Pocochina’s Weblog

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in which our heroine drops the self-silencing

Posted by pocochina on November 14, 2007

I mentioned in an earlier post that talking about pregnancy in class makes me uncomfortable, and then I waffled and abdicated and apologized on the why.  Then I realized that I was silencing my own opinion on a pseudonymous livejournal that almost nobody reads, so it was stupid on a lot of levels.

I am uncomfortable talking about pregnancy and abortion in class because it is a fundamentally unequal disruption of the imperfect but generally stable power dynamics in a law school classroom.  (There.  That wasn’t so hard.)


In law school, and particularly in the Jane’s-new-to-all-trades first year, we spend a lot of time talking and thing about how society copes when the worst case scenario happens.  Who has the authority to step in when one branch of government threatens the liberty of some or all of the people, and how must they do so?  Who should be made to bear the cost of a tragic injury?  Is money an adequate compensation for physical or emotional pain and suffering?  What are the rules guiding the difficult desicions in the lawsuit that follows?  These questions have the potential to apply in some measure to all of us.  Anyone can get in a car accident, or be injured by a defective product.  We’ll all have to learn and follow the rules of civil procedure in our chosen jurisdictions.  We all live in this country that’s fighting to retain its constitutional democracy. Often, of course, a case will have personal resonance for one or two people sitting in the room – maybe I signed a contract I didn’t understand when I was a minor, maybe you took a drug that was eventually discovered to be unsafe, maybe X across the aisle has a parent who happens to be undocumented – but the likelihood of such occurrances is going to be more or less spread across the entire class.

I’m not arguing that law school is even generally going to be fair.  Yes, yes, justice is the end and all, but some of us are taught more than others to not speak unless we’ve earned our right to do so, or to question ourselves so fundamentally that we have a more difficult time being questioned by others, or to speak quietly lest we be heard, or to emphasize our less-valued “hard work” over our culturally-prized “native intelligence.” And all of us have been taught that racial and ethnic minorities are “political,” that feminists are “angry,” and that out LGBTQ/SGL folks are just trying to recruit everyone in the world.  So any pedagogical method is operating under a systemically oppressive framework, and should but often fails to deal with the ramifications of our deeply unjust society.

But the vast majority of women will have to personally cope with pregnancy.  A phenomenon which literally happensi inside our bodies,  which when unwanted is an intrusion upon the most fundamental of accepted rights.  And a statistically stunning one hundred percent of the men will not.

No, it doesn’t matter that we’re educated.  Women with postgraduate degrees do, in fact, still have children.  An unfertilized egg does not die from invisible LexisNexis rays; there is not a lost-and-found full of fallopian tubes in the law library.  It’s intriguing, too – fertility used to be a prized excuse for keeping women out of higher education, and now we’re supposed to use it to differentiate between we, the Brilliant and Educated Future Lawyers, and those Other Women, you know, the ones who Get Pregnant.  They must be slutty, poor, inferior BAs.  The horror.  And why?  To save the blatantly phallic* ivory tower from having to show some intellectual honesty about bodily autonomy.  Fuck that.  I am those Other Women, too, and I’m not about to let anyone forget it.

And all of my professors are male.  My writing fellow is male.  The dean of my law school, along with the dean of admissions and the president of the university, is male.  (Their secretaries/research assistants that I’ve met are, of course, female.)  Damn, if only I had killer logical skills and could put my finger on it, but there seems to be a pattern.

So when a man, whose opinion of my work will determine whether or not I can get a job (you know, besides baking and vacuuming, two skills for which I am deplorably underqualified) chooses to initiate and facilitate a discussion about abortion, that is deeply unfair, because it is a decision that, more likely than not, more than half of the women in the class will have to make, and one that the men in the class will never have to make.  And when being “apolitical,” or “impartial,” or “logical,” is (or is perceived to be) valued over “I have the right to choose when and if a fetus grows inside my body,” because the fact that it is unquestionably about my life makes it political, that is an unequal discussion.  When the discussion is unfair to me, and therefore there is the chance that I learn less, then I am paying my 76 cents on the dollar (okay, I will be, when I pay back my loans) to learn less than my male classmates.

And the dynamics of this particular discussion, among the many gender-differentiated aspects of the law, do impact the legal world at large.  The profession will not be equal until most or all of us in the legal world understand what equal looks like.  And kids?  This ain’t it.

*Tee hee.  Towers are big penises!  Ivory towers are big white penises!  GEDDIT?

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