In the latter part of the last century, there was a story going around about a woman law student in the graduating class before me who was asked whether she knew how to type in a job interview. Back in the days before we had computers, the internet and ChatGPT, there were typewriters, machines with keyboards used to type documents onto paper that were then photocopied in machines, or xeroxed- which was a verb back in the day. The woman being interviewed replied that indeed she did know how to type. “I also know how to fuck,” she was said to reply, “but I don’t do either for money.”
After law school, I also interviewed for lowly associate positions at a couple of firms, but didn’t come off nearly as brash or as smart as that girl, who in my opinion had exactly what it would take to be a first-rate attorney. I was so nervous during my interviews I’m sure I never put a grammatically correct sentence together. No one offered me a position although I assume that had more to do with my lousy interviewing skills than my gender.
In 1979, my class was the first class at Case Western Reserve University School of Law to have equal numbers of men and women. I’d decided to become a lawyer when my high school guidance counselor suggested three career choices for me: nurse, secretary, teacher. “I want to be a lawyer,” I piped up. My conventional counselor with her out-of-date ideas quickly and not very subtly explained that particular option was not on the table. I never actually gave any thought to what it would mean to spend four years in college, then an additional three years in law school, how much tedious reading and studying was involved or what it was that lawyers actually did other than dress up in three-piece-suits and hang out in dark paneled courtrooms.
Mostly I went to law school to prove something although exactly what that was I couldn’t possibly have articulated. Back then, I was reactive, impulsive and strong-willed and I certainly could have benefited from a contemplative practice. One of my impulsive decisions, which luckily turned out great, was to marry my high school sweetheart. While I believed in the institution of marriage, I remained fiercely feminist and about halfway through my legal studies, I filed the necessary court documents to revert back to my maiden name. Let’s just say I was working my way through some identity issues.
Perhaps my high school guidance counselor was way more insightful than I gave her credit for. Upon graduating from law school, I went ahead and did the most unfeminist thing ever- I intentionally got pregnant. I still took the bar exam although I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the exam room contending with morning sickness. By the time I received my results telling me I’d passed, I was six weeks out from delivering my baby and much more interested in the logistics of nursing and sleep training than the application of the rules of criminal or civil procedure.
All these years later, I still admire the confidence and quick wit of the legendary woman from the class before me, who in my imagination knew exactly who she was and what she wanted to be. My life, as it turned out, was more centered around children and grandchildren than it was around the practice of law. Even though I didn’t turn out to be the kind of feminist I expected to be, I did turn out to be the kind of feminist who brags about her children and grandchildren (does it even count as bragging to recount the accomplishments of empathetic and productive human beings just because I happen to be part of the team who created them?), types 65 words per minute and holds a license to practice law.
As it turns out, I’m exactly the kind of feminist I was meant to be.