Gendered Lives, Gendered Laws: Charlotte Proudman on Women in Law, the Nordic Model, and the Old Boy’s Club

This Monday saw a talk co-hosted between the School of English, Drama and the Arts and the Gendered Lives Research Group with Charlotte Proudman. Charlotte is a barrister and commentator on gender issues who shot to prominence last year after drawing attention to sexism in the legal profession by calling out a senior lawyer who sent her inappropriate messages on LinkedIn. The subject of Charlotte’s discussion was the need for quotas of women in the higher echelons of the legal profession: specifically for judges and Q.C.s. To argue her point, Charlotte outlined how the legal profession functions as something of an old-boy’s club, drawing attention to the way that it excludes not only women but also people of colour and those from less privileged backgrounds (in particular those educated at state schools). From here, she drew attention to the ways in which the British legal system disadvantages women, in particular focusing on sexual and domestic violence and legal issues surrounding sex-work. Much of the discussion focused on prostitution, with Charlotte arguing that Britain should adopt the Nordic model advocated by Catherine McKinnon, in which the burden of guilt falls on those who purchase sex-workers’ services rather than sex-workers themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that attitudes towards prostitution is currently one of the major bones of contention in feminist circles, subsequent questions from the floor revealed some dissent from this view, with a number of members of the audience advocating full decriminalisation. After the discussion, there was a suggestion that the Gendered Lives might host guest blogs presenting the advantages and disadvantages of the Nordic Model and decriminalisation, so watch this space for further discussion!

Of course, the discussion didn’t focus solely on this issue: Charlotte also fielded questions on advice for women considering going into the legal profession, spoke about her own experiences of sexism, and spent some time discussing the way that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) attempts to police feminine sexuality – a subject which forms the basis of Charlotte’s doctoral research. (As well as practising as a barrister, Charlotte is also a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Cambridge University, and still finds the time to write for The Guardian and The Independent and to appear on numerous television and radio programmes). She spoke movingly of the importance of an awareness of gender in a legal framework, arguing that feminist lawyers need to be wary of mobilising any gender stereotype, positive or negative, in order to help them win their case. All in all, the talk was thoroughly argued, stimulated debate and provided an excellent opportunity for students at Loughborough to think about the ways in which the gender theory they encounter in seminar plays out in everyday life. Thanks to everyone in attendance, everyone who asked a question, and in particular to Charlotte herself for coming, and Jennifer Cooke for organising the event.

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