Illustration from Noir City 5 poster with Ivory Madison, crowned Miss Noir City 2007, posing as the femme fatale. The promotion material noted that the couple ”both want to emphasize to the general public and their significant others that it took work to look as seedy and obnoxious as they appear in the poster. It didn’t come naturally.” In an interview about her noir writing, Madison observed “I realized recently that most of my fiction is about ineffective female assassins.”
The document below was Ivory Madison’s 2002 essay application to Stanford Law School. She was not admitted.
Diary of a Future Mad Law Professor
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Neutrality aids the oppressor, never the victim.”
I dropped out of school at age thirteen and became an autodidact by necessity. Instead of heading off to university a few years later, I arrived in New Orleans still a teenager, alone, with seventy-ﬁve dollars in my pocket and a worn copy of Love Is A Dog From Hell, by Charles Bukowski. I lied about my age to get a job in a Bourbon Street bar that night, and I moved into a seedy rooming house in the French Quarter.
Since then, I’ve been to Waffle Houses or truck stops in almost every state in the union, I’ve been to castles in Scotland, and tenements in Cuba. I have seen a woman shot dead in the street, friends die of AIDS, and everything tum black as I was strangled on the kitchen ﬂoor by the man I loved. This was mostly before I was old enough to drink.
Abuse will educate you. In my early twenties, the war against women was in my living room, and I found out that you do not receive a hero’s welcome off of airplanes or get awarded a Purple Heart for surviving it. I felt powerless to escape my abuser until I learned how to name and ﬁght the source of my oppression in a larger political context. Accordingly, deep in the Bible Belt, at age twenty-two, I founded and became president of one of the largest NOW chapters in the country. I didn’t ever really learn how to defend myself per se, but I became an expert at ﬁghting for all women, all at once. I found that it was much easier for me to lobby legislators about domestic violence than to leave my abuser. Even after I ﬁnally escaped, I didn’t want to think about my victimization. I wanted to be a hero. I still do.
Facing political adversity in Louisiana was baptism by ﬁre, and my passion for justice was stoked ﬁghting the Religious Right. I didn’t ﬂinch when I was called a baby-killing dyke by senators in Baton Rogue, and my renewed determination led me to form unprecedented coalitions between feminist, gay and lesbian, and African-American organizations. I wanted solidarity to transcend identity politics. There were many times when I was one of very few willing to stand up for an unpopular cause, and as a result, my willingness to take risks on behalf of the disenfranchised has become inextricable from my character. Although I am not originally from the South, I carry the experiences and the challenges of the South with me now, and bring a valuable perspective to progressive thought when ensconced in the more elitist liberal circles of Northern California.
My quixotic and heady activist adventures led me to become a volunteer story reader for children, the lead plaintiff in an economic justice lawsuit taking on a graft-ridden monopoly, and a courtroom advocate for a woman whose husband mutilated her genitals. I was the only white person invited to speak at a statewide NAACP rally at an African-American Baptist Church in Louisiana, where I stood proudly with civil rights leaders who marched with Dr. King. In New York, I signed the new Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls at the 150th Anniversary of the ﬁrst women’s rights convention; I stood where Susan B. Anthony stood a century ago, when she was arrested for voting. My political involvement led me to the dubious honor of being personally lied to, one-on-one, by the President of the United States. l’ve handled sticky political situations from national media at my apartment door asking stupid questions about Louisiana law at 8 AM, to prominent elected officials doing drugs in the bathroom of my restaurant at l AM. Since none of that officially counted as learning in our society, my acumen was unquantifiable. I had only what could generously be deemed a 9th grade formal education.
Like many high-school dropouts, I had found myself waiting tables and bartending, by default. But I knew I wanted more and so, like most marginalized self-styled orphan-hero protagonists, I cleverly plotted a meteoric rise to power. I wasn’t sure what people learned in business school, so I went to the library and studied small business management for several months. I was working graveyard shift as a cocktail waitress on a casino riverboat. Watching the sun come up over the Mississippi River to the din of slot machines later became watching Neiman-Marcus shoot their Christmas catalogue in my celebrated French bistro. The sunrise was more edifying, but there were important lessons learned and skills honed in those years of struggling to build my own business.
The restaurant industry may be an anti-intellectual pursuit, but those entrepreneurial years were when I learned how to work sixteen-hour shifts on my feet without a break, six and seven days a week. When you are the boss, you must stay calm and think fast in the face of third-degree burns, drunken assaults, $80,000 cash drops, murdered co-workers in the meat locker, and Mardi Gras. I did this while greeting up to ﬁfteen-hundred customers a day and supervising a staff of a hundred. I know how to work hard, and I am grateful for that.
After leaving New Orleans, my next career was here in San Francisco, in investment management of commercial real estate. I got a job that generally requires a Master’s Degree, preferably an MBA. As an aggregate result of over a decade in management, ownership, or consulting in commercial ventures, I had an ease with which I could participate in corporate and ﬁnancial dialogue. But towards the end of my business-sector career, I felt trapped in a New Yorker cartoon.
Knowing I secretly wanted to go to law school, I transitioned my work to pseudo-legal research and writing, creating comprehensive business plans and ﬁve-hundred-million-dollar offering memorandums, even doing corporate investigations. Still, I knew I was Hamlet in the corporate castle. My “real life” was my volunteer leftist activism and my intellectualism. My true desire was to write social justice manifestos, scholarly treatises, to immerse myself in the world of ideas. Academe was my paradise deferred. I was tired of living a bifurcated existence, tom between making a living and my extracurricular passion for justice. It was time to ﬁnally pursue my raison d’étre full force.
My perspective could be valuable to contemporary legal discourse, and more importantly, in popular political interpretation of the legal sphere. I have already acquired years of pro bono media and political experience playing the viliﬁed feminist in public discourse, following in the footsteps of Dworkin, MacKinnon, Estrich, et aliae. I attack the conservatives for their reiﬁed rhetoric, the liberals for their hypocrisy, the academics for their institutionalized elitism, the postmodernists for their epistemological nihilism, the moralists for their theism, and the scientists for their reductionism. With only a hint of self-satire, I have to say I would like to be the face of radical, post-postmodern, bisexual, ecofeminist, socialist, communitarian, humanist, legal thought and activism in the new millennium.
I am now a successful second-year law student at a small, progressive law school. A big ﬁsh in a small pond, I am in line to serve as Editor—in-Chief of the law journal, and likely to continue serving in student government. I could ﬁnish up my Juris Doctorate with very little effort at my current school, graduating next year. Yet what I daydream of constantly is to begin again at Stanford.
I opened up a fortune cookie the other day and it read, “If you don’t change direction, you will end up where you are headed.” Mandarin mysticism is not my usual source of poignancy, but I was wryly reminded of what a deﬁning moment this is in the life of a former welfare baby: applying to Stanford.
At Stanford Law, I could study under feminist faculty members like Professors Deborah Rhode, Barbara Allen Babcock, Margaret Jane Radin, Pamela Karlan, and of course, Dean Kathleen Sullivan. Someday, I hope I will contribute to humanistic legal scholarship as these women do with substantive erudition, challenging the normative metanarratives in society and the law. For me, Stanford Law School has the right environment in which to do original feminist research with the right potential mentors. With your faculty, I could become a strong candidate for your Doctor of the Science of Law program, and eventually, become a talented instructor myself.
I am greatly encouraged by the diversity of electives available at Stanford to help me explore what interests me most: the paradigmatic underpinnings of the law. Constitutional law evokes a special brand of revelation about the politics of American law, as well as about the legal containment of American politics. I am keenly interested in feminist jurisprudence and public policy as they intersect the political process. Comparative constitutional law fascinates me. I want to study and write about the history and culture of legal systems, exploring everything rom the metaeconomic to the socio-religious paradigms that inﬂuence the law, from a critical feminist perspective.
Beyond academia, the judiciary is another hallowed milieu I aspire to inhabit. Stanford would offer me the traditional infrastructure to pursue this effectively. I am able and willing to spend several years courting a career ascension of judicial clerkships, with my dream—not an unusual one—to clerk for the United States Supreme Court. The journey of a million miles begins with a single step (more Mandarin epigrams…), and so, l am currently applying for a summer externship with the Supreme Court of California. As a nascent scholar, I want to get my hands greasy in the meting mechanism so as to better critique the machine.
It is my ambition to become a superlative legal writer and editor, a goal that will be well-served by facing the challenges of a competitive law journal staff at Stanford. I am already a writer and editor, determined to make publishing on law and feminism the centerpiece of my life’s work. A copy of my published law journal article, Post-Postmodern Principles of A Reluctant Philosopher King: Peter Gabel ’s The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics 0f Meaning, is included in my application package, along with a ﬂyer from my speech, Marxism vis-ti-vis Feminism: An Uneasy Affair (1848-2001). Furthermore, I have more than just a penchant for ivory tower pedagogy, I also believe in crafting essays and books that can reach a mainstream audience, shepherding social change.
My agenda is to foster education that will build community, and community that will foster liberation. For example, one pet project of mine is the creation of a global feminist law database, offering a cohesive charting of the often-jagged trajectory of women’s emancipation. I believe, from my familiarity with your Biography Project and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell online library, that Stanford is the perfect university to encourage my efforts to create important, populist educational resources like this to support progress in the global legal arena. I know that my life’s work is to not just talk about the law, but also to litigate and legislate on the cutting edge of women’s rights. I belong on the front lines, ﬁghting for national and international policies that promote global women’s rights in praxis.
My admission to Stanford will not be the starting point for my life’s work. I have already begun. Admission to Stanford will enrich my career trajectory with priceless opportunities to leam from important feminist instructors, serve on an extraordinary law journal, do original research that gets noticed for its educational impact, and to be supported by a community where such ambition is encouraged. I know I belong at Stanford, which is why I am not applying anywhere else. I offer you my experience and enthusiasm as a law student, teacher, writer, activist, and a leader among women.
I deﬁne my relationship with the law, in the broadest sense, as a mission to cultivate a practice that encompasses both scholarship and citizenship. One could say that scholarship is listening carefully for the frightened voices of truth in society, and citizenship is demanding that others listen, too. If my values and dreams reflect your vision for the incoming class at Stanford Law, I hope you will consider me.
“Far better is it to dare mighty things,
even though chequered by failure, than to dwell in that perpetual twilight
that knows not victory or defeat.”