General Question

indicatebound's avatar

Why is the feminine pronoun (i.e., "she", "her") always used in law books?

Asked by indicatebound (120points) May 2nd, 2008

I’m not complaining. I don’t think gender-neutral (or the typical masculine “he” / “him”) is better but I can’t find any explanation for why this is and why it hasn’t caught on in other academic fields?

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10 Answers

TheCouncil's avatar

The scales of justice are held by a woman. Women are/were considered more compassionate and fair.

peedub's avatar

What a cool question and answer.

wildflower's avatar

But is a legal system supposed to be compassionate? I thought it was supposed to be blind and unemotional.

benjamin6's avatar

i disagree with council. i think the use of “she” has to do with balancing out gender inequality that has existed in the law and legal literature since america began (and long before that). many feminist legal scholars have argued (and i think it’s hard to dispute) that the law is man-made. the legislature, courts and legal practice have been and, to a large extent, still are dominated by men. frequently, in the forward to a law text, the authors will explain this as the reason for switching pronouns. here is a particularly cogent explanatory quote from the notes of a professional responsibility text: “I tend to use the feminine pronoun…My justification for this practice is based on the observation that people make unconscious use of images in what purports to be purely logical analysis. Try an example. A partner at a law firm gets a call…Stop! You’ve probably already formed a mental picture of the setting. The partner is man, probably white, with graying hair, wearing a pinstriped suit and conservative tie…We cannot help using images like this, but it is troublesome that men figure so prominently in our images of people in power.” (from W. Bradley Wendel, Professional Responsibility). So I think many scholars have used the feminine pronoun to combat exactly what council cites as the reason for its use (women being more compassionate and fair): stereotypes that work to entrench inequalities inherent in the justice system.

TheCouncil's avatar

@benjamin6 – I actually agree with your statement/citation. But would you agree that maybe a woman holding the scales was not choosen for exactly the same explanation you gave. An excuse for the hypocrisy that the judicial system was set up and originally run by men.

TheCouncil's avatar

@wildflower – in a way yes and a way no. If a woman has been beaten by her husband for years and finally strikes back does she not deserve compassion?

indicatebound's avatar

@benjamin6 – I agree absolutely. I like the use of “she”, I’m just really curious as to how it began. I’m a 1L and I’m not coming across any uses of “he” in my casebooks, classes, or even commercial outlines. I find it fairly ironic because I took general philosophy course in high school in which the professor was adamant that the use of “he” was the only grammatically proper form. And I really want to shove this evidence in his face ;)

As a side note, my 1L class is about 65/35 male to female, so you’re correct as to continuing inequality.

indicatebound's avatar

@thecouncil, I also think your answer is fantastic as well. The scales of justice hadn’t even crossed my mind!

benjamin6's avatar

@thecouncil—while i agree with indicatebound that it’s an interesting idea, i don’t think the that the personification of justice holding scales had anything to do with veiling hypocrisy. apparently, this image of justice goes back to antiquity when justice was envisioned as the greek goddess themis ( you may be right that justice is a goddess rather than a god because the compassionate woman fit into the greeks’ ideal of them as the weaker sex, but i doubt they had any interest in excusing their misogyny. again, though, while i disagree, really interesting idea; i learned something new about this. thx.

wildflower's avatar

She certainly does, from any half-decent human…...but not from a legal system. Of course there is room for ‘extenuating circumstances’. A court or legal system should be reasonable, fair, consistent, etc. Law should not be emotional in any way shape or form. IMO.

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