My time spent at my internship has presented gender issues which I never considered before I started. There have been two situations that I have noticed how gender has come into play: in those who practice law and in the lawsuits in our courtroom.
In our court, we have three judges, two male and one female. Our female judge had a successful career in criminal law before becoming our chief judge. Throughout the summer, I have noticed that our chief judge carries herself differently than our other judges. She can be more serious, and she doesn’t tend to joke with the other law clerks like the other judges do. At first, I wrote it off, thinking it was just because she was the chief judge. Several weeks ago, I met the chief judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and realized his demeanor was much different. It made me realize that she probably felt she had to be professional at all times, to gain respect from all of the other judges (the majority of whom are male). When I realized that even a chief judge who was well-renowned in her area of law felt she needed to carry herself differently than the other judges, it made me realize that even though more women are studying law every day, women are still viewed differently. Female lawyers are expected to strike a near-impossible balance of sternness and femininity. The field of law is constantly changing, but it is still very much a traditional and conservative field. It makes it all the more important for new female lawyers to change the way the field of law operates.
Gender issues also arise in the cases we handle. Most domestic violence cases are heard in the JDR Court, however there have been several divorce cases coming through our office with some unpleasant backstories, and fortunately, the court can help alleviate this issue in a small way; one in particular sticks out in my mind as being particularly sad. It began toward the beginning of my time at the court. The husband and wife had been married for about 22 years, and they had two grown sons. Over the last five years of their marriage, the husband had about five extra-marital affairs. When the wife caught him with the second woman, he said he would stop, and they started marriage counseling. She thought their marriage could be saved. She later realized the husband had several more affairs. The wife finally filed for divorce, and the husband then proceeded to move in with his current girlfriend. The wife had to go to the court to ask for support from her husband while the proceedings were occurring, as she was hearing impaired and could not sustain herself on the small salary she made. She told the judge that the reason she had not left sooner was because she was so financially dependent on her husband. It is sad to think that many women do not feel empowered to leave because of the dependence they may have on their spouse. Luckily, the court can empower women to make this decision by granting them court-ordered support from their spouse. In this way, the justice system can help. While it may be a small step, it’s one way the court can help women start new, independent lives.