Monday, May 12, 2008

Sexism in the City, Part One: I object.


So, you're gonna get to read a lot of my random thoughts about the jury system, now that I've spent an incredibly long and frustrating time getting to know it (and now that my AMAZING SHOW AT THE KODAK is over and I can begin to breathe again). We're gonna start with something that happened during the first two days of my service, the voir dire days. (Ahhh, the voir dire days.)

Now, overall, I quite liked the presiding judge in my courtroom, and found him even-handed and kind and he got lots of points with me for apologizing very sincerely one time when he thought he had reacted over-harshly to a mistake a lawyer made. However, he did one or two things that really pissed me off, one being to kind of humiliate me, but we'll talk about that another time. The thing I want to describe here didn't particularly piss me off, but I did notice it and think about it a bit. I'm pretty sure that it is unintentional and that if it were pointed out to him, he'd fix it, but who knows. Here's the deal.

Every potential juror had to start by introducing themselves and answering a certain set of questions that were posted at the front of the room. You had to state details like your name and your occupation, your marital status and number of children, the occupation of any other adults living in your household, whether you'd been on a jury before, and whether you'd be a victim of or a witness to any crimes. Then the judge would ask you some further questions, sometimes details about something you'd said in the first bit and then some additional questions that related to the trial at hand, like whether you rented or owned your home.

Here are some sample conversations. Can you spot my complaint?

0.
Potential Juror: I am a librarian for an elementary school and I have two kids. I am divorced.
Judge KF: How old are your children?
Juror: 9 and 12
Judge: What does your ex-husband do?
Juror: He is a history professor at UCLA.

1.
Potential Juror: I am a real estate agent and I live in Glendale with my wife and 5-year-old son.
Judge KF: Does your wife work outside the home?
Juror: Yes, she is a nurse.

2.
Potential Juror: My name is Potential Juror. I live in West LA. I work at Smart & Final. I am a widow.
Judge KF: I'm sorry to hear that. What did your husband do?
Juror: He worked in construction.

3.
Potential Juror: My name is Potential Juror. I live in West LA. I work at Ralph's. I am a widower.
Judge KF: I'm sorry to hear that. Did your wife work outside the home?
Juror: No, she was a stay-at-home mom.

Did I make it clear enough in those last two examples? To every man he'd use the very politically correct phrase, "Does your wife work outside the home?". To every woman he'd say, "What does your husband do?". I think he loses the political correctness that way - he wouldn't dream of saying, "Does your husband work outside the home?"

Perhaps I should note that I'm not normally on the lookout for slights, to my sex or my ethnicity or anything. I am not easily offended and this didn't offend me, but I certainly found it interesting and was very curious to hear how the judge would react if it were pointed out to him.

What do you think? Am I over-reacting by having noticed it at all? Is it perfectly reasonable, given that it's still much more common for married women to not have jobs than it is for married men? Is it one of those subtle things that undermines progress toward equality and needs to be rooted out? Is gender equality a big ball of crap? Was I really bored enough during jury questioning to have noticed this? Am I still typing questions?

Discuss.

P.S. This post was originally titled:
Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
and its first line was:
A: That's not funny.


PPS Just found this and was a little amazed, having just said, "I mean, I'm not like a raving Femi-Nazi or anything," like, two paragraphs ago.

4 comments:

The Trouble With Roy said...

How old was your judge? Most judges I see in my practice are over 40, and usually over 50 or 60. So they're from a time when it's even more common for women to not have jobs outside the home.

Given that, though, I think it's not an excuse to say "I'm a product of my times and therefore my attitudes need not change." You could drop him a note and point out his dual standards to him.

Jury service is over, I take it? And how'd the show go?

alexis said...

I would expect nothing less than for you to have noticed it. :)

I do think gender equality is great in theory but in reality is a total load of crap. I bet they taught this judge to ask in that way because when he went to law school, it was probably much less common for a woman to work outside the home. But he obviously can't say that staying home with the kids isn't difficult/hard work/etc.

I guess all this happened once you were done with _Step Ball Change_ ;)

Cecilia said...

So... I noticed the work outside the home phrase the first time it appeared. It bothered me. Like if being a mom/housewife should be a woman's JOB. Or that it is actualy A JOB.

you were definitely paying attention as expected. good girl!

G'PA said...

this comment is a bit late, BUT.....
maybe the judge, when he asked the question "does your wife work outside the home" is actually saying "your wife has a job at home, does she also work outside the home".
each statement can be interpreted many ways. take the Torah for example, the rabbis are still interpreting it.