Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Work, Tears, and the Commodity of Justice

I’ve been gainfully employed since the tender age of 17. With the exception of three years in law school, I’ve been lucky to always have a job of one kind or another.

But I also used to cry at work. Frequently. 

This could be a phenomenon that’s unique to young women; I’m not sure. All I know is that once while flipping a burger at a campus eatery in college, a drunk football player didn’t like my burger-flipping methods, and he yelled at me and made fun of me and tried to humiliate me in front of all his drunk jock friends. 

I cried and stormed out on my shift.

Two years later, while working as an assistant at a New York City publishing company, my Anna Wintour-esque boss didn't like the way my 22 year-old self filed away a list of contacts in her Rolodex or something. She yelled at me and told me I was the wrong "material" for the job. I cried in the bathroom in heaving sobs. The kind of sobs that only children seem to experience, generally when they are deeply ashamed and literally can’t catch their breath. 

Later in law school, an Anna Wintour-esque dean yelled at me in front of many fellow law students and professors for trying to encourage my law school to adopt a pro bono (free legal representation) graduation requirement. This Anna also screamed that I needed to CHECK MY FACTS and LEARN MY LESSON (about what I can't recall) and essentially had a public meltdown at a 24 year-old over I'm-still-not-sure-exactly-what.

I cried and couldn't eat for two days.

It's been a long time since I've cried at work. Not that I haven't wanted to. But it's a point of pride for me not to do it, even when tempted. Mostly because I recognize that crying at work is a distinctly female problem and it contributes to a sense of helplessness and powerlessness of women in the workplace. I also make it my business to mentor young women at work, and try not to do anything--EVER--to make them cry. 

That's because making people cry at work (and in general) is total bullshit, and crying because a dumb jock or Anna Wintour is yelling at you is bullshit, too. That's one of the things you figure out sometime between 20 and 40.

Another thing you figure out sometime between 20 and 40 is that life offers some of us plenty of real reasons to cry: such as eviction from your home; being the victim of domestic violence; losing your children in a custody battle simply because you're outmatched in court; and similar legal issues that go hand-in-hand with poverty and all of the problems that flow from poverty and poor representation in the civil justice system.

I'm extremely honored to have been named Alaska Legal Services' volunteer of the month for March. Alaska Legal Services is a fantastic civil legal aid organization that gave me my first introduction to Alaska's legal community. The lawyers who work there are people who (unlike me) gave up higher-paying jobs to dedicate their careers to ensuring that civil justice is accessible to all Alaskans, regardless of their income. 

In my opinion, good representation in the legal system is like good healthcare in the health care system: it shouldn't be for sale, or at least, it should be available to everyone on equal footing. I give my time to Alaska Legal Services because they do great work that I believe in. 

Also, no one who works there has ever made me cry. At least not yet.

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