By sintecho • October 18, 2007•Balancing Private and Professional Life
I’ve come to take for granted some of the skills law school gave me: A) an ear for logical arguments, B) an ability to understand terms in contracts, and C) a calm and reasoned way to articulate A and B. So natural have these things become, in fact, that my partner now expects me to deal with any glitches that come up with anything vaguely contract/law-related. I don’t mind, but, as it turns out, other people do. Why? Because they want to “deal with my husband.” We recently moved and, in the process, had a dispute with both our landlord and our mover (both men). The landlord claimed we owed him money beyond what was in the contract (hello, parol evidence rule). The mover violated a federal statute on weight bumping and overcharged us by over $1,000 (seriously, read the statutes before you go into business for yourself). In both cases, I was the one who fought for our pocketbook. In both cases, I was told that the mover and the landlord wouldn’t deal with me and that they would only discuss things with my husband. True, he’s nicer than me, and he’s not a lawyer. But, if the reverse were true, and he were the lawyer and the mean one, the mover/landlord would never say, “You know, I think I better deal with your wife on this one.” Men, in many cases, fear, dislike, and/or loathe powerful women, and as lawyers, we are powerful women.
In both of cases in point, I had winning arguments because these men were basically trying to pull one over on us. Anyone who could google the federal statute or read the contract could reach the same conclusion, lawyer or no. In both cases, the men found themselves backed into corners because I was politely, calmly, and firmly pointing out the transactional problems, which were basically irrefutable. Yet, in both cases, I did not get an apology or a resolution because the men were extremely aggravated that they had to deal with me. They didn’t want a woman pointing out their errors and proving that they owed us a refund. They particularly didn’t want a woman lawyer telling them these things. No matter how sweet and polite I tried to be, they acted as though I were trying to emasculate them, and it occurred to me that our society creates an environment where it’s practically impossible for a woman to be self-sufficient and assertive (i.e. making herself MORE) without making some man, somewhere, decide that he is threatened, that he is somehow made less. Frankly, it really makes me angry.
I’d never really made these connections before (I guess I’d never thought about it, and it’s easy to write off certain men being rude as due to something else when they are isolated incidents). Facing such similar from two different men within a week of one another really brought it home to me, though, and I couldn’t ignore that something deeper was going on. In both cases, the men knew I was a lawyer because of earlier conversations we’d had about my move. And, when the gloves came off, and I was pointing out why they were violating our contract terms, both became incensed (even though I was calm), and both made troubling remarks about how “I thought I was so smart” but really I wasn’t, and—in an extremely bizarre coincidence—both then told me that they could be a better lawyer than me any day. So, we have a mover and a landlord, living in geographically different areas of the