Living in the South things are often slightly different than in other parts of the country. We drink sweet tea, say y’all, and call soda, soda, not pop. I’ve technically lived in the South my whole life considering I grew up in Florida but most laugh when I say so because though Miami is geographically further down the map, I’ve been told that saying you’re from the South because you grew up in Florida is like saying the manatee by the wharf is your uncle because he’s a mammal, like you.
Now that I live in the undisputed South, I’ve found that despite certain indisputable perks such as the never ending supply of sweet tea, shorter winters yet the ability to experience snow, and ofcourse birds which seem to be everywhere at all times, there are certain things in the legal arena that could use some updating.
Granted, we’ve come a long way from the days that the US Supreme Court said banning women from practicing law and limiting the profession to men only was A-OK but for women at least, the South still has some ways to go to equalize the playing field. This might be an issue beyond the South (and if so, please share) but friends who practice up North laugh incredulously when I tell them of patiently answering questions at interviews regarding whether or not I’m married, if I have children, or intend to in the future, and ofcourse the dress requirements. Women wear skirts, men wear pants. I’ll never forget sitting in a filled to capacity lecture hall as our career advisor passed out a handout illustrating proper interview attire for men and women: Skirts for women along with makeup tips and pants for men. One student raised her hand asking if we had to wear skirts to which the advisor, looking slightly annoyed, told us he receives too many complaints from interviewers at the top law firms wondering why our school’s female body insists on disrespecting them by showing up in pant suits: If you want the high paying job in the top notch law firm, play the game. After the talk, I waited for the crowd to die down and approached him explaining I was Muslim and couldn’t wear the illustrated skirt for religious reasons to which he responded that it was a shame I didn’t wear the headscarf because at least law firms would know why I showed up in a pant-suit. Is that a first y’all? Being told by your career advisor (who is not an imam of any sort) that wearing a hijab might be a good career move? Sadly, beyond the law firms, there are countless stories from women practicing in the South who have told me about JUDGES ordering them to leave their courtroom because they dared walk in in pants and disrespect their courtroom.
Well imagine my surprise (read: sarcasm) to hear that a woman in a head scarf (and undoubtedly pants) was denied access to a deep south Georgia courtroom to contest a speeding ticket because her attire offended the judge. (Thanks for the link Dwyane!) Its outrageous but its not surprising. When I went for my court date I tried my best to show the Judge despite my pants I understood my role as a feminine female by wearing a pink shirt, a matching pink bag and pearl earrings but I still wonder if its why he had such a sour expression on his face and spoke to me as though I offended him with my very presence. I guess if women can be turned away from court for daring to wear pants, a head scarf must have appeared as alien to that judge, as an actual alien complete with eight arms and pink polka dots walking into his courtroom.
It’s also not surprising that googling the story resulted in only one article. Because I’m freaking out about the Bar and frankly can’t spare the stress I’m already expending on aforementioned bar and my air conditioner (which is still on the fritz) I debated writing about this fearing the confrontational debates that may insist on being had… but I figure if this girl can show up to Court and stand by her principles and not shy away despite the pressure, the least I can do is tell y’all about it. I hope she knows reading her story gave me the extra boost I needed today as I sat with my books towering higher than me, and remembered why I want to practice law in the first place: Civil rights, because its what makes this country great.