Women in the Law: "In the Media"

November 23, 2016

Ed. Note: Here at Hire an Esquire, we aim to bring you fresh, relevant perspectives from around the legal industry. We're partnering with Law School Transparency to bring you Women in the Law, a podcast mini-series and related articles that examine the many professional and personal challenges that women continue to face as members of the legal profession. In the workplace, successful men and women must be strong to lead and to make authoritative decisions. But the label “strong woman” describes something else. It’s a casual, one-size-fits-all term that describes any successful woman. Even with this label, women often must take additional steps to prove their strength, competence, and fit.

In television drama, the pressure for female characters to be “strong women” persists, with perceived weaknesses functioning to confirm negative female stereotypes. When a character weeps, it’s what we expect. When she makes a critical mistake, it’s no surprise. A woman’s vulnerability is all too often tied to losing her temper or emotional instability.

On the flipside, men display vulnerability without additional baggage. It’s a sign of a man’s rounded and balanced personality and good character.

"In the Media"

The Good Wife is a show that writes its women brilliantly. The show portrays Diane Lockhart, a senior partner at a law firm, in a refreshingly thorough manner. Clever writing and Christine Baranski’s superb acting highlight the character’s vulnerabilities, while ensuring that they are reasonable, believable, and positive qualities.

Diane, a feminist and Democrat, ultimately marries Kurt McVeigh, a gun-loving conservative Republican. She’s neither threatened nor intimidated by his different beliefs. Instead, she holds her own values close and dear, making clear to him what she thinks.

In one episode, she unexpectedly joins Kurt on a hunting trip. Though she is the only woman there, she does not allow this potential disadvantage to hinder her. She engages in an intense but respectful discussion with Reese Dipple about her pro-choice and his pro-life beliefs. She gives him a fair hearing, debating passionately and with reason. Diane commands respect from Reese, and gets it.

Another time, in relation to a case involving a Christian couple who refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, Reese asks Diane, “Isn’t the law meant to be impersonal? In the sense that it should be the same for everyone?” She replies that “the law is supposed to be fair. Not impersonal. In fact, I would argue that the law is always personal. It has to see the human side too or else it’s meaningless.” He nods and smiles, not in total agreement with her, but out of that earned respect.

It’s inspiring that a feminist like Diane doesn’t get her comeuppance at the end of The Good Wife. To do so would be an unabashed disappointment to viewers. But on the face of the series finale, it may not seem that way. In that final episode, Alicia Florrick betrays Diane by so publicly revealing Kurt’s infidelity in court.

"In the Media" Roundtable at Elon Law:

The revelation humiliates Diane. She cracks, but does not break. She shows vulnerability, but is not weakened. She responds violently by slapping Alicia across the face so hard it sounds like a gunshot, but she does not fall apart. In other words, Diane demonstrates that she is strong and flawed and someone to see yourself in, but even she has a limit to what she is prepared to tolerate.

With spinoff series The Good Fight centered around the Diane Lockhart character (debut in February 2017), I for one hope to see more of the same: a complex female character whose nuances make her strengths veer away from the expectations of the cliche “strong woman,” with no the need to prove her worthiness simply because she is a female in her chosen profession.

Cath Bore is a writer and radio personality in Liverpool, England.

cath bore