I’m sure I’ve spoken before about the biases that women face when they are trying to get legal advice or are in the legal system for whatever reason – whether it’s as a businesswoman either trying to exit a contract or negotiate, or whether it’s a family dispute, a separation, or over the will after someone’s passed away … or even in the criminal system.
There are a lot of biases that women face. These are the 3 biases that come straight to my mind.
It’s important for you to be aware of these biases, just so that if you’re going into the system for whatever reason, you can take steps to actively address the biases or call them out if you need to.
Women are emotional
The first is that, as a woman, clearly you’re not going to be logical because you’re an emotional creature.
“Oh my God, let’s make sure that she doesn’t get hysterical or shrill.”
So watch out for that one.
I think this bias follows us everywhere, whether it’s in the legal system or not, but it is interesting in terms of either being a woman as a witness to something, whether your testimony is given much weight or credibility because you are emotional. This bias also suggests that your emotional state impacted your memory, or you’ve put your own spin on what you remember or saw.
If you are in, for example, a more commercial setting, are you going to be trusted to make a logical decision? Is what you’re asking for even logical? Is it based on your emotion? Are you being discounted because you’re a female?
Women are indecisive
This bias often arises because of the way we tend to communicate.
Not our fault. Women, as we are raised as girls, we’re often conditioned by society to be less direct in our communication. We are more forgiving. We don’t want to be confrontational. We often say things in a roundabout way.
We often (so that we are not labeled as a “bitch” or as aggressive or bossy) apologise more than we need to, or end a phrase with something that then makes us sound uncertain. Like, “Is that all right?” Or, “What do you think?” Or we put something in there which makes it sound like we haven’t decided and that we’re still open to be persuaded otherwise.
Now, this is an uphill battle. You have to be conscious of your language. It’s one of these things where women have to change ourselves to fit ins rather than people actually changing and realising their own biases.
But be aware, and call it out if you need to. You can actually say to people, “Well, no, this is actually my decision, full stop.” You can be blunt. I give you permission.
A third bias is that we have male standards applied to us.
Now this mainly applies to the sort of behaviour that is expected, and you can put this into a couple of different contexts.
You can put it into the context of a corporate workplace, that women at certain levels are supposed to behave the same way as men and if we don’t, then there’s a bias against it for all sorts of reasons – that we are not as cooperative, that we’re not willing to do what it takes.
Then you look at the context of being the victim. So whether you are a victim in a workplace harassment situation, or if it’s a domestic violence situation, the standards of how we are expected to respond has a bias overlying it. That standard applies to us is … what would a male (a “reasonable person”) do, who has found themselves in the situation once? The test often doesn’t apply all the background – the fear, the other experiences a woman has had before with the same perpetrator, or the fact that women often have more fear generally because we are weaker and subject to attacks.
Another place where male standards are applied to us is also when women are perpetrators. It’s really interesting to consider women in the criminal justice system. We have tougher penalties applied to us for the same sort of crimes than men, particularly for violent crimes, because it’s seen as behaviour that shouldn’t be exhibited by women.
We are penalised for exhibiting behaviour that is far more common for men to exhibit and therefore discounted.
Whereas often the system doesn’t think about what it took to drive the woman to actually commit violence in the first place, and the background behind it and what they’ve been putting up with or the personal experiences.
So, I mean there are a few generalisations in everything that I’ve said, but biases often underlie a lot of things that we experience.
I think calling them out and having them at the forefront of our minds can often be helpful.
I’m not advocating necessarily that you should change, but you can be aware of how you’re being perceived and take steps to clear that up.