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Posts Tagged ‘sexual harassment’

susan b anthony
It’s time to go back to 1972 or so and start the Women’s Liberation movement up all over again. We need it.

A client, who was sexually harassed at her old firm, tells me a new fear haunts her – that her “reputation” will be transported via gossip to wherever she goes next. I asked what that “reputation” would be – I mean, how do you get a reputation for being harassed by some clown at a law firm?

“Well, they might think I’m difficult, or unstable, or a trouble-maker,” she explained.

That makes me want to scream – particularly because she might be right: Some sort of reputation along those lines might stick to her, and it might get around at her new firm. When you’re a woman at a law firm – or a woman, period – there are times when it seems you just can’t win.

Another client – a young partner at a biglaw firm – told me she’d been harassed, but stated flatly, “you can’t report it – they’ll just push you out.” I asked her what she did instead. “Oh, you’re supposed to be able to handle it. Tell him to fuck off, or whatever.”

That was upsetting to hear. She delivered it with gusto – and I wanted to believe she really meant it, had the fortitude to say “fuck off” to the guy slipping his hand up her thigh, then briskly smooth her skirt, and move on. But is it really that easy?

Therapists love empathy exercises – it’s kind of our business, in a nutshell. So let’s go ahead and imagine the reality of sexual harassment – having someone you have no interest in sexually or otherwise, someone you work with or work for, pawing over your body at a firm function. My guess is it would unsettle me more than I’d like to admit. And how about going into the office the next day and trying to work with the guy – especially if he’s senior? Could you just “handle it”? Or would the whole unpleasant business get under your skin, leave you seething, angry and humiliated and wanting someone to listen to what happened to you and do something about it? And what would you do with the thought that he’s probably doing this to other people, and getting away with that, too?

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Associates at big law firms don’t normally burn out right away. They arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, raring to go. This is their moment! Grasp the golden ring!

If you look closely, though, you’ll notice a few poor souls who burn out immediately – sometimes within a few weeks. These folks look awful almost from Day One, dread coming to work, don’t talk to the others, can’t sleep and wonder how to get out – like, immediately.

That’s because they’ve been sexually harassed.

Oh…that.

Right. That.

I know. Sexual harassment is a drag of a topic, the stuff of tedious lectures by gender theorists and “Human Resource professionals.” Nothing new to say, just standard material: wince-inducing scenarios, tired platitudes about respect and crossing the line and what’s appropriate in a workplace blah blah blah…boring, scary, boring.

I hear about sexual harassment all the time from my clients, so it’s a little less boring for me, and a lot more real. There is stuff worth talking about. But I’ll keep it quick.

First, to be clear, I’m not talking about law firm sex in general. I’m as sex-positive as the next guy, and this isn’t about sex. And I’m not naïve. I’ve heard all about the “hanky-panky” – ill-advised and otherwise – that goes on at firms. Associates get it on in their offices. Partners seduce young summers. Some of those partners are married. So are some of the summers. And it’s not just a straight thing – gay associates and partners get caught up in this stuff, too.

When you’re working together around the clock at a big law firm, there’s a lot of pent-up sexual energy, so there’s oodles of sleaze. Stuff happens. That stuff might be fun, or un-fun, no big deal or something you’ll regret for a while. That’s not our topic.

Harassment is never fun or okay. It’s unwanted, unasked-for, undesired, unexciting, unpleasant, unsexy, unattractive, uncool sexual attention.

I have a theory that everything is more interesting if you stick the word “extreme” in front of it. Barbecue is okay. Extreme barbecue is way better. The same thing goes with sex. It intensifies things. Cool becomes super-cool if you add sex. Likewise, bummer turns into super-bummer if it’s sexual. Harassment is a bummer, and sexual harassment is a super-bummer.

Here’s what sexual harassment looks like:

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