Out With The Measuring Tape: Casual Sexism In The Legal Profession

Out With The Measuring Tape: Casual Sexism In The Legal Profession

We live in a society where subtly chauvinistic behaviors ail the lives of countless women. These create leeway for the assumption of gender roles, which translate into personalized conceptions of femininity; for example, a defined standard of censor that a woman is expected to maintain when it comes to her clothing. Anything that falls short of this is a trigger to our passive chauvinism.

These bystanders unknowingly play a measurable and extremely harmful role in facilitating these perceptions. To take an example, incidents of rape are unfortunately convoyed with the doubt of whether the victim (female) had any role to play; these suggestions need not necessarily be overt, but may manifest innately. These hints of sexism crystallize notions of gender-defined roles, which are reinforced to the point where they begin to over-shadow the repugnance of morally reprehensible acts: in order to avoid being raped, a woman should shy away from public attention, or she should not dress in a particular manner. Our perceptions of femininity ironically offer tailored solutions to rape instead of actually addressing the real issue at hand. This is a mere example of how detrimental personalized conceptions of gender definition can be.

On the 20th of January, 2018, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, whilst addressing the 3rd Sindh Judicial Conference attempted to compare the length of his speech to the length of a woman’s skirt:

“A speech should be like a woman’s skirt. It should not be too long, that one loses interest and neither too short that it doesn’t cover the subject.”

The analogy drawn was offensive, unwarranted and unbecoming of the top judge of the country. It was passively sexist. It lubricated prevailing and pre-existing notions of gender-specific roles, whilst emphasizing a personalized conception of femininity. It manifested bias from an otherwise neutral and unprejudiced public office. The remark was an apparent reference being made to the private parts of a woman, followed by a subjective determination as to which extent they should be covered. In fact, the Chief’s attempted jest is oblivious to the daily problems that female lawyers have to face – a cause of which he is an ardent supporter of. To draw this under the garb of an attempted quip is unfortunate, as the remark was made during a judicial conference where the highlight of discussion was, admirably, the independence of the judiciary in an extremely tense political atmosphere. It caused injustice to Pakistan’s 100 million women, whose equality has been upheld by the Constitution of Pakistan – the mandate of which is enforced by its most supreme guardian: the Chief Justice.

In no way can the legitimacy of this statement be accorded validation on it having been previously delivered by Winston Churchill. More responsible statements need to be ensured as people tend to flock, in their beliefs and actions, behind those in authority. This especially holds true in a society where the literacy rate is under sixty per cent. Only when the torch-bearers begin to lead the way will those behind fall in line.

Ideally, judges must be seen as objective and impartial, and should particularly refrain from making comments that may suggest the slightest hint of bias via personal opinion. They must be wary in their selection of words and cautious of the imbalances and social problems that exist in society. Casual and blatant cases of sexism range from workplaces to domestic households, and the words of the Chief Justice do no favour to the alienated positions of women in the predominantly male-centered legal profession. The best approach is to have no approach at all; men and women are equal, and each should individually be more than able to decide what and how to wear.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.

Rafae Saigal

Author: Rafae Saigal

The writer holds an undergraduate degree in law and is currently practicing as an advocate in a law firm based in Lahore.