Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Female Attorneys: Stop Calling Us Bitches


On this Off-Topic Tuesday, I want to re-visit the topic of female attorneys again.  We’ve looked at this issue several times in the last several weeks in this post and this post.  But those were more academic discussions about the direction female attorneys are taking their careers.  This discussion is a little more concrete and a lot more frank.  So let me give you the warning now: if the word “bitch” freaks you out, you might want to re-visit the blog on a day when I’m discussing more tame topics.  But for the rest of you, saddle up.  It’s about to get real up in here.   

How can female attorneys navigate that fine line between being so nasty that her colleagues widely refer to her as a “bitch” and being such a pushover that her clients and colleagues refer to her as “not aggressive enough”?  It’s tricky for sure and no attorney – particularly a litigator – wants to be in either category. 
Today, I am going to start with “bitch” – if I had a nickel for every time one of my colleagues referred to a female attorney they are dealing with as a “bitch,” I would be a rich woman.  Having been referred to as a “bitch” myself, I can safely say that the vast majority of female attorneys that my male colleagues disparage in this way are actually lovely people.  A female attorney who I had the pleasure of trying a case against a couple of years ago is an adoring wife, loving mother and she and I had many pleasant discussions about girly things such as shoes, appropriate court room attire and the frustrations of styling one’s hair in the dead of winter.  She is also a brilliant attorney.  And trust me, you don’t want to cross her in court because she’s smart, she’s always well-prepared and she’s not shy about pointing out the flaws in her opponent’s position.  For this, I admire her.  I guarantee male attorneys far and wide have called her a “bitch.”  After all, I am cut from the same cloth she is and I’m called that word frequently enough that I’ve considered putting it on my bar card.    

But am I – is my female colleague/friend – a “bitch”?  I actually dusted off the dictionary looked it up online and here’s how Merriam- Webster defines that word:  

1

: the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals

2

a: a lewd or immoral woman

b: a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse

3

: something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant

Ok, we are not dogs and most of us are not lewd or immoral women (at least not openly, I hope!).  So when people call female attorneys “bitches,” what they are really saying is that we are “malicious, spiteful or overbearing,” maybe even “abus[ive].”  They are saying we are “difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant.”   

How is being a smart, well-prepared and outspoken person the equivalent of being malicious, spiteful, overbearing or abusive?  How is knowing the law, understanding how the facts apply to the law and clearly stating my position difficult, objectionable or unpleasant?

The short answer is that I am none of the things Merriam-Webster offers to define the word “bitch.”  And neither are any of the female attorneys I’ve encountered.  In my (not-so-humble) opinion, “bitch” is a code word ill-mannered attorneys use when they get schooled by a female.   It is for this reason that when people refer to female attorneys that way, it says far more about the speaker than it does the subject. 
As I was drafting this post, it occurred to me that the male attorneys I’ve encountered who have referred to me or other female attorneys that way are bottom feeders.  They have self-esteem issues and it hurts their fragile egos when a female attorney gets the better of them.  Mercifully, I’ve been blessed to work primarily with polished, professional attorneys who recognize that a person’s gender has nothing to do with their legal ability. 

But, dear readers, the trolls are out there.  And they will say nasty things.  And it has nothing to do with me or you.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  And it doesn’t mean we can’t fight back. 
So I ask you: what should a female attorney do to ensure she’s not widely known in the legal community as a “bitch”?  More importantly, how can female attorneys find the sweet spot between being a “bitch” and being such a pushover that she’s viewed as "not aggresive enough" to do her job?  More on that next week.  In the meantime, sound off!  I'd love to hear from you!

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.
           

2 comments:

karencarasik said...

Lets start with women NOT using that word to describe other women.

liza favaro said...

I completely agree karencarasik! We have to support each other and calling each other names does nothing to further our cause. Thanks for reading and commenting!