Friday, June 12, 2009

Woman as judges - and the importance of more women in power 

Women have to imagine what it is like to be a man every day of their lives. Many men recoil from the idea of really imagining what it is like to be a woman.

The uproar over 'wise Latina' comments made by US Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor rumbles on. One posting by Dahlia Lithwick in SLATE looks at the work of LSE anthropologist David Graeber which she says thows a strong light on the isses here, and suggest that women in the judiciary may indeed, by virtue of their experience of being women, be better trained to be judges than men are.

Graeber says:

A constant staple of 1950s situation comedies, in America, were jokes about the impossibility of understanding women. The jokes of course were always told by men. Women's logic was always being treated as alien and incomprehensible. One never had the impression, on the other hand, that women had much trouble understanding the men. That's because the women had no choice but to understand men.

And Graeber cites concrete rearch on gender differences in perception:

Faced with the prospect of even trying to imagine a women's perspective, many recoil in horror. In the US, one popular trick among High School creative writing teachers is to assign students to write an essay imagining that they were to switch genders, and describe what it would be like to live for one day as a member of the opposite sex. The results are almost always exactly the same: all the girls in class write long and detailed essays demonstrating that they have spent a great deal of time thinking about such questions; roughly half the boys refuse to write the essay entirely. Almost invariably they express profound resentment about having to imagine what it might be like to be a woman.

The job of a judge is to take competing arguments and make a fair evaluation between them. Like a woman is trained to do by necessity.

Speaking as a man I recognise some of this underlying dynamic. It is why I am really keen to get more women into positions of power, to the extent that I back women for office unless I get a good reason not to.

But this data is of some years gone by. Do our younger people think there is a difference experience today?

Graeber, David (2006) (the Malinowski Lecture): "Beyond power/knowledge: an exploration of the relationship of power, ignorance and stupidity". I suspect that people who do casework will have jolts of recognition at some of his stories of the individuals crushed in the tramlines of bureacracy, public and private. Note his Wikipedia entry for hints of his wider political links.

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