Sometimes it’s hard to see the ways that my sex and gender affect my life. After all, I don’t know any other life other than the one I’ve got. Part of the reason I speak so much about being a Mormon woman is because the differences between Mormon women and Mormon men are so glaringly obvious. The differences between male and female attorneys, however? These days, they are somewhat less apparent. Of course, there are some big disparities. For example, there are no female partners at all in my (not all that small) department, and just a handful of female associates. The revered rainmakers at the firm are all men. The one area of law where women are perhaps overrepresented is public interest law and those positions are grossly underpaid. When I compare myself to a male associate of the same level, the differences in our day-to-day are harder to detect, but they are there nonetheless.
I bet my male colleagues don’t hear echos of SNL sketches bashing Hillary Clinton’s pants suits every time they buy a suit. They don’t have to ask around to figure out if the judge they’re appearing in front of is of the ilk that women belong in skirts, stockings, and high heels. If they catch sight of themselves in a mirror in the morning and think, “yes, I look good today,” they don’t instantly follow that thought up with another: “Is this shirt/skirt/jewelry too much for the office? Should I change?” Then again, at least I get the option of wearing something other than a pants suit.
I bet my male colleagues have never been shamed almost to tears on a prison visit. I’ve been to prison enough to know not to wear a skirt, not to wear a low-cut shirt, and not to wear anything tight. So I show up in black slacks and a black button down shirt with a gray cardigan and I’m covered from head to toe and the (female) security guard asks me how dare I come to prison dressed like that and I realized my mistake was thinking it was okay to look even remotely tailored and attractive. I resent this, but I understand later when I’m walking through the yard in my black slacks and a puffy red winter coat getting the most vile cat calls you can imagine from men so far away I’m not sure how they can make out that I’m a woman at all, let alone one they’d like to do those things to. Then again, when I taught prisoner reentry classes, the turnout was always impressive, and my clients hang on every word I say.
I bet my male colleagues don’t have to explain multiple times that they are, in fact, the attorney of record, and not a secretary, when they call up a witness or a clerk or opposing counsel or pretty much anyone to schedule a meeting or an interview or ask a question and instead get blown off or told to pass along a message to somebody that matters. Then again, when I finally get in front of a witness, they open up and tell me everything, commenting with surprise that they didn’t expect to talk quite so much, probably because I’m a little more approachable than an old guy in a suit.
*I’m using the term hot loosely. You really just have to be female.