2 Women Proving that Feminine Genius is on the Rise in Law + Justice
By: Gina Marotta + Stephanie Glassberg
forthcoming in a restorative justice textbook for university students
If you feel concerned that you may not be a fit to work inside the legal and justice systems, this article will show you why and help you create your place. We begin by sharing our stories.
Gina’s disheartening legal career and finding her right place
In my law school application, I wrote about my desire to be in a profession that required heart. To me, this meant a continuation of my work as a paralegal where I built relationships and poured my creative talents into every case. As a law student and young lawyer, I chose to focus on criminal defense work, where I believed it was my job to uphold the Constitution and protect clients as best as I could to not be squashed by what had become an increasingly heavy-handed, punishment-focused American justice system. I learned early on: being successful meant being aggressive. Helping clients required going to battle on their behalf every day. One day I’d argue motions against an elite team of federal prosecutors on a political corruption case, and the next I’d go toe-to-toe with Chicago police detectives in a street gang investigation. On the outside, my life looked high-profile and exciting; it was the stuff of law and order TV. Yet, on the inside, the truth was, I didn’t feel like I fit into this life. Unlike the men I worked with, who were deeply passionate about our work and how we did it, I didn’t feel like this competitive dog-eat-dog work environment was truly meant for me.
There is one moment in my legal career when I experienced a different vibe. For a semester in law school, I worked as a student extern for Judge Nan Nolan. Judge Nolan is the only female lawyer I ever worked under. I had otherwise been trained by and worked exclusively for men. Judge Nolan invited me to sit in on one of her settlement conferences. Her approach was something I had never seen before. Judge Nolan arranged herself and the lawyers at a table. There was no one at the “head” of the room, as judges normally were, and no separate tables for opposing sides. Everyone was gathered together and seemingly equal. Judge Nolan asked questions, took time to listen deeply, expressed compassion, and made sure she understood each side of the case. Once Judge Nolan deeply understood one side, she paused to assist the opposing attorney to also understand what was just spoken. She was like a conductor allowing each side to express their needs and ideas, and then she helped move the energy around so that there was a flow of understanding between the parties. It was clear she was doing some kind of collaboration magic. The parties began to see that they were more similar than separate. She created space for everyone to feel like a winner and like they could truly agree and align in an outcome. I was in awe.
The next time I was exposed to this softer, yet wildly-effective approach in law was nearly a decade later. At home sitting on my couch, I tuned into the documentary “Where to Invade Next” by filmmaker Michael Moore. At the time, I had already left my legal career for other pursuits because I was so disheartened by the daily fight. But then, what I witnessed in this documentary opened me anew. In exploring the systems of law and justice outside of the U.S., Moore discovered “restorative justice,” a concept I had never heard of as an American lawyer. In contrast to the aggressive, punitive, and unforgiving U.S. justice system, the key ideas behind restorative justice include: (1) understanding that people make mistakes out of their pain and (2) believing that when nurtured and met with compassion inside an accountability structure, people can be restored to wholeness. True to these ideas, all persons inside a system of restorative justice hold the common goal of maintaining human dignity. Moore drew out examples of this philosophy in practice through interviews with police officers, prison guards, crime victims, and incarcerated persons in places like Portugal and Norway. Police officers spoke about their opinions on guns, that they did not carry guns nor did they believe that would be appropriate. Victims of violent crime shared that they did not seek or believe in revenge. Prison footage showed inmates trusted to roam free on prison grounds with keys to their own private rooms and access to kitchen knives. Inmates spent their days collaboratively creating art or independently learning new job skills. Prison employees too brought a restorative mindset to their job to support inmates to reach their potential. This is best exemplified in the new prisoner orientation process in Norway’s maximum security prison. In the orientation video, the prison guards offer hope and encouragement as they flash wide smiles, joyfully play musical instruments, and sing arguably one of the most uplifting songs ever written: “We Are The World.”
Watching the documentary, I wept. This is what I had wanted to be a part of as a lawyer, but I had no examples of or language for. I knew I wanted to be a part of this new way of justice. I immediately googled “restorative justice” and “Chicago” to find and connect with Judge Sheila Murphy, a pioneer and thought leader for the emergence of restorative justice in the U.S. Judge Murphy became my mentor, and generously guided me to fulfill my heart’s desires. She showed me the less known places where restorative justice was emerging in my city and so I began to learn and participate in restorative practices such as:
Victim-offender peace circles: an alternative to adversarial courtroom combat where victims, offenders, and community members come together without lawyers to collaboratively resolve criminal matters with an eye toward accountability, compassion, forgiveness, restoration, and making all parties whole again.
Re-entry court: a support structure for formerly incarcerated persons to sit in a circle with judges, case workers, recovery specialists, and community members to receive compassionate understanding and help with resources to make healthy transitions back into society.
Student mentoring circles: a law school student clinic pairing law students with youth in low-income, high-crime communities for mentorship in creatively managing stress and resolving conflict through restorative practices such as relationship-building, storytelling, compassionate listening, empathy, healing, and acceptance.
I had deeply longed, inside law and justice, to share my heart and use the legal system to help people create better lives. Now I have opportunities to do just that, and the beautiful news is that such opportunities in law and justice are emerging more and more every day.
Stephanie’s disobedient law school path to self-acceptance and joy
For most of my life, I have known who I am at my core. I am strong, confident, passionate, tenacious, fiercely loyal, undoubtedly empathic, and unapologetically myself. And yet, many of those characteristics have been reduced, muted, and in some cases all but suppressed from existence. Becoming a law student only enhanced the scrutiny on my unique self. I felt like putty, taken and molded however people wanted to see me. And I felt complicit in all of this, because I didn’t know how else to be. I have been told that I overshare, I am too honest, I need to tamp down my passion, I need to curb my empathy, and I need to do all of this to be “successful.” But these criticisms always felt wrong and deep, deep down in my gut, I never believed any of them.
But as an impressionable legal student, new to the field, I became a sponge, soaking up everything others told me I needed to be: goal-orientated, logical, competitive, and selfish. I changed who I was while internally resisting the change. I became both self-loathing and resentful, hating myself for letting people change me so I could “fit” within the legal system. But I did follow orders. I applied for the jobs people told me to apply for, I enrolled in the classes people told me to enroll in, I wore the clothes people told me to wear. I tried to look the part. And I was miserable. The voice in my gut begged me to listen but the influence outside was stronger, telling me to shush that voice, instructing me that the voice was wrong. And I thought to myself: “who am I to disobey orders? These are professionals in my field, all telling me the same thing. I need to listen to them or else I’m doomed. I want to be ‘successful.’”
A particularly memorable example of this influence was when I met with a mentor to discuss a piece I was writing for her publication. The discussion was supposed to be about my article but quickly shifted to her inquiry on where I would be working the following summer. This discussion happened in October of my second year of law school. Based on my good grades and strong extracurricular student history, I had the opportunity at the time to apply to several highly prestigious internships, working for million/billion dollar clients. I knew that the positions required long hours and a rigorous linear work schedule that lacked creativity and often mortality. I was not interested. My mentor was displeased. She questioned my decision not to pursue those opportunities. She used her status, as a very successful female attorney, to explain that I behaved incorrectly on passing on such incredible opportunities. Based on her reaction, I was filled with shame. I meekly told her that I was not interested in the field, making myself smaller right in front of her. This gave her the power to quickly and confidently shut me down. She continued to explain how important it was to capitalize on my status, as a successful female law student, by working in areas which held immense status in the legal world, even if I was not interested. She made me feel ungrateful and that I was not living up to my full potential because I was not taking advantage of opportunities that others would kill for. She told me exactly who she thought I was supposed to be and punished me for the way I knew myself. I left that meeting mentally beating myself up for not applying to the prospective opportunities, even though I knew in my gut I would not find joy working in those fields.
I felt frustrated, shameful, disgusted, and irritated with myself and everyone around me. I felt so miserable that I considered quitting law school all together. Instead of quitting, however, this became a catalyzing moment. I decided to indulge my inner voice. I listened and believed it with unbridled confidence. I did the unthinkable. I unapologetically made decisions based off of my own voice because I had discovered the truth, nothing that was supposed to bring me “success” actually did.
At first I felt uncomfortable and awkward. I listened to myself instead of trained legal professionals on how to operate. I was actively and knowingly going against the grain. That did not sit well with me. But I did it anyway. And to my reaffirming surprise, I felt flecks of control and confidence re-enter my life. And that brought me back to joy. I continued in school, practicing choosing what I thought was best over what the outside world thought was best for me. I started working for a “less prestigious” state court judge whose values, work-ethic, and conviction I admired. I took classes that were not considered “valuable” because they were not subjects tested on the bar exam, like Critical Race Feminism, Mass Incarceration, and International Human rights. In reflection, I describe these classes as some of the most powerful and influential of my law school experience, clarifying and sharpening my ultimate purpose in the legal world. At the time, choosing these “extra curricular” courses over more traditional ones seemed radical and ill-advised but in review I was taking control of how I wanted to use my legal education.
I didn’t have the language or any formal knowledge of what exactly I was doing. But, in my third year of law school that became clear. Inside a class called Restorative Justice, taught by the incomparable Professor Michael Seng and Judge Sheila Murphy, I realized what I was doing by listening to my inner feelings and following them. In doing what felt joyful and dropping what felt unnatural, even if others said it was “wrong” or “crazy,” I was being authentic and returning to who I was always meant to be. I was applying restorative practices, the foundations of restorative justice, on myself. And from then on, I began to feel whole and in harmony with my true self.
I learned that there is a reason the guttural voice, speaking my truth, never died. There is a reason that the more I listened to the outside world the stronger and louder and more furious the voice became. I painfully realized that I would always know myself better than anyone else. I just needed to learn how to trust that instinct. Restorative practices brought me back to my whole self, one that is intimately in tune with my inner voice. Trusting the inner voice has cleared the brush from my path, leading me to my purpose in the world. Now I can recognize and indulge in what brings me joy without self-interrogation or restraint.
Our breakthrough in clarity to pass on to you
Upon reflection of our experiences, we see a common theme: the mainstream worlds of law and justice did not validate our innate desires, natural talents, and soulful passions. Our first reaction in noticing that we did not exactly fit in was to think that perhaps we should leave. But eventually, something new emerged. As Stephanie eloquently describes, she validated her feelings and inner voice and began to listen, which allowed her to follow her own true path. And for Gina, she did this too, once she found restorative justice and a mentor who believed in her. And so instead of bowing out, we came to recognize that what we offer to law and justice is valid, deserves a place, and is in fact quite genius.
As two women who care deeply about helping others, we don’t want our stories to end with our own realizations and transformations. We desire to pass on the wisdom we gained to you, the next generation, so that you can find your place and your genius in law and justice too. Writing this article has been a reflective exercise for us, and in the journey, we sought out the root causes of our pain and also of our triumph. We arrived at this breakthrough in clarity that can guide your path: you can easily feel ashamed, like an outsider, and unwanted in the mainstream worlds of law and justice where there exists a nearly exclusive focus on masculine genius, and you can begin to feel at home, validated, and valuable as you create opportunities in and become free to express your feminine genius.
Before we begin our analysis to help you see what we see in the legal and justice systems and in ourselves, it is important to begin with a few disclaimers. First, we note explicitly that the masculine/feminine distinctions here are not referring to gender or sexuality. When we refer to the masculine/feminine distinctions we are referring to energies - both archetypal and creative. Second, we do not judge one energy as better than the other. Rather, we offer masculine and feminine as different and complementary. And finally, it is important to note that we all have masculine and feminine energies inside of us - regardless of gender and sexuality. For each of us, we typically recognize that one energy feels more like home, and the other is important to integrate and embrace at certain times in our lives and work.
The distinction between masculine genius and feminine genius
As the American law and justice systems have amply recognized, there is great genius in masculine energy. Archetypally, the masculine in us represents the warrior and protector whose purpose is to keep those in our care safe during times of danger and an opposing threat. As a natural fighter, the masculine archetype in us seeks to outsmart and dominate adversaries. The masculine is our assertive, giving energy and the qualities of high value include: being physically strong, aggressive and protective; being goal-oriented, intellectual, and productive; and being rational, focused, and controlled. The masculine in us operates from the yang side of yin/yang energy, and we exercise our creative force using the well-known and linear process of “building.” Inside masculine energy, we build by applying our logic and intellect to make rational choices that we expect to get us to specific results. You can easily see this archetype and method of creating as dominant in the legal and justice systems. It is represented by the typical lawyer or police officer - whether male or female - known to be tough, aggressive, and protective and who thrives inside linear rules and standards of procedure.
While equally as important, yet not so well-tapped in law and justice, there is also great genius in feminine energy. Archetypally, the feminine in us is the caretaker and nurturer who tends to the needs of the children and home, or from a more expanded view, to the needs of our communities and the planet. Different from the aggressive masculine energy in us, the feminine operates with an inner urge to be compassionate, nurturing, and helpful. Rather than instincts to fight, dominate, and win, the feminine in us approaches a challenge with instincts to listen, collaborate, and create something new that serves everyone. As our open, receptive energy, the qualities of high-value to the feminine are the opposite and complementary to the masculine, such as: being sensitive, feeling-oriented, and intuitive; being nurturing, compassionate, and heart-centered; and and being spiritual, fluid, and collaborative. In our feminine, we operate in the yin side of the yin/yang energy polarities, and exercise our creative force in the less understood, mysterious feminine process known as “birthing.” Birthing is deeply mysterious because we reach beyond the limits of our intellect to collaborate with a higher dimension so that we can innovate and create new outcomes. In law and justice, this archetype and method of creating is demonstrated by Gina’s telling of Judge Nan Nolan’s settlement conference and restorative justice practices. For all parties to come out whole and to birth new outcomes that have never been seen in the past - like in a peace circle or re-entry court - only a soft approach involving compassion, creativity, and collaboration will succeed.
3 guideposts to embrace your feminine genius
Acknowledging masculine/feminine distinctions and masculine energy dominance explains why we did not believe we fit in and why we didn’t feel free to bring our whole selves to the legal and justice systems. You too have likely been influenced by masculine energy dominance; you need only look at the war analogies throughout our daily language. You too have also likely been taught to devalue or even mock the feminine in yourself or in others; just notice the derogatory terms often used for that which represents the feminine. As an example, Stephanie was repeatedly told to reduce her feminine qualities of empathy and sharing. Whether you identify as male or female does not matter. The collective human mindset of devaluing the feminine has existed for centuries and likely has influenced you to hide parts of yourself.
If out of reading our stories you too desire to embrace your feminine genius and bring it into your work in law and justice, we offer you 3 guideposts to begin:
Guidepost 1: Follow your feelings of WELLNESS toward your feminine genius.
You begin to align with your feminine genius by listening to your feelings and moving toward a state of wellness. When you feel well physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - you know that you are in your right balance of masculine and feminine energy. When you do not feel well, you know that you are out of balance. Beware: the masculine in you will tell you to focus on logic and mask emotions. As such, this guidepost offers you a very real step to embrace the feminine in you as it directly asks you to honor your sensitive, feeling nature.
You can see through our stories, we both felt unwell when forced to fit into a masculine-dominated mold. For Gina, she felt stressed and burned out by the daily mental combat and the demand that she be aggressive, tough, and confrontational to protect her clients. To return to wellness, Gina’s feelings guided her to leave the law to pursue more aligned and authentic career opportunities. Later, she was able to return to the law through restorative justice opportunities that felt joyful and called upon her feminine traits like being intuitive, creative, and collaborative. For Stephanie, she felt shame and agony when being pushed into the masculine mold of pursuing prestigious law positions emphasizing financial wars for multi-million dollar companies. She also felt angry about expectations placed on her to be aggressive, tactical and dominating, when she knew her true nature is to be empathetic, nurturing, and sensitive. Seeing no other options, she too thought she had to leave the law behind. That is until she embraced and listened to her feelings which guided her back to wellness and toward her feminine genius.
Guidepost 2: Create supportive ALLIANCES that honor your feminine genius.
You become aligned with your feminine genius when you feel supported in expressing your true desires and feminine nature. It is essential to find mentors and colleagues who empower you to follow the desires most true in your heart. On the contrary, mentors and peers who expect you to fit into a stereotypical masculine mold can leave you feeling shameful and wishing you were different. This was true for Stephanie as one of her mentors berated her for choosing to pursue more feminine, purposeful legal opportunities. She became more free and open to embrace her feminine genius upon meeting Judge Murphy and Professor Seng who supported her desires toward social justice work. For Gina too, aligning with Judge Murphy allowed her to thrive in her feminine genius. Judge Murphy’s encouragement to pursue opportunities in restorative justice undid the years of masculine-only emphasis on her opportunities in the legal world. For both of us, being mentored and guided by a feminine genius icon like Judge Murphy, and surrounding ourselves with other mentors and peers who honor us for our true desires has created supportive alliances that help us both expand and elevate into our feminine genius.
Guidepost 3: Align with PURPOSE to fulfill your feminine genius.
When you align with your innate sense of purpose reflected in your feminine nature to nurture and help others, you fulfill your feminine genius. As in our stories, when we aligned with our natural urges to help others and create positive change in our communities - we returned to a sense of wholeness. For Gina, in restorative justice she joined an area of law that values heart and care for others. She engaged in opportunities to empower people into better lives through peace circles, re-entry court, and restorative mentoring. For Stephanie, she too has more recently followed her purpose and joy to help others within the legal system, and through this has expressed the feminine areas of herself that she loves but had been taught to suppress and demonize.
By inviting you to learn from our experience, we recognize that we’re asking you to follow the less worn path - to accept yourself and stand out in ways that others may not understand. From doing this ourselves, we can offer this Truth: the joy of expressing your genius and full potential far outweighs those initial pains of self-doubt and rejection. We invite you to this transformational journey, not alone, but standing on our shoulders and those of Judge Sheila Murphy and Professor Michael Seng. To inspire your journey we invite you to breathe in the words of poet Amanda Gorman from her 2021 inaugural performance of The Hill We Climb: “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”