Harvard Law Student Blames 'Deeply Embedded Sexism' for Fainting Viral Video Concerns

Last week, a video of Harvard Law student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie resurfaced online, going viral for the second time with over 3 million views. The law student had fainted while speaking during the university's highly-regarded and competitive 2019 Ames Moot Court, but decided to carry on.

What had been originally posted as a motivational video, dubbing Harvard students "not human," soon sparked concern online amid claims that Gilbert-Lurie fainting was a consequence of overworking, and that her decision to carry on was through symbolic pressure.

As reported by Newsweek, Gilbert-Lurie explained that both insinuations were incorrect and that she simply fainted after unknowingly locking her legs for too long which prevented blood flow to the brain. She decided to carry on simply because she "felt fine," and not because she felt pressure to.

Gilbert-Lurie spoke to Newsweek and explained that while she is far from an apologist for elite institutions, not only was the backlash or concern about the video online wrong, but she felt it had also been rooted in sexism, playing into the "damsel in distress" arc often painted onto women.

The Harvard student believes there are conversations to be had about mental health at law schools but that her fainting should not have been the thing to spark it.

That year's moot court had been the first time in history that an all-female team had won, and one of the most female-dominated competitions in the Ames Moot Court history too—something Gilbert-Lurie says the viral video has distracted from.

"It was really a moment of women at the top of their game, at the culmination of fighting really hard to get there in the competition. I think instead, what people focus on is this idea that I couldn't handle it or I cracked under the pressure, and that I shouldn't have felt like I had to keep going. That to me is so viscerally offensive to me, because the reason I stood up had nothing to do with proving anything to anyone. It wasn't because I felt like there was this immense sort of pressure to keep going or to prove that I could, it was really because I felt really fine."

The reaction online and the idea that she decided to carry on for any other reason is one that lies in sexist misconceptions, said Gilbert-Lurie: "I find that there's something uniquely gendered about people's reaction to my video. I've had a lot of time to think about this in the last couple of years and it seems to be that people are very quick to say, 'poor thing, she was under too much pressure at school, we shouldn't be applauding her getting back up, she obviously felt like she had to,' in a way that seems to me as a sort of 'damsel in distress' victim, fainting fair lady—none of which I think is true for me. "

Gilbert-Lurie asked herself the question of whether the reaction would have been the same if her male team partner had been the center of the fainting viral video. Her conclusion? No.

"Maybe if my my partner had been the one that fell down, maybe the critique would have been the same, but I feel like I've lived in this in this world long enough to suspect that it wouldn't have been and to wonder very, very seriously about whether the reaction is uniquely tailored to the fact that they saw a young woman faint, and people feel like they have to sort of protect [or] come to the rescue of women who feel like they have to cave to the the pressures that they can't handle."

The apparent painting of Gilbert-Lurie as a victim of pressure didn't just personally offend, but took away from the message she felt should have been at the center of the day.

"The message I don't want, however many young women are watching this on TikTok, I don't want them to either think, 'that was embarrassing, she shouldn't have felt like she had to work that hard, she shouldn't have put so much pressure on herself.' It could be such a celebration, I think, of what the argument was, and the fact that three of the four people arguing were impressive women," she said.

Harvard law student fainting video
Left: Harvard students and alumnae attend a Harvard football game. Right: Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie at the 2019 Ames Moot Court. Getty Images