Does Sexism Still Exist?

The word on the street seems to be that if you think you're the victim of sexism, you are either paranoid or looking for excuses for a non-gender-related failing. I myself am guilty of blaming sexism--when I blogged about a male colleague who changed one of my recommendations at work behind my back, I bitterly recounted the story to friends with the added conclusion: "he never would have done that if I were a male colleague." But, maybe he would have. How can I really be sure? Likewise, Jessie posted on a new law review article that indicates how little progress has been made in the last 20 years in equalizing pay and partner positions between women and men in firms. Is the cause sexism? Is it women's own choices to opt out of the profession? Are those choices based on a sexist society? What does that even mean? Again, how can we know for sure?

I drive myself crazy thinking in circles, and I am left wondering how we can ferret out (and exterminate) sexism when it's often so deeply undercover in our workplaces or whether sexism is already dead. Hillary's campaign for the White House has really brought this issue home. Did sexism damage her campaign or not? I read an interesting article today by Chris Reed about all the completely gender-neutral reasons (except, perhaps, for Obama's ability to generate more excitement than Clinton, which may have something to do with a sexist tendency to value men's points more than women's) that Hillary's campaign faltered. I read this article, and I nodded to myself that these points logically explained why voters would reject Hillary regardless of her gender. However, just because there are gender-neutral explanations for why something is so, it doesn't necessarily mean that those logical, neutral reasons actually had a causal relationship with the outcome. For example, just because we can logically explain why women would be less likely to make partner because of their own personal choice to take time off to raise families, it doesn't mean that this neutral, logical reason is the actual cause of women's less than stellar represenation as firm partners.

Though we don't often have an insight into the behind-the-scenes thoughts of our work colleagues, we do have a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes thoughts of at least some voters. For example, we've all probably heard about the Hillary nutcracker, complete with spikes between the legs; the video "How It Will Feel if Hillary Gets Elected", which features a woman kicking a man repeatedly in his most sensitive area (the assumption being that a woman in power is somehow emasculating to men); or the variety of anti-Hillary t-shirts, with mottos like "Hillary's a c*nt" or "Hillary is not a c*nt, a c*nt is useful" or "Face it bitch you're fu**ed" with a dog with Obama's face mounting a dog with Hillary's face. These are only a few examples. I'm not even a Hillary supporter, and I felt sick and insulted and defiled reading these t-shirts as they seemed to denigrate all women and not just one presidential candidate. By point of comparison, the exact same website featured anti-Obama t-shirts with slogans much more specific to his own qualities as a candidate like "The Audacity of Inexperience" and "Barack OBummer" and "Empty Suit." It is nearly impossible to read these t-shirts in a way that says something derrogatory about all men whereas the anti-Hillary t-shirts make points using stereotypes about women in general. If sexism were dead, why would it be funny to watch a video of a woman kicking a man in the balls in relation to a woman running for president? Why would everyone get a good laugh from displaying a nutcracker in the shape of a female presidential candidate? I'm not saying that Hillary's problems are due entirely to sexism, but I have no doubt that this campaign has brought sexism out of its dark closet. It's out there, ladies, and it's ignorant to think that we as lawyers aren't affected by it in our jobs the same way that Hillary is affected by it in hers.



I remember my Employment Discrimination describing the justices of a Supreme Court panle as falling into one of two categories: those who generally assume we live in and work in a discriminating environment and those who don't.  I think most of us can be assigned one of these two categories.
But there are moments and contexts that should provide common ground.  For instance, The Russell Sage Foundation has sponsored research on the wage gap between working mother, working fathers, and professional women without children.  There statistical evidence accounts for factors often cited in discussions of the wage gap, like diminished hours or commitment, or time off, and concludes that there is still a significant wage penalty for working mothers that can most logically be attributed to discrimination.


"[Y]ou are either paranoid or looking for excuses for a non-gender-related failing" if you claim sexism?  I am not sure about others, but I tend to encounter what I consider sexism when I am suceeding, not failing.  When I negotiate a favorable settlement, and my male co-worker shakes his head in disgust while ruminating on how "unnecessarily aggressive" I was, I consider that sexism.  I've never heard any of my male colleagues be referred to as "too aggressive," and in fact, aggression/ambition seems to be an admirable quality for men to have in the legal profession.  When I get assigned the plum projects in my office or get a substantial bonus/raise, and my male co-worker tells me "I wish I had boobs so the boss would treat me like he does you" I consider that to be sexism. 
 I would be interested to know when other women feel they are encountering "sexism," and if they can associate such occurrences with times they felt they might not have been succeeding, i.e. using "sexism" as an excuse, or when they felt they were successful.


As a new attorney entering the field, I'm interested in the experiences that women have had and what they did.  To the last poster, how did you handle the "boobs" and "aggressive" comments?  To others, what have you experienced and how did you handle the situation?


When I got the "aggressive" comment, I asked him if he would say the same thing about my male boss if he would have behaved the same way in negotiations, or would he have admired him?  He admitted he probably would not ever tell our male boss that he was "unnecessarily aggressive" and we left it at that.  I will admit I didn't handle the boob comment very well - I think my response was for my jaw to drop and say something like, "wow, that was really inappropriate, are you kidding?" and then go home and cry to my husband.  I later discussed it with him and told him that it was inappropriate to talk about my anatomy at work, especially by implying that it had anything to do with my professional success, and were we clear on our boundaries from now on?  We were. I tend to think the best response to innappropriate comments is to point out that they are inappropriate and you won't tolerate them, but then I am pretty "aggressive," remember?  I would be interested in hearing how other people handle such situations.


KaritaG, I agree with you that sexism peaks when women are most successful (look at Hillary)—what I meant by "looking for excuses for a non-gender-related failing" ties in with the success.  For example, in the situation you raised, you were successful in being good at your job, but you were criticized for "being aggressive."  I agree with you that this comment is sexist, but many people would make the counterargument that you just don't want to acknowledge a personal flaw (being aggressive) and are therefore blaming sexism.  The aggressiveness would be the non-gender related "failing."  I think it's impossible for women to succeed without failing, as paradoxical as it seems, for just this reason.  The better you are, the more likely you are to be labeled as a "failure" in some other way.  I was basing my "word on the streets" on the slew of recent (and not-so-recent) articles on how younger women don't identify with feminism because they believe they are no longer discriminated against (or not to the degree that would warrant a fight) and the backlash against Clinton for ever mentioning potential gender bias against her as a cause of her campaign troubles.


The Juggle over at has an interesting comment string on whether or not Senator Clinton's campaign has been affected by sexism.


is much more insidious. The only work model in law firms is that which dates back to the old male breadwinner model and with the added gloss of the professional as constant resource. As law firms became more business-model oriented (with CEOs, boards and other attributes beyond the 19th century lawyering) they didn't drop this aspect. Somehow its turned into just another service industry but with the "you aren't dedicated or good at your job unless you're at your desk when I call" addition.
These 2 intrinsic elements of law practice today are incredibly sexist. I don't doubt that when the partner says "no, you have to finish it tonight which will keep you here until around 3am even though the client isn't going to read it for days" he's really saying "you have to work in the model that middle aged men chose 100 years ago".
 I had this reinforced in a callback when I asked about billable quotas. I was told the quota and then "but if you're any good you'll be doing much more because if you're good you'll be busy all the time but if you're not you'll have downtime".
 It would seem this model has never heard of efficiency. I would argue that parents (and more often mothers are the primary carers in practice still) have time management skills that allow them to be much more efficient even a they require them to be out of the office more to care for children. This model puts no value at all on that. And it isn't about the billable hour model unless the partners actually want you to go-slow-to-pad which of course they'd never own up to. They want efficient work they're just not prepared to reward it and in fact punish it because they can't recognize it.
I know there are dinosaurs out there who think women are (insert stereotype) too emotional, aggressive, wordy, quiet, etc. But I really think the worst kind of sexism is in the business model itself. And grateful as I am to those women in the 1970s who expanded our opportunities in law by sacrificing their own families and work-life balance, they did us no favours by just conforming to the male-gendered business model. And many times they are now our biggest oppressors.
The partner who told me "if you're any good you'll be doing a lot more than the quota" was a woman. But she was no less misogynist for that.


KaritaG ~ thanks for passing along your responses.  I can honestly say that I have not been in these types of situations before.  I pray that lasts as long as possible!  I like the turning the question back, I think it's important to point out inappropriate comments as soon as possible no matter whether the comment was sexists, racist, or just plan rude.

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