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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Sexism and the law

Albie Sachs and Joan Hoff Wilson, Sexism and the Law:A study of male beliefs and judicial bias

This book, published in 1978, documented for the first time the judicial response to attempts by feminists to use the courts to secure full citizenship. It also questioned the structural sexism which is so closely connected with the professional elitism of the legal system, and proposed ways to eliminate it. Sachs and Wilson argued that such sexism is not only unjust to female litigants and women lawyers but is also harmful to the men who remain entrenched within an archaic male-dominated profession.

Sachs and Wilson stated the view that sexism is all-pervasive in legal life. Their comments included, for example:

  • The legal profession and the judiciary are overwhelmingly dominated by men. Clerical work is feminised – women are generally employed to do secretarial and reception work.

  • The current structure of the profession is such that highly talented and fully qualified persons queue in vain for a chance to exercise their talents.

  • The club-like character and mannered quality of the legal profession.

  • British lawyers have cultivated a characteristic mode of speech, bearing and appearance, which manifests itself in a distinctive legal style. This style includes well-elocuted speech, carefully considered language and a detached manner with the aim of creating an aura of integrity.

  • These qualities are praised by supporters as hallmarks of erudition, objectivity, intellectual strength and moral trustworthiness. On the other hand, they are criticised by their opponents for their pomposity, complacency, dessication and lack of contact with the real world.

  • The created mystique of professionalism disguises the fact that professionals deal mostly with routine matters. Special knowledge is frequently merely information supplied to them by ancillary workers.

  • In terms of professional style, accents, impulses and modes of dress which jar against accepted standards are rapidly eliminated.

  • Features of professionalism involve the imparting of a stamp of special status.

  • A grouping together of people who compete fiercely with each other for income and prestige, but who stand firmly united against encroachment on their territory from the outside world.

  • A combative camaraderie is characteristic of lawyers.

  • Males of the English middle and upper-middle class are trained to suppress feelings, to accept formalised modes of conduct, to be intellectually aggressive and emotionally restrained.

  • Lawyers feed on deference. The lawyer is in control and the client is subservient.

  • The legal profession displays stereotypical masculine characteristics of rational thinking, competitiveness, aggressiveness, strength and seriousness.

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