Professor Paula Baron, Chair of Common Law at La Trobe Law School spoke on 15-16 May 2015 at the Post feminism. Post theory. Post critique? Workshop at the Australian National University in Canberra. Her paper was titled ‘Still Crazy (after all these Years)’
In the contemporary environment, it is often seen as unfashionable to identify as a feminist. Women are seen to have made significant progress, particularly in political and professional life, such that notions of feminism, particularly notions of feminism that call for solidarity, are no longer needed.
In this environment, the female lawyer is, perhaps, seen as the epitome of gender progress: featuring in public imaginaries as smart, successful, independent and professional. Three empirical reports in Australia since 2010, however, evidence a dysfunctional legal services industry characterised by widespread bullying, discrimination and harassment. These behaviours are primarily, though not exclusively, directed towards women. Their impact is serious. The reports evidence the ways in which these behaviours compromise women’s professional and personal lives and their well-being. They are believed to explain the widespread attrition of women from legal practice, particularly private legal practice.
Yet these reports, in reality, tell us nothing new. A significant body of empirical and academic literature since at least the late 1990s has expressed concern for unethical behaviours in legal workplaces and their deleterious impact upon women. How is it that, despite the unlawfulness of discrimination and harassment, despite the increasing understanding of the issue of workplace bullying and despite women’s (theoretical) equality, these behaviours continue, apparently unabated? This paper seeks to expose the links between neoliberalism and dysfunctional legal workplaces; and the links between neoliberalism and postfeminism to understand why it is that legal workplaces remain so crazy (after all these years); and what the implications of this might be not only for women lawyers, but for working women in general.