Sexy Legal Advertising
By a 2L at NYU School of Law
Back in November, a minor controversy erupted in Boston over an ad placed by Jiwani, a maker of custom-tailored suits, in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (here is a link through Abovethelaw.com to the picture
Is this ad in the same vein as the Clinique ‘cum’ shot discussed by Frank Herbert in the New York Times (see his October 16, 2006 editorial “Why Aren't We Shocked?” discussing wide-spread misogyny in our society)? Is the woman in this ad a mere sexual plaything?
That is the easy argument—just survey the obvious signs: she is (mostly) naked (woman = sexual object), she is wearing his clothes (clothing sexuality in masculine dress, literally), she is seated lower than him, she is fulfilling the age-old, ever-popular trope of woman as the temptress/whore, et cetera.
Or does it preach sexual equality—women, like men, can get their freak on in the office (or out of it) (hopefully the latter), if they are professionals or not, and so forth. On this reading, the ad is just about each person appealing to the opposite sex (we’re in the heteronormative matrix here, needless to say). Maybe this is plausible, but it’s also sort of the brush-off interpretation.
Going further: does the ad suggest a switch in (gender) roles? Are men now the ones who have to sweat the sartorial details, worry about the message conveyed by their outward appearance, and appeal to the opposite sex?
This might be something I’d welcome—not only because of the prevalence of questionable fashion decisions (yes, Virginia, there’s plenty of fug in the law), but also because it gives a different normative accounting than I suggested above. Which is: women, like men, can be sexual, and men, as women have oh these long years, must put some effort and attention into attracting the opposite sex. Simultaneously, this sets up women as the ones to be impressed and puts women in a position of power—sort of like indicating to men that they need to do a little more than soap and Old Spice if they are going to win with the upwardly-mobile, legal eagle women of today. Now, get these men to start pushing for more flexibility in the workplace, start taking flex-time/part-time options in equal numbers, and function as true partners in the domestic sphere, and this ad might be really on to something. I admit, that last sentence might be a little much to take away from a picture, but I wouldn’t be a law student worth my salt if I didn't spin the options out to their furthest possible reaches.
And while out there in outer space...The ad might just be turning men into old fashioned sexual objects. That is, in addition to navigating the perils of law school and legal practice, men are now expected to look good. On this, all I have to say is that it might not be the worst interpretation. See supra: fug; see also general theme that equalizing things is a plus (for me).
Finally, and perhaps most pragmatically: this a flap over nothing—just prudes getting their feathers ruffled because someone has dared to suggest that lawyers might have sex! In the workplace! While wearing a well-tailored, come-hither-pinstriped suit!
Alternative pragmatic ending: after hundreds of years of existence, lawyers have only just now caught on to what everyone else has figured out: sex sells. I note that the related poll on Above the Law, asking readers whether the ad was appropriate for the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, shows the overwhelming majority thought the ad was appropriate.
For further reading on this snafu, check out Dahlia Lithwick’s piece in Slate.