By Cari Simon, President, Harvard Women’s Law Association, for the Harvard Law Record (Also on Ms. JD at http://ms-jd.org/our-place)
As president of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, I occasionally am asked a question that sounds something like this: “Half of the student body at Harvard Law School are women; we have a female dean; indeed, our last female dean now sits on the United States Supreme Court. Do we really need a women’s law association?”
My short answer? Yes, hands-down.
I’d like to share a story that happened earlier this month that demonstrates exactly how critical women’s law associations remain.
On Friday, Feb. 11th, the Harvard Women’s Law Association held our fifth annual conference. To spread the word, we plastered campus with posters. Of course, those posters proudly displayed our conference title: This is What Equality Looks Like: The World We Want for Women and Girls. When we picked that title, we weren’t trying to hide the ball. Our message was clear: equality for women and girls.
Apparently, someone did not agree with our message. Down in the tunnels of the law school campus, that person took out a pen and, next to our words about women and equality, scribbled a different message: “Stay In Your Place.”
At first we were quick to excuse the behavior. It’s immaturity. It’s a joke. Blatant misogyny is by no means the norm at Harvard Law School; this incident should just be ignored. Besides, our conference addressed far more significant inequalities than an anonymous sexist comment at a very privileged institution. We heard about child marriage, domestic violence, and pay discrimination. We talked about equality-building solutions: micro-finance, self esteem for girls, Title IX.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized comments like this can be symbolic of deeper underlying issues. After all, if this person was willing to tell the brilliant, talented, and powerful women of Harvard Law School to stay in our place, particularly in response to the pressing issues our conference covered, where would it stop? Whether it was a completely inappropriate and degrading joke, a literal request for women to forget equality and go back to the kitchen, or simply an effort to take us down a notch, I felt that ignoring the comment wouldn’t cut it. So I am using this platform to respond.
Stay in our place? Well, I have news for you. This is “our place.” Here, at Harvard Law School, the greatest institution of legal education in the nation, this is our place. From the boardroom to the courtroom, from the corner office to the Oval Office, this is our place, and we are here to stay.