"A Wild Feminist at Her Raving Best": Reflections on Studying Gender Bias in the Legal Profession

By Brockman, Joan | Resources for Feminist Research, Fall-Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

"A Wild Feminist at Her Raving Best": Reflections on Studying Gender Bias in the Legal Profession


Brockman, Joan, Resources for Feminist Research


Joan Brockman (1)

This paper examines the use of face-to-face interviews and self-response questionnaires as methods for studying issues of gender bias in the legal profession. It draws on personal interviews with 50 women and 50 men called to the bar in British Columbia and the construction of, and responses to, four self-response questionnaires (for members and former members of the Law Society of British Columbia and for active and inactive members of the Law Society of Alberta). In order to illustrate how questions about gender bias in the legal profession might be constructed from a feminist perspective, the paper examines issues surrounding the definition and study of: (1) gender bias and discrimination; (2) sexual harassment; (3) gender harassment; and (4) the combining of career, children, and chores.

Cet article examine l'emploi d'entretiens face a face et de questionnaires auto-reponse comme methodes visant l'etude des questions de biais base sur te genre dans la profession juridique. II puise dans des entretiens personnels avec 50 femmes et 50 hommes inscrits au barreau en Colombie-Britannique, ainsi que la construction des reponses (et les reponses elles-memes) a quatre questionnaires autoreponse (pour membres et anciens membres de la societe juridique de Colombie-Britannique et pour membres actifs et inactifs de la societe juridique de l'Alberta). Afin d'illustrer comment les questions touchant aux biais de genre dans a profession juridique peuvent etre construites dune perspective feministe, l'article examine des questions touchant la definition et tude (1) du biais base sur le genre et la discrimination; (2) du harcelement sexuel; (3) du harcelement base sur le genre; et (4) de la combinaison carriere, enfants, taches.

Introduction

"This questionnaire appears to have been prepared by a wild feminist at her raving best! Why do we waste our time and money on such things?" (Respondent to a survey of members of the Law Society of Alberta, 1991)

The colourful description above was scrawled over the top of a questionnaire from one of four surveys I completed between 1989 and 1992 of current and former members for the Law Society of British Columbia (Brockman, 1992b, 1992c), and of both active and inactive members for the Law Society of Alberta (Brockman, 1992a, 1994). The questionnaires used in the Alberta surveys were similar to those used in the British Columbia surveys, and they have been considered by other law societies across Canada. (2) Following these surveys, I conducted personal interviews in 1993-94 with a stratified random sample of 50 women and 50 men who had been called to the Bar in British Columbia between 1986 and 1990, and who were still members when the sample was drawn in 1993 (Brockman, under review).

In the context of studying gender issues in the legal profession, this paper examines research methods, methodology, and the politics of constructing questionnaires with committees in an organization that is the governing body of the group being studied (in this case, the law society committees in British Columbia and Alberta). It then examines some of the shortcomings of these questionnaires and of the interview questions, in light of feminist perspectives on the study of gender bias in the legal profession. The research methods or tools used, in this case questionnaires and interviews, do not necessarily preclude or presume a feminist perspective (Brockman and Phillippe, 1991; Reinharz, 1992). Rather, it is at the methodological level that feminism can have an impact on research. How does one ask questions about what appears problematic from women lawyers' perspectives? How does one ask questions which reflect the "lived experiences" of the respondents?

In order to illustrate how questions about gender bias in the legal profession might be constructed from a feminist perspective, the paper then examines issues surrounding the definition and study of: (1) "gender bias" and "discrimination"; (2) sexual harassment; (3) gender harassment; and (4) the combining of career, children, and chores. …

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