Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Female Attorneys: Own It!

It's Off-Topic Tuesday again, and I'm hot on this female attorney topic.  I think I'm fascinated by it because it's so ironic: female attorneys (myself included) are often called bitchy, as I explained in this post, but we are also often treated with kid gloves - sometimes by the very same people who put us in the "bitch" category!  It's baffling. 
And yet, when I see the way in which women are depicted in the media, maybe it's not so baffling.  From the seemingly smart, yet well-endowed, women who appear on Fox News Channel to Hillary Clinton and the infamous comments regarding pantsuits, the fact of the matter is that men have no clue how to treat smart female attorneys (or any smart woman, for that matter).  And so they do what's easy - they emphasize appearance.    And when appearance is emphasized, brains become an afterthought and before you know it, female attorneys are - in the minds of the men with whom we work - mythical creatures who are to be feared and coddled all at the same time.
Take Megyn Kelly - Fox News Channel's current fair-haired girl.  It took Google all of about two seconds to direct me to this article, where Ms. Kelly has that "after sex" look about her - you know the one.  The article is discussing Ms. Kelly's return to work after maternity leave.  "And not a day too soon," the article reads.  "She's even sporting a new snazzy haircut."  Really?  REALLY?  Megyn Kelly graduated from law school with honors and spent nine years at the well-regarded law firm Jones Day.  As an anchor for Fox News, she covered the 2012 presidential election,  the 2013 government shutdown, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.  It takes brains and guts to do what she has done and continues to do.  And yet ... her new haircut is somehow news. 
Now I suppose one might argue that Ms. Kelly has brought some of this on herself.  After all, she did pose for the picture referenced above, and she definitely doesn't seem like the type who would be caught without makeup.  But the media analyzes Hillary Clinton's appearance on a regular basis, when it's obvious that Hillary doesn't give a rip about how she looks.  Her pantsuits, scrunchies, and eyeglasses are somehow news, as this  article aptly describes, despite her list of credentials so long it would take me days to list them here. 
And so you can see my confusion.  No female attorney wants to be a "bitch."  None of us wants the emphasis on our appearance.  So how do we female attorneys make sure we are treated with respect, rather disparaged or simply thought of as window dressing?     
In my humble opinion, just own it.  Own the fact that you are a woman, however that looks for you.  If it's in your nature to be a "bitch," go for it. (Although I highly doubt acting this way all the time is in anyones nature - it just takes so much effort, no?) If you want your appearance to be emphasized a-la Megyn Kelly, make sure when you show up to court wearing a killer skirt suit, you don't forget your killer argument. If you really want to be known for your brain, be prepared and know your stuff.  But whatever you do, don't try to be something you're not.   
And here's the thing: "owning it" means that sometimes, people won't like you.   If your hallmark is kindness, clients who want a bulldog may go elsewhere.  Let them.  If you are super aggressive and it pisses off your opponent, so be it.  If people make comments about your appearance, who are you to stop them?  
The point is that there's a lot of pressure on female attorneys, but I think most of it comes from ourselves.  It's time we relax, embrace our female characteristics, and stop apologizing for them.  
How have you learned to "own it"? 
Liza Favaro
Non-Compete Counsel   
* Disclaimer: The ideas and opinions shared on this site are my own and are not attributable to my employer. No amount of interaction on this site will create an attorney-client relationship. If you have a legal question and you ask it here, I will also answer it here (if I can), but such answers do not guarantee results and do not create an attorney-client relationship. If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at efavaro@gmhlaw.com.


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