Stop Telling Women What Professions to Pursue

I have less than two months until the June LSAT and preparing for it is going much more smoothly than I anticipated. Yes, sometimes I get mad at the Kaplan books I rely far too heavily upon and mutter under my breath, but honestly that has always been my approach to studying. I actually enjoy logical reasoning and picking apart problems. Studying has not only made me much more at ease about the impending test, but also helped me expand my understanding of logic.

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Luke and Ashlyn keep me well stocked in giant squid gifts

Because I am ~diligently~ studying, I constantly have an LSAT book in tow and crack it open during my down time. I am not inundated with free time, so when I find it, I take advantage of it. When I drag out one of my tomes, some people take notice and start up a conversation with me about the test, law school, and my choice in professional field. Normally, I love these types of conversations. I am passionate about my career goals. Even the introductory positions I have held prior to prepping for law school (as legal and executive assistant at two radically different firms in California and Arkansas) have been enjoyable. I may have dreaded plodding through discovery batches or sifting through backlogged files, but seeing how my work fit into a larger picture was and is fascinating. I still get butterflies in my stomach walking into a courtroom to hear a status conference just because I am excited to be there. Occasionally, I get on PACER just to read new filings in cases that I am have an interest in. I have favorite judges in different districts and circuits, just because I like the way they write orders and decisions.

But since graduating from college, I have begun to notice a shift in these conversations. More and more, instead of having a two-sided discussion about future goals, people suggest I reconsider law school. I use suggest here broadly- some people have laughed heartily before launching into how unhappy being a lawyer will make me or how the law bubble is going to pop and I will be unemployed, or some other work related travesty. I used to brush these occurrences off, until I talked to other women pursuing similar careers who have had several related conversations. Mulling this over, I remembered that one of the ongoing jokes around the holiday season is how many times my sister will be told “No, you don’t want to be a teacher”, despite the fact she is just a month short of obtaining her degree with honors and, you know, might have a bit of insight in regards to what career she wants.

The more I have talked about this with other women, the more a theme began to take shape: the random stranger, work colleague, relative seen only at Christmas, etc. seems to know more about what makes us happy than we do.

And I understand that in some cases, people offer up this cajoling as advice. Advice-givers do not want us to find ourselves financially, mentally, or physically compromised in our pursuits. But just because something comes with good intention does not mean it can’t be fueled or tainted by institutional bias or sexism.

I know that post-graduate schooling costs money (and a lot of it). I know that means I may have debt. My sister knows she won’t be making buckets of money and will largely be underappreciated because sharing Facebook posts of support really doesn’t do much to change the situation. Women who want to go into politics know elections are difficult, in part because we are reminded every time we discuss it with other. The medical field is a lot of time, work, and long hours and, again, we know that.

The overarching assumption regardless of field is that we don’t know what to expect. And like most plans, that is true to a degree. We can’t fully anticipate what might come up throughout our lives. But that doesn’t give cause to assume that we haven’t done a bit of research or applied common sense to the situation to gauge what is expected of us. By making and supporting that assumption, you propagate a narrative that women jump into career paths on an uninformed whim. Give us some credit- we know it is going to be difficult or costly. We also know we have to continue to navigate sexism that is only exacerbated by racism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, and other inaccurate, preconceived notions of how we should exist. The advice may be well intended, but it gets difficult to smile and say “thank you” while being told we don’t measure up to our plans.

I don’t like highlighting problems without leaving room for discussion, and perhaps discussion is the best path to take with this issue. Instead of talking at us and peppering us with your opinion on our choice, listen to what we have to say. Rely on us to know and exercise our knowledge. Adapt your conversation to the person and respect our choices. And please, stop dissuading women from pursuing underrepresented careers and perpetuating a system that undervalues our contributions to those fields. We don’t aim to make it without frustration or stumbling- we just need the unfettered agency to do so. 

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