In late October 2018, Anne-Marie Rice declared she was exhausted, while being recognised as the Leneen Ford AC Woman Lawyer of the Year, at the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland Annual Dinner.
Her short acceptance speech that night triggered feedback from around the world, from women (but also from men) who have struggled to articulate why professional life has been so all consuming and exhausting.
Below she shares part of that speech, as well as the feedback she received.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make.
I am tired.
I am tired because I am 44 years old, self-employed and the mother of two primary school aged children. Tired goes with the territory.
I am tired because as well as being a mother I am a wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, contributor to my personal and professional communities and I take those opportunities seriously and I give them my all.
I am tired because I am a lawyer and the law is a jealous mistress.
But most of all I am tired from 20 years of doing a job through a prism that is inconsistent with who I am. A lens that I find fundamentally one dimensional and inherently aggressive. It is inherently masculine. The way the law is, largely, practised invites lawyers to solve problems by first making them bigger and then aggressively holding a position until a decision is imposed or a compromise based on brinkmanship is reached.
I don’t naturally think like that but I have been taught that’s how my job is done. And I have learned how to excel at it. But I am tired.
I am exhausted from walking that walk. It affects who I am. It dims my light. And looking around this room I know I am not the only one who feels it.
But it also affects those who are NOT in this room. The women who have left the profession. Not having retired after a full and fulfilling career but who have opted out. Early.
I get it. Law was historically a man’s game and the pace of cultural change is glacial. But ladies, at least as graduates and junior lawyers we have been here, en masse, for decades. But we are not here in numbers in the roles that require longer service. We know that. We drop out for many reasons – not least because we become tired. I think that has much to do with the fact that law, business, sport, family lives STILL operate so much through a lens that is not ours. Its not even equal, which would be better still.
I used to think in my moments of tired, exhausted overwhelm, that my role in the profession didn’t matter. That I am not a trail blazer like Leneen Ford, Agnes McWhinney or Margaret McMurdo. That the doors for women’s entry to the law were now wide open and no one would care if raised the white flag and opted out to run the school’s second hand clothing shop.
But I can see now that I (and the women of my generation) matter just as much as those upon whose shoulders we stand. The responsibility for the change to make professional life sustainable for women, is mine. It’s ours. The responsibility to stop pretending that a flourishing legal career and a committed parenting (or other) role is at all easy, realistic, healthy or sustainable, is mine. It’s ours.
We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.
But worse, I think, we lie to the generations to come. To the women AND men who will benefit from the opportunity to enjoy a deeply thoughtful, multidimensional professional life.
The time to think about, and then work out, how to practice as a problem solver not a gladiator is upon us. And it’s so terribly exciting that it makes me forget about the tired.
We all know that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but that she did it backwards and in high heels. But puzzle me this: what might have happened if Ginger Rogers had been invited to turn around?
I have received so many emails and messages of support since this speech found its way into social media feeds the world over. Women and Men, friends and strangers, solicitors, barristers, and judges have reached out: some have called it “brave”, and “brutally honest”, “brilliant”, “a life line”, Some said they were reduced to tears, saying that until hearing this they thought, “it was just me who couldn’t handle the pace and the demands of being a lawyer”.
In tweeting it, the well known journalist Annabel Crabb tapped into an audience well beyond lawyers and the feedback has been that the sentiments apply equally in many areas of business, medicine and politics.
If you’re a lawyer, you should read this speech from Queensland Woman Lawyer Of The Year Anne Marie Rice: Why Tired Matters. https://t.co/Logf7Gh5xk
— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) November 2, 2018
When I stepped off the stage that October night, a woman I know well and admire greatly asked me a very powerful question: “What next Anne-Marie?”. It was an invitation to do something with this shared experience. An invitation to me and the women of my generation to turn Ginger around. Together. It’s not a one woman job.
Generation X are those of us who were, roughly, born between 1960 and 1980. The easiest way to tell if you are female Gen X is to answer “yes” to two or more of these questions: “Do you know what stirrup pants are?” “Do you know more than three quarters of the lyrics to Walk Like and Egyptian?” “Do you think Kirk Cameron should have had a decent haircut?” “Have you ever made a car tape?”
That puts us as lawyers with around 15 to 35 years post admission experience (I wonder how many there are still left in the latter category).
We are not the lawyers who cracked through the glass ceiling to enable women to access the profession. We are probably not the lawyers who were the “First female [anything]” but we ARE the ones who have had to work out how to “have it all”; how to keep the myriad plates spinning; how to, as Annabel Crabb said, “work as if we have no children and parents, as if we have no career”.
But we are also the ones who will change the face of the profession for those who come behind us and we are here in number. And yes, we are tired. But together we are a force for change.
The longer we stay in the profession, the more we consistently work to find ways to practice that are more intuitive and natural (perhaps by simply refusing to work in ways that are not intuitive or natural or which are not reflective of our whole of life commitments), the more we guarantee the role of lawyers as problem solvers, not gladiators. Sister, keep going.
You can contact Anne-Marie Rice here and see more on her work below.