But it wasn't the cursing that got under my skin--it was the overall lack of professionalism and, mostly, the sexual harassment. Well, that's an overstatement. I was an adult and I could handle it, but I was astounded at the things that came out of my bosses' mouth.
"Wear a low cut shirt to court tomorrow."
"Sleep with the judge if you have to."
"Did anyone see my dental floss? Oh, it's between Molly's butt cheeks today--nice thong, Molly!"
"You don't have to sleep with him, but he should think it might happen."
"Yah, the folder is in that drawer... don't squat, bend over."
It was a sexually charged environment. There was even talk of not allowing flats as part of the dress code. It was obvious to everyone that the "girls" in the office were hired based on looks and the boss would inevitably make a pass at every girl in the office. Whether or not they were welcome advances is another story. Couple the sexual harassment with the racism and homophobia and it was a bit uncomfortable to work there.
So, Slate published this "Dear Prudence" letter about a similar office experience:
I am a female law student who is employed for the summer (and potentially for the school year) at a small firm that I'm really enjoying. The law office shares a floor of an office building with a bigger law firm, and my cubicle is "on the border." All of the attorneys at both firms are male, but at the other firm, the men are far from politically correct. I have two issues: First, one of the attorneys, "Jerry," often makes comments to me about my appearance. These range from annoying but harmless ("Nice tan") to creepy ("I like that skirt," in a lecherous tone). I have tried to ignore him or subtly indicate his comments aren't welcome, but neither approach has worked. I'm tempted to speak to one of my firm's partners, but I fear it would make me look like a little girl running to a man to fight my battles. I'm also considering documenting all his comments until I have enough for a sexual harassment suit so I can make his firm pay for the legal education I used to nail it. Second, I overhear a lot of conversations I find highly offensive. The men are fond of using homosexuality-based insults, calling one another or opponents "fag" and "homo." The work environment is becoming so unpleasant that I wonder how long I can stand it. What should I do?
—Livid but Lost Law Student
I hope you don't view your law degree as a carte blanche to take to court everyone who makes you uncomfortable. If you tell a judge that getting the compliment "I like that skirt" made you unable to discharge your own legal duties, the conclusion may be that you need to find another line of work, not that the firm of Blowhard, Homophobe & Creep owes you a tuition check. The law firm you're working for likely won't be impressed with your enterprising spirit if they find out you've filed suit against the guys next door. Let's deal with Jerry. As you've discovered, being subtle isn't working. I assume your legal education is teaching you to state your position plainly, so do so. Next time Jerry comes over, tell him, "Jerry, I'd appreciate it if you would cease remarking on my appearance. I find your comments disruptive and your tone hostile. I hope you understand what I'm saying and that I won't have to say it again. Thanks." Only if he escalates should you take it to one of your partners, explaining that you've tried to deal with him yourself. As for the frat boys next door—get a sound-blocking headset if you must. Yes, their comments are repugnant, but you don't want to be the Carrie Nation of your floor. Let's hope this is resolved one day when a client of the firm who doesn't share their sensibilities overhears the office banter.
—PrudieWow. I was a little shocked at her advice. She was less than understanding. But Above the Law was also heartless about this poor girl's plight:
This discussion raises a larger question: Do female lawyers and law students need to get thicker skins?
If workplace complaints from women lawyers focus these days on uncouth remarks by men, perhaps it’s because the worst of sexism is in the past. The days when Sandra Day O’Connor couldn’t find a job as a lawyer but only as a legal secretary, despite graduating near the top of her class at Stanford Law School, are ancient history. Now women with credentials like O’Connor’s are eagerly courted by the nation’s top law firms. Women make partner with regularity in Biglaw, and many have risen to become managing partner.
... Let’s face it: sex is funny. And if you’re going to take human sexuality off the table entirely as a topic of conversation, offices are going to become a lot less fun.So, because Elena Kagan was appointed to SCOTUS, a young woman cannot be sexually harassed? When I was young, in college, I felt that men behaiving badly was justified in their mind because I was an undereducated underling. But, as a woman, I suppose we have to deal with this, even as we crack the ceiling and become CEOs and Supreme Court Justices? Epic FAIL, ATL and Prudie. When will women be treated humanely? Forget about being equal. Would you want someone to speak to your daughter, mother or wife this way?