Issues · Work Life Balance

Why We Talk About Our Struggles

There was a big back and forth online this week about the discussion that took place between Jessica William and Salma Hayek at some like women in Hollywood retreat.  LA Times had a transcript on the event. Essentially, this was a huge, missed opportunity in intersectional feminism. Jessica tried to explain how her identity as a black woman is almost always on the forefront of how people see her and Salma (and Shirley MacLaine [da fuq]) dismissed this as almost silly. On top of also making some statements that seemed to imply programs that are akin to affirmative action are condescending…

But Remezcla did a great piece on this situation and why intersectional discussions matter. But as I read these articles, I kept getting annoyed at how Salma seemed to want Jessica to ignore any perceived “victimhood,” and try to just work past it in her mind or her “inner democracy” or whatever la fregada she was trying to say.

It reminded me of a time I spoke with an older Latina lawyer, who knew –very much—about the statistics we face and the barriers imposed on us. I spoke to her about it and she said, “yeah it’s good to know about it, but just forget it and keep going.” I was pretty disheartened to hear that.

It also reminded me of panels I have sat on where Latinas or women or people of color who have reached great success and then fail to acknowledge the obstacles they faced. “I just never paid attention to it.” seems to be a popular refrain.

Ok. I guess that worked for them, because perhaps they made partner by ignoring the comments or bad behaviors or whatever, but obviously it doesn’t work for the rest of us when we see that Latinas make less than 1% of partners in Big Law. Obvi that strategy isn’t working.

More so, the main reason I don’t want us to forget just how much we have to struggle in order to graduate college, let alone actually practice law, is not because I want to feed us excuses to not succeed, but because when we are aware of potential barriers we can then strategize on how to overcome them better, faster, and can break them down for others.

I talk about these struggles to help us understand that our journey to practice law is hard, difficult, and different from most. Latinas have to overcome cultural norms that may not encourage a girl to go away to school, to participate in extracurriculars, to put their education/career aspirations ahead of their family. Latinas then have to enter educational institutions and spaces not made for them; taught by instructors that rarely have an understanding of their background or experience; surrounded by other students who have lived lives of privilege. Then we’re expected to navigate one of the most conservative professions, assimilate our physical appearances and demeanor to their desires, drown ourselves in debt, and be happy that we’re paid less than almost everyone else for the same work.

I mean, that’s cray.

But it’s even more ridiculous to pretend that’s not what most of experience. It’s even more ridiculous to pretend that if you just ignore the slights, the throttled access to opportunity, the cultural clash, that you can make it just like everyone else.

No. I’d rather dissect and discuss the good and the bad. You will be a more successful law student, attorney, and person if you go into this career eyes open. Knowing that some of the inadequacies you feel may be due to your own flaws, but understanding on a deeper level that some of those “inadequacies” are systemic—and then have a game plan to overcome them.

And just as important, it’s vital to know exactly just how much you’ve overcome so that you can celebrate how much you have accomplished.

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