As you all know, I’m a law student. I’m taking a ‘practical skills’ course called trial advocacy. The idea is that we act like ‘real’ lawyers and research and argue our cases.
The case we have for this semester is a sexual discrimination/sexual harassment/defamation case. The gist of it is as follows. A woman (who is a single mother) had been a paralegal at Employer. She went to law school, got her degree, and managed to land a spot as an associate. In her 5th year, her father gets cancer and dies, so her work is kinda sucky. During her 6th year, she and High Powered (married) Male Partner get into a relationship. (before this happened, he had said and done things that were romantic/sexual enough to make her uncomfortable, though she never reported it) This relationship is NOT the first time he’s had an affair with a female associate; it’s happened several times. They have an affair for a while, and he keeps promising to leave his wife. She gives up on him leaving the wife and ends the relationship. Soon after that, she stops getting as much work offered to her, which means her billable hours drop – serious bad news. She talks to Mr High Power and another partner she’s worked with, and they advise her to put off trying for partner for a year. She ignores their advice and tries anyhow. She fails to make partner and is given 6 months to find a new job. She applies to several places, but Mr High Power sends out very lukewarm recommendation letters, and she is not able to get a job in the city.
So she brings suit – for hostile work environment, for sexual harassment, and for sex-based discrimination, as well as for defamation.
On Wednesday, we were having a mediation. I’ve been assigned to represent the defense – that is, the law firm and Mr High Power. I am, as I’m sure you can guess, displeased with this.
So for mediation, 1/4 of the class is in the classroom at any given time, and the rest of the class is outside. We’re sitting around killing time. The guys are joking around about this case.
One of the guys says, quite seriously, that a man who has worked that hard and been that successful has a right to enjoy what comes with it – the attention of women. If ‘they’ keep biting, how is that his fault?
In the classroom, one of the other guys jokes with the professor that our new corporate sponsor will be Hooters, and similar things.
I was floored. How could they see nothing wrong with this situation? How could they think that this was funny?
Gender based discrimination is rampant in our field, and it becomes clear why that is. It’s not just that it’s an old boys club (which it is), but it’s also because my male cohorts see nothing wrong with women being hit on and harassed at work.
Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve seen this in law school. My first year, we had a writing course. Our first case was a fairly bad sexual harassment case. We were reading cases that were on the books, because in the field of law decisions are based on prior decisions. The cases we were reading were horrific, truly awful, and my male partner was ‘joking’ that the women in question were wimps and whiners for complaining about what was happening.
Oh my, yes, their privilege shows so very often. And I find myself wondering…what can I do? I do tell them that what they’re saying is inappropriate, and try to explain why. This looks like a systemic problem, based on the common concept that women’s bodies are openly available to whoever wants them (and it is a woman’s responsibility to stop someone if she doesn’t want to be available). I can’t break down their prior training, the acculturation that lets them think this kind of attitude is alright.
I’m angry and hurt and spitting mad and I can’t do a damn thing. Why? Because if I complain, if I try to make them understand, I’m just a no-fun shrew raining on their parade because I want to be treated as something other than a sex toy. Boo bloody hoo.