Volume 17, Number 33 | May 06 - 12, 2005

Talking point

A man among women in Family Court

By Ben Krull

In most ways I’m a stereotypical single male. I play in a monthly poker game, listen to sport’s talk radio and am clueless in the kitchen. But my career as a Family Court lawyer colors me pink.

For the past 15 years I’ve worked as a law assistant to several Family Court judges, helping them with their child abuse, domestic violence, custody, and child support cases. Nine of the ten judges in the Downtown Manhattan courthouse where I work are female, as are nine of the eleven law assistants. Women also dominate the law offices of all the government agencies that regularly do business here. 

There are some advantages to my minority status. The men’s room on my floor never runs out of toilet paper, or soap, and there’s always someone to consult when I need to know whether it’s flowers or chocolates on Valentine’s Day (it’s both).

But being badly outnumbered by colleagues who can spend an entire lunch hour discussing maternity leave and job sharing, in an office that doesn’t even have a football pool, makes me feel like a sissy.

I do have some male bona fides on my resume. Before attending law school I worked for a construction company. I smoked cigars with my co-workers, went to strip clubs with them and made sure that every sentence I uttered included a profanity. The only women in the office were secretaries.

Construction’s macho-laden atmosphere, however, conflicted with my sensitive, non-confrontational nature. After I graduated law school, Family Court, which is known more for social work than trial combat, seemed like a good fit. 

I tell myself that helping the less fortunate is noble work. Yet I can’t shake the notion that women are supposed to be the nurturers and men the warriors.

I worry about what my friends think. They are litigators, investment bankers and real estate developers – careers that require respectable testosterone levels. I imagine that they view me as a girly-man, as a batboy on the women’s softball team.

Family Court wasn’t always a bastion of femininity. When I started my legal career most of the judges were men, as were many of my colleagues. But women have entered the legal profession in droves since then, and Family Court has become a popular place for female attorneys to park their briefcases.

The problem with this trend is that it supports the notion that the problems Family Court addresses are so-called women’s issues – a tag that encourages many men to be indifferent to the plight of needy families.

Unfortunately, Family Court is likely to maintain its imbalance between the sexes. While women who enter areas of law traditionally reserved for men are considered trailblazers, men who occupy female territory are considered wimps. Until this changes I’ll continue to be the legal profession’s equivalent of the male nurse. 

Despite working in an office that smells more of perfume than aftershave, I enjoy my job. Nonetheless, if I’m reincarnated I’d like to come back as a fireman, cowboy, car mechanic, or football player.

Ben Krull is a law assistant to a Family Court judge in Lower Manhattan.

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