Sex and power: Is this a turning point?

Charlotte was interviewed about sexual harassment in the workplace by journalist Lydia Morrish for WikiTribune

Published 03.10.2017, WikiTribune

Reducing systemic sexual assault requires a rebalancing of the whole concept of power between men and women, women’s rights advocate and lawyer Charlotte Proudman told WikiTribune. “Until we change male dominance, I don’t think we’re going to see a real transformation in the way in which women are treated in the workplace. It [the focus on harassment is] a good step forward, but I don’t think it’s enough.”

Proudman was herself at the center of a workplace misconduct case in 2015, when a senior partner at a law firm commented on her appearance in her LinkedIn profile photo. According to a Guardian report at the time, Proudman said that the comment on her appearance sought to eroticize her, which was an act of men “exercising power over women.”

Charlotte Proudman said non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be restricted in order to protect people from harassment. Also known as confidentiality agreements, an NDA is a legal contract that sees victims in sexual harassment cases receive a sum of money in exchange for silence about information regarding the abuse. Commonly used between employers and employees, NDAs require both parties who sign the agreement to keep information private.

It’s particularly an issue in the U.S., according to Proudman. “Effectively, the law is sanctioning the silencing of women because of the wealth and power that men have in contrast to those individuals bringing such claims.”


Women in Law: What Needs to Change? An Interview with Charlotte Proudman

 

Christianah Babajide, sat down with Human Rights barrister, Charlotte Proudman, to discuss gender inequality in the legal profession itself.

Published 22.07.2017, Lawbore

 

 

Excerpt

CB: Have you faced any challenges as a woman in law?

CP: All women have faced challenges, especially in the legal profession. I think women have to work twice as hard as men to be recognised for their talent and ability. They have to prove themselves by over compensating. I’m thinking of the classic workplace meeting scenario where a woman proposes a key change to her group of a colleague and no one bites. A moment later, a male colleague proposes exactly the same change but with the added advantage of a male voice and everyone agrees. Imagine how this can play out in the courtroom when barristers core role is advocacy.

Another challenge for women in the law is adopting gender-based stereotypes, the same old tired tropes of women and men that are often played out in the courtroom. In a context of rape, she was asking for it – she was drinking and wearing a short skirt! When there is domestic violence the woman is seen as complicit in the violence perpetrated against her because she didn’t leave the relationship. Or on the other hand, she drove her husband to murder because he was consumed by jealous rage on finding her with another man. The emphasis is on the behaviour of women rather than male perpetrators. These sorts of gender-based stereotypes are used for a variety of reasons mainly because judges and juries identify with them. Women are blamed for violence against them because their behaviour conflicts with preconceived notions of how a reasonable “man” would behave. The law is built on understandings of how men would and should behave in certain situations. Still today the law is written using the masculine pronoun. In this way, arguably half of the population are excluded.

CB: On International Women’s Day, you appeared as a panellist at the City, University of London event. What points did you make as to dress codes and what professional looks like?

CP: I think Nicola Thorp hit the nail on the head as to what professional image looks like. She challenged the so-called professional dress code of a company and revealed that the high heels code was created by a man, who decided high heels constitutes appropriate uniform for women, however, no-one seemed to give any thought as to whether women wanted to wear heels. The impact of having a gender-based dress code reinforces gender inequality and contributes to how men and women are seen in the workplace, in particular how women are objectified in the workplace. Men are often viewed as professional, respected merely for the position they are in, while women strive to be seen as professional first and foremost but are not always. Ultimately women are often objectified through their physical appearance, whilst men are not. Whilst some women may use their sexuality as a form of currency or power, there are other women who cannot conform to the ideal body attributes and there are women who do not want to conform.


Charlotte Proudman: Why I took a stand against sexism

“CharlotteProudman"

The lawyer who found herself the subject of a torrent of abuse for standing up to sexism talks to CMI about how she weathered the storm and bounced back stronger than ever.

Published 24.06.2016, CMI

“My career has taken a different but positive twist. I have been branded a feminist barrister so I have decided to own it, and to use the platform I have been given to speak about women’s rights, and the need for progressive legal change.”

“I continue to move forward, and learn from those experiences.”

“After all, I’m on the right side of history.”


Feminist lawyers: the fight for gender equality in the legal profession

Charlotte was interviewed by Lawcareers about the ongoing fight to achieve gender equality in the legal profession.

Published 10.05.2016, Lawcareers

This is still a profession in which many would rather a junior barrister, Charlotte Proudman, remain “professional” (ie, silent) when faced with a senior colleague’s sexist behaviour than challenge it. Indeed, the attitudes of those in senior positions are falling well behind those of more recent entrants to the profession. “Legal constructed discrimination dominates statute and case law,” says Proudman. Proudman discusses rape, abortion and prostitution laws.


Barrister fighting for women’s rights in and out of court

Charlotte Proudman interviewed by journalist Katie Grant at the Independent

Published 30.04.2016 (in print), Independent

Speaking out against sexism had “ruined” her job prospects, she was warned. Seven months on, though, Ms Proudman’s career is thriving. The lawyer, 27, continues to practice part-time while she completes her PhD on female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales at the University of Cambridge – and has managed to combine her passion for combatting FGM with her legal knowhow, representing at immigration tribunals vulnerable women at risk of being cut abroad.

Unlike many women in her field, she is not afraid to discuss the “institutional sexism” within the legal profession. Of the UK’s 12 Supreme Court judges, only one is female. Incredibly, last year, one of that number, Lord Sumption, cautioned against hurrying to install more women in senior judicial positions as male candidates could be deterred from entering the profession.

“Our democracy is very much controlled by male interests…There are huge problems in the way the law is designed and enforced. There’s bound to be – only 25 per cent of the judiciary are women. The legal profession is predominantly white upper-class men.”

But Ms Proudman said she is determined to carry on “fighting the good fight”. After all, she laughed, “what feminist hasn’t run into trouble?”


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

Published 27.04.2017, Loughborough University

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.

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 attempts to police feminine sexuality – a subject which forms the basis of Charlotte’s doctoral research.


Charlotte Proudman: We ‘should embrace’ the ‘angry feminist’

Alice Chilcott talks LinkedIn, law and lad culture with Charlotte Proudman, the Cambridge PhD student turned women’s rights campaigner.

Published 26.02.2016, Varsity

Proudman tells me she went into the law to change women’s lives, but disenchantment with what she terms the “institutional sexism” of the legal profession itself set in quickly. “I thought that law could be used as a tool to actually change women’s realities and the position they find themselves in…. In actual fact, I realised, how could you possibly advance women’s position in society through the law, when the law itself is discriminatory and sexist?”

She criticises the recent suggestion of Supreme Court Justice Sumption that a rush for gender equality would destablise the judicial system. “Women have been told this, continually, for 50 years, 100 years, 150 years – just be patient and wait. Well, if women continue to wait, in a system infused by sexism, where men have the power to promote women, they will be waiting in biblical proportion.

“They will not be promoted, and they are not being promoted – not because they’re not the best at the job, because of structural disadvantages. This is more important in law, as well perhaps as politics, than any other areas. When it comes to law, women are presumed to consent to the law’s rule and yet they’re not equally represented.”

She gives the example of prostitution laws. “Who are the ones who are sexually exploiting women? Men. Who are the ones who go to prison? Prostituted women.”

It’s a sobering thought that Proudman’s logic is effectively a recalibrated version of that put forward over 100 years ago by Emmeline Pankhurst in her auto-biographical polemic, My Own Story. The suffragettes’ mantra, too, centred on the denial of the legal jurisdiction of a government which refused to allow women to participate in the formation of the law. Now Proudman, whose own grandmother was a suffragette, is determined to transform the system from the inside.

“I think I’ll go back to law. There’s nothing more rewarding than representing women in particular in court, in providing an outcome which can have a dramatic change on their life…

“So I think, ultimately, I’ll go back and I’ll continue the fight, most notably in trying to overturn discrimination, and to introduce feminist laws, such as quotas for women.”

Proudman uses words like “fight” and “sisterhood” without a hint of self-consciousness or affectation. Listening to her, one is immediately struck by just how real this “struggle” is. If the vision of feminism she presents seems at times pessimistic, it is heartening to know that there is someone out there who is unashamedly devoting her life to combating the issues she highlights.

It is inconvenient for Proudman’s critics that very little about her fulfills the stereotype of the shrieky, haranguing man-hater that they seem so keen to perpetuate. She has a low, gentle voice, and the urgency of the message she is trying to convey is matched by the articulacy with which she manages it. She’s never heard of Cuntry Living, and is cautiously enthusiastic about the participation of men in feminist discourses.  At the same time, she does not wish to shy away from the image of the ‘angry feminist’. “In a society where you’re constantly facing sexism on an everyday basis, to get angry about that – to be strident in your feminism – is completely justifiable.

“We shouldn’t accept those types of criticisms that are levelled against us – or if we do, we should embrace them.”

And she’s willing to take any opportunity to further her cause.  “Keep the bit about quotas?” she asks me, as she leaves. “I want people to see that.”


 Women of the world festival Cambridge 

Cambridge Edition magazine interviewed Charlotte Proudman in the run up to Women of the World Festival Cambridge.

Published 02.2016, Women of the world

Proudman is a staggeringly accomplished woman; a barrister in family law, an expert in female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour-based violence, and a doctoral researcher here at Cambridge researching FGM in England and Wales. We asked her if feminism is still important here in the UK where we have relative equality compared with women in other countries, and she said, “Patriarchy is universal and cross-cultural; it’s not something to one society and not others… I think it’s important to have feminism wherever you have gender inequality”.


Women at the bar

Unless you’ve been living under a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, you’ll have noticed that the subject of women at the Bar has been everyone’s business lately.

Published 02.12.2015, Chambers Student

Diversity at the Bar is a hot topic. This year we’ve seen two Bar Council studies on the prospect of equality and women’s lived experiences in the profession, and a social media storm that left very few unprepared to chip in (until a supreme court judge almost stole the limelight). Charlotte Proudman and other women barristers attempt to answer what should be simple enough questions: What is it really like for women at the Bar? Will there ever be as many female barristers, silks and judges as there are men? And what needs to happen for the numbers to improve?


City firm wants to shake off ‘old boys club’ reputation but Charlotte Proudman isn’t convinced

Published 02.12.2015, Legal Cheek 

“While the scheme is a welcomed step to achieving gender parity, it is important to point out that such schemes should not focus on teaching women to lean in or behave more like men. Gender inequality is not a reflection of women’s inadequacy, it is a reflection of male power… Only quotas for women will ensure absolutely equality. If you believe in gender equality then there can be no justification for supporting anything less.”


Interview with Charlotte Proudman: What happened next

Published 07.11.2015, The Saturday Times Magazine


Sexism debate in the legal profession

Published 10.2015, The Norwegian Bar Magazine