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September 03, 2009

Would you bake for your jury?

I asked this with a toothbrush in my mouth, to Mr. A, who was two rooms away.

"What?" came the reply.


"I said, if you were me, would you bake something? For your jury?"

"Why would I do that?" he asked, confused.

"Maybe you've been with this jury for a few weeks, and you'd like to brighten their day. Would you ever think that way? 'How about I bake some brownies for them'?"

"No. I wouldn't." Pause. "At most, I would buy some snacks, if I thought the situation called for it. Baking is too involved for people I don't even know," came the definitive reply. "Why?"

That was exactly what I needed. An uncomplicated, uncalculated answer from the depths of the male psyche. Or, at least, a male's.

Yes, reader, I tokenized my boyfriend.

"Perfect, thanks. Just curious," I answered.

Here's why. For almost four weeks, I was on a jury. A criminal case that was fairly interesting. Fraud, forgery, conspiracy, grand theft, burglary: 118 counts, in all. The verdicts, by the way, were mixed: some guilty, a handful not guilty, and quite a few undecided. Reviewing the evidence taught me a lot of useful things. For example, if I ever opt for the career path of Criminal, and I decide to manufacture fake receipts for the purpose of effecting fraudulent returns at a big retailer, I should not have any files on my computer that are named "FAKERECEIPT.JPG," as one of the defendants did. Note to self.

(The trial is over at press time, so I can finally write about it. I held off writing this for two days, until the judge released us, so I wouldn't break any laws or cause a mistrial.)

After spending so much time with the other jurors, including more than a week of deliberations, I figured that a nice gesture, like some home baked sweets, would lift people's spirits and put a smile on those weary faces. (Anyone who's been on jury duty knows what I'm talking about. One day, yay! Two days, okay, okay... Anything more than three, kill me.)

I enjoy baking. I enjoy making people smile. Brownies are quick and painless. Brownies would surely help dissipate the tension in the room, at least during that minute of munching. So why not whip some up?

Yet surprise, surprise, I was hesitating. Why? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Court's Exhibit A:

On the first day of deliberations, a court deputy asked if anyone was planning on bringing in cupcakes. Juries like to share snacks, he explained. Pretty standard practice, apparently. Since then, I got the very vague sensation that maybe I, or someone kind of like me on that jury, i.e. the of the "feminine persuasion," would be the designated party for such an endeavor.

Maybe this sentiment is based on nothing more than a feeling. For example, comments were sometimes made about how desserts are sometimes brought in, and looking around the table at each juror, it occurred to me that if anyone would make or bring such a dessert, it could be her, or maybe her, but never one of the hims.

One morning, I brought a piece of chocolate cake for my breakfast, and a very nice fellow with whom I've shared a few lunches and interesting conversations asked, "Wow, did you make that? Yum!" Wink wink. Hope hope--


But maybe it's based on facts:

Looking at the courtroom, I can't ignore what I see: male judge and attorneys, and female clerk and court reporter. In the deliberation room, coincidence or not, we have a male foreman, and it's the women who clean up the water cups and collect trash from everyone around the table. They are initiating it -- no one told them, "Tidy things up, ma'am." So they volunteered to do that task. But after they did it a few times, never did a man step up. Should one have? That's debatable. Perhaps the women should also have sat just still, and let someone else worry about the mess.

Several of my female friends bake treats for work, school or their research labs. To this date I do not know of a man who has done that, including those who are great bakers. (Not that they don't, but I just don't know that they do.)

Now, it could be that bringing in treats fosters cohesiveness and encourages collaboration, which are, according to a substantive body of research, beneficial results of female management styles. If so, then brownies are not just about smiles, but about strategic alliances, improved communication, shared objectives and faster forged progress. When I think of my various friends who bake for work or school, they're far from sissies. Quite the opposite -- they're tough, smart women who are doing great in their careers. So maybe baking is the savvy, liberated thing to do. A women can or cannot bake. It's her choice. That's how things are in our bright era.

But I have a lurching suspicion that's not entirely, or even usually, the case. Yes they have the choice, but it's not such a simple one.

Things aren't even. They weren't in that courtroom, at least. Men tried and judged the case, and women cleaned the deliberation room even when it wasn't on their job description. Thus baking, in such a setting, isn't just baking. If men don't do it, it's because they feel they have better things to do than foster cohesion through chocolatey carbs -- but equally, perhaps, because they know the women will already have that covered.

That's why I asked Mr. A, to see if a guy who happens to be a fantastic baker, and a generous one, who bestows pastries and cakes on family and friends, would get the idea to bake for his jury. He's very busy with work, like I am, and stretched thin between a ton of interests, like I am. He's far more thoughtful than I am, take my word on that. If he said he'd do it, I'd go ahead and make some brownies. But if he felt it wasn't a high enough priority, and the benefit to himself or the jurors didn't outweigh the time invested, then I'd skip it.

I realize it's problematic that I based my baking decision upon his position. That means I'm no more "free" or "empowered" by not baking than I would have been "oppressed" by baking. Because either way, my decision is a reaction rather than an action: Either to cede to hints, pressures and expectations to bake, or to antagonistically ignore them. In both cases, I'm not doing what I want to do. What I want was never part of the discussion.

The problem is that I don't actually know if I want to bake. Would I have gotten the idea if the bailiff had said nothing, or if other jurors hadn't dropped hints? Would I think about feeding, nurturing, if I'd never seen other people (okay, women) doing it and getting positive results for themselves and/or others? How to distinguish a genuine desire from a manufactured one?

Result: Actually, it's clear now what I desire. I scrapped the brownie idea. Know what I did instead? I wrote this.

(By the way, the next day, a juror brought in cookies. We thanked her profusely.)
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