Feminism in a Man's World

I get emails regularly from the incendiary folks at Move On, loaded with them ole fightin' words. I am in awe of the indignation they can summon. Sometimes, it's justified. Others, well, I know there are two sides to every story, and they aren't giving the other folks a chance to get a word in edgewise. That's okay, it's their email.

However, one crossed my path this week that got me thinking. Since I've been down for the count all week with several types of unpleasantness that a lady never mentions in public (the flu, omg, kill me now!), I've been thinking when I wasn't sleeping or otherwise engaged. This email from Move On involved a federal judge in Nebraska, I believe, named Kopf, who wrote a pretty stupid blog about women lawyers and women in general in male professions. I mean, you can be a nitwit, but keep it to yourself.

However, he made one point that had my husband and me disagreeing. His diatribe included an example of a young, attractive female lawyer with "brilliant" attached to her name, who showed up in court regularly wearing short skirts up to "there," and emphasis on her ample bust in her upper body clothing. In other words, she got everyone's attention, but maybe not for the right reasons. What a shame to be thought brilliant as a lawyer, then reduced to a sex object because of one's dress.

My husband thought the judge was beyond sexist. I'm sure he is. But so are about 90% of the male lawyers I know. That's just the way it was.  To establish my bona fides on this topic, let me take you back to the dark ages when I started law school, equipped with the knowledge that my newly minted diploma from a women's college where women ran the show would serve me well. I expected to see women flooding the halls of my newest school. This was the start of something good happening for women in professions formerly restricted to men. (I couldn't attend the University of Virginia in my day, because women weren't allowed to even apply.) I'd been recruited by another prestigious law school for their first class to admit women, but I turned them down to go to my chosen university because I knew they'd started turning out women lawyers in the roaring Twenties.

Imagine my horror when I found out there'd been exactly one to two women in the classes preceding mine. And out of the 100 admitted in my first year, exactly ten were women. All top of their undergrad class. The men included lots of Vietnam air force pilot types who'd been riffed from the service as the war wound down. Imagine my lack of surprise when I took my seat in my first class that lovely fall day, and the man who sat next to me stated loudly "You know, you're taking a spot where a man should be." Only he wasn't that nice about it.

I come from a long line of strong women. Believe me, it was going to take more than that to scare me. However, by the end of the first week, five women were gone. Let's skip forward three years, I've passed the bar I took before I'd graduated, and I'm going to court with my first criminal client. I wanted trial experience, and firms back then didn't let newbies in the courtroom for years and years. A friend and I figured we were more competent than most, we could handle it. We hung out a shingle.

The judge glanced down at me, dressed in my conservative dark suit, Aigner pumps with matching briefcase my parents gave me for graduation, and announced in an off-handed manner, "Young lady, that's where the lawyer sits. Secretaries sit in the back behind the bar."

I politely told him I was the lawyer for the defendant, and he couldn't have been nicer to me from that moment on. I didn't make a big deal about it, because he had never seen me before in his courtroom, and he was invariably polite and helpful to me from that day forward. Judge Tucker was a true gentleman, albeit an old-fashioned one. I had grandfathers like him, I knew the type and knew he wasn't being mean when he told me I couldn't sit at counsel's table.

But you know what? I never dressed to emphasize my "assets," such as they were. Being tall helped when standing in side counsel in front of the judge's high bench, but that was my only physical plus in the courtroom. Never in a million years would I have worn a short skirt or a low-cut blouse to court. Kill me now at the very idea.

If you want to be seen as a professional, dress professionally. Being Southern, I was raised to know that you bought a good suit, a silk blouse, real leather accessories, and only gold or silver jewelry, all discreet and tasteful. Pearls if felt you needed their courage that day in court.  I never had a problem with being seen as anything other than a lawyer, one who wore heels and lipstick, but a lawyer first and a woman second.

So when young women now wear tight, sexy clothes to argue a case before a jury or a judge, I'm not taking their side when they get slammed as sex objects. Sorry. I worked too hard to pave the way for them, and the law is still a landmine of old world thinking in many ways.

I think my disagreement on the topic surprised my husband ( who is a staunch defender of women, being the father of two girls), but he sees my point. I'm just not going to take up cudgels for women with poor taste in clothes and the stupidity to fail to recognize they're not in the courtroom to flirt or make men drool.