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From Courtrooms To Other Public Spaces, Only Men Can Speak Freely!

Posted: February 9, 2021

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As a short woman, the height of courtroom podiums has made me wonder if we still don’t see women speaking freely in public spaces?

Since the time that I decided to pursue law, my relatives and friends have only joked about my height. This has gone to such an extent that they even remarked if I’d be visible to the Judge in the courtroom. Well, to date, they could only try to break my spirits.

I am four feet and 11 cms tall. And it has never bothered me. I have worn heels out of choice and never out of compulsion and at times, even to suit my attire. Whether it was at school, college, work-place(s) or even at family functions, I was never embarrassed. Especially of what people would wonder when they found out I was older than they assumed me to be. My height was, often, deceptive.

I was never embarrassed solely due to my height until I was invited to speak or host public events or I had to appear for hearings before Judges. Now let me tell you why. The standard height for podiums or daises is above four feet.

I can usually manage with high heels but…

In order to deliver a speech, I could manage with high heels. And for short people, they do provide a flat stool. However, there have been days when I didn’t want to wear heels, especially in the courtrooms which involve walking and moving a lot from one court to another.

So if I am not wearing heels, the back of the podium touches the upper part of my torso. And since the front portion of the podium is usually elevated, I am sure the Judge can only see my face. But this doesn’t bother me, either.

What upsets me the most and the point of my objection here is the fact that the height of the podium is a set standard one. Pardon me, or don’t, I do understand the general psyche behind the construction of the podium. But what I don’t understand is a general idea that the podiums are only meant for male lawyers or speakers.

I have often observed senior female lawyers who are an average height, wearing wedges or heeled shoes. Well, the average Indian male’s height is five feet and eight inches while that of a female is five feet.

The standard height is set keeping men in mind

This brings me to conclude that while the standard height of a podium is four feet, it still leaves one foot and eight and a half inches for the men to make themselves be seen. However, there is hardly any room for the average women to make themselves be seen unless they’re wearing heels. The female lawyers, if short or average, have to wear heels at all times. And like I pointed out earlier, it is almost impossible to keep wearing heels throughout court hours, especially during the first few years of practice.

This just leads me to believe that this is one of the major reasons that discourage several female lawyers across the country from rising to their full potential. They do not come across as confident among the unnecessarily fierce and outspoken men who wear black robes and walk around the corridors with their chin held high. To them, the idea of an impressive lawyer is their arrogant appearance only! (Though I must admit, I have come across some impressive but humble and welcoming male lawyers as well.

When I tried to put their objection of the height of the podium in from of a colleague a while ago, he smirked at me, as if asking, ‘Is that something to object about!’ He refrained from commenting on it, though. And I am not really sure if this issue will be relevant to all the average men, though.

It doesn’t let us speak freely but let’s not give up, shall we?

However, I bet that this idea behind the ‘standard measurement’ offered to women is definitely not a very welcoming one. It unsettles me deeply sine it excludes the image of women speaking and how they would look behind the podiums. The ‘standard’ could be so simply because of the history behind its creation. And history does suggest that women have seldom been ‘allowed’ to speak or participate openly.

I wouldn’t emphasise the need to reconstruct the podiums with certain modifications keeping the average women in mind. Nor will I request men to bend themselves a little more to refer to their notes/arguments. I will only appeal to the female fraternity to not compromise on their dreams on the basis of how men would look at them. By doing so, we are only giving in to patriarchy!

Picture credits: Still from web series Illegal

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Ms. Shobha Prabhakar is an Advocate & Legal Consultant, and is currently practicing at Rajasthan High

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