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Female Judges More Lenient than Men?


Recent research has reflected the idea that female judges are more lenient than their male counterparts. As a result of this opinion, I was left to wonder if the perceived leniency will have greater implications for other women in the legal profession. I was a bit surprised when I read about this idea because I would have thought that female judges would have been harsher at times in an effort to fight against gender stereotypes and gain respect in the legal community.

Even though women have made strides in a variety of career fields, gender stereotypes still exist. After hearing about the leniency perception, some attorneys and judges may fear that this idea will prohibit them from gaining respect from males in the legal community and inhibit them from further advancing in their careers. Similarly, women may fear that their male colleagues and adversaries will view them as the weak and not be emotionally stable enough to clear any hurdle that comes their way. Similarly, some women may also fear that they will be pigeonholed into practicing certain areas of law.

In criminal cases, defendants may be happy to hear that the female judge in front of them is likely to be more lenient during sentencing than a male judge. However, this joy should be quick lived because all judges regardless of gender are concerned with ensuring a fair process and sentencing those defendants who are found to be guilty of committing a crime. They are focused on each individual case in front of them not with the trends that the statistics of their decisions may show.

After learning about this opinion, some female judges may try to overcompensate for their perceived leniency in decision-making by becoming extremely harsh. In an effort to disprove this opinion, female judges may try to show that their decisions were supported evidence rather than made on an emotional whim. This could also be true in cases in which the judge is female and so is one of the attorneys. The female judges would not want people in the legal community to think that they are showing favoritism to an attorney or defendant who is also a female because of their gender. However, if I was a judge I think that my concerned would be placed on ensuring that a fair and legal decision was reached regardless of my gender, an attorney’s gender, or the defendant’s gender.

At first when I heard about this idea that female judges were more lenient than men, I was a little surprised because its 2014 and we are still evaluating court decisions differently based on the judge’s gender. I was frustrated because women have worked hard to overcome these gender stereotypes, but they seem to continually resurface. However, I soon realized that this “leniency” should be viewed as a blessing and not as a curse. While it may still be true that women will have to work harder to get to the same respected positions as men, I think that the idea could benefit females. I think that this leniency illustrates a woman’s ability to clearly hear and evaluate both sides of an argument to make an informed and rational decision. These judges may weigh additional factors that may affect the ability of the judicial system to punish and rehabilitate the offenders.

Overall, I am not sure how much weight the perceived leniency perception of female judges will carry in practice. As an attorney, I think that regardless of the judge’s gender you will go into court prepared to advocate for your client to the best of your ability. You would not be doing your job if you decided not to prepare as thoroughly for your case just because you knew that the judge you were going to appear before was a woman. Additionally, in my short legal experience I have not found that my gender has affected by ability to be respected and treated fairly by my male colleagues. I am not naïve to think that I will never encounter gender stereotypes in my career, but like most women, I like to think that my work product will help to overcome them. Gender will only become a greater issue in the legal careers of women the more that it is discussed and analyzed. If we are able to keep the focus on our clients and the law then hopefully the gender of the judge, attorney, or client will not impact the outcome of the case.

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