answer after being called upon whereas female students will formulate a full answer before volunteering. As a result, when called upon during the socratic method, male students are presumably more comfortable whereas female students appreciate something more like a panel system so they can plan ahead. Is this true?
Moving on to class selection. Why is it that even in a fairly liberal institution, people make jokes or references to how girls take classes like Church and State or Family Law whereas guys take classes like M&A or Tax? What on earth would make someone think that a female cannot handle rigorous corporate law courses? On the other hand, I really do wonder if it's true. There are less females in such classes. Is it because girls feel like they can't handle it, or is it because guys are so insecure about taking other types of classes and feel the "manly" thing to do is go corporate and take classes in that field? I say that with no amount of sarcasm. I really do wonder why the proportions turn out as they do. On the other hand, if you take a class like Gender and the Law, you get a room full of estrogen. Why is that considered a women's class? Is it because male law students believe that gender law doesn't affect them? Well, lots of law probably will not end up affecting all of us. Yet, students readily sign up for things like Refugee Law, Mental Health Law, and Public International Law. What is it about gender related classes that really translates to "female law"?
Last but not least, what about firms? Why do a lot of top firms have proportionally fewer female summer associates? Some argue that they recruit less females even at top schools, while others argue that female students actually choose not to interview with such firms because they do not want to take on such a strenuous lifestyle. The feminist in me wants to yell at the latter group, but I've actually heard female students say the same thing. That usually then makes me want to yell at them, but who am I to judge? I still think it has to do with the firms, but I really hope it's not because elite law firms remain modern versions of Mad Men.
I say all of this with the caveat that, as much as I am fairly liberal and a strong proponent of women's rights, I generally prefer to focus less on my gender and more on my objective merits. I'm not sure what more estrogen means, but I thank that reader for his/her comment. It really made me think.