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3/21/2007
Can I Get You Some Coffee, Sir?
I was born in 1972. I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted. My gender was never an issue. The idea that some people would think less of my abilities because I am female was foreign to me. Thankfully, my parents kept me fairly well insulated from people with throwback attitudes. I never encountered the "fear of math and science" that so many girls experience and frankly I was always taken seriously at school because of that. My mother has a degree in math and my father, degrees in physics and computer science. Maybe that had something to do with my educational self-confidence. I don't know. But I do know that, until I reached high school, no one ever even attempted to make me feel unworthy of my intellect or my dreams because of my gender. Yesterday, I had a 1950's flashback that reminded me why I was so lucky to be so insulated during my formative years.

The Partner with whom I work closely, took me to a trade association luncheon. I've been at my current firm for almost two years now and I have been slowly getting to know the local players in my little specialty area of the law. Rubber chicken lunches aren't my favorite way of networking, but I was looking forward to attending with Partner and meeting a few new people. It was a good lunch. I met some people in the industry, made some small talk, listened to an interesting speaker, and generally avoided saying anything stupid. That's a good lunch. The real fun came afterwards. As we were making our way through the crowd, Partner introduced me to several industry players. Everyone seemed pleased to meet me and, while no one ever looks forward to needing to consult their lawyers, I am sure that I will be working with some of them in the future. Then Partner introduced me to an Older Gentleman who placed himself in our path. Partner made some flattering comment about how I generally "keep him out of trouble." Polite chuckling ensued and then Older Gentleman proclaimed that he could use someone like that because he could never "remember how to work that pesky teleconference feature on his phone."

Blink. Blink.

Alrighty then.

Partner proceeded to explain that I kept him out of trouble with regards to all things legal. I could tell from the look on Partner's face that he understood that a request to me to figure out his phone would result in my possibly inserting said phone into an extremely uncomfortable area of his anatomy. We quickly beat a path to the door. On my drive back to the office I had to call my husband and rant. I explained what had happened and asked if I was overreacting. T seemed confused for a moment and then he got it. He asked incredulously, "You mean the old geezer thought you were Partner's secretary?!?" Yep. You got it, honey. He saw a youngish looking woman with this lawyer he knows at a trade association meeting, and he assumed I was the guy's secretary. Or legal assistant, if you prefer that term.

Now I realize that I'm a little over-fixated on this small incident, but stuff like this rarely happens to me and it pisses me off. While I do look young, people usually assume I'm a braniac within 2 minutes of meeting me. I've been told it's just the way that I talk and the vocabulary I use. Yes, I work in a male dominated field, I'll give the guy that. But I have never been mistaken for a secretary, especially in a professional setting. Hell, I've walked into rooms full of older men, and nothing but older white men, for meetings and court hearings for years and no one has ever assumed I was there to take the lunch orders. For a moment I was willing to give "the old geezer" a pass because of his age but then I realized that, while he may be 65-70, he's still working in the year 2007. If you are going to be in business in the 21st Century, you need to park your antiquated notions about gender roles at the door. Or this little lawyer might shove a teleconference-capable phone up your butt.

Thanks, Mom & Dad.


Folks, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being a secretary or that secretaries are somehow intellectually inferior to the god-like lawyers. I'm just a little pissed off right now, so bear with me. The context in which this incident happened should have told any but the most dedicated neanderthal that I was a lawyer.

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21 Comments:

I actually suck at using the teleconference feature. I'm always dropping calls. I am a phone moron. So it's actually good that I can do this law thing pretty well.

Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Ick. Next thing he was planning was to call you "toots" and pat you on the rear.

Hi, just came across your blog. I get this all the time, especially the question, in a room full of male attorneys prior to a deposition, "are you a lawyer?" No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night, saw all you suited gentlemen going into this office, and thought I'd join you. Moron.

Blogger Amy W said...

Love the disclaimer at the end.

I am too shocked that someone in this day and age thought you were a secretary (or as the secretary in my husband's office is called, "Director of First Impressions", no lie).

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever I went to another office for a deposition, people thought I was the stenographer. And I didn't even have all the stuff they carry around! Upside of looking young and being female-- I once had an expert underestimate me on the witness stand and boy was he red and did he give the case away in his testimony. Hang in there. I will say, however, that lawyers are the last profession to treat secretaries not so well (generally speaking).

DS-L

Blogger Me said...

I've never had this particular incident happen, but I can totally identify with your feeling of frustration and anger. Last summer, at a networking lunch, a partner from a very reputable firm got totally drunk and then proceeded to ask me if i had a boyfriend twice, told me that my parents' advice about my career was wrong ("Fuck your parents!") and then told me that I should have children as soon as possible. It was one of those summer associate trips to an event, on a bus, so this all happened after the even t with me stuck on the inside seat of a bus, trapped pretty much. I was very angry and frustrated afterwards, needless to say.

Blogger CPA Mom said...

We have a few clients in the same age bracket as the asshat you ran in to. They call me "honey" and "darling" and "angel" and "baby" every.damn.time I talk to them. How would they like it if someone did that to THEIR daughters? I know, it's irrational but it pisses me off. I never hear them call my boss anything but his name.

Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

And this is one of the reasons why I no longer work for a large corporation. I'd rather cater to a real baby than to a middle aged man who acts like one.

Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Oh yeah, my hide would have been royally chapped (and has been).

ACK! LMAO at Mrs. Chicky's comment...yes, what she said.

Have you been over to the discussion about condescension at Notsosage's blog? You might appreciate that right now.

Blogger Heather said...

As a female engineer I get that kind of crap all of the time...well I've moved to the dark side and now consult, but still it is pretty rampant.

Anonymous Peyton said...

Like you, I was pretty much insulated from the notion that women were somehow academically inferior. My mother and both of my grandmothers have post-graduate degrees, so the expectation for me is that I would definitely go on to "bigger and better" things after college. My father was a lawyer, so he was always very supportive of my aspirations. Plus, the women's college I attended pretty much debunked any notion of women being academically inferior.

So imagine my surprise when I entered the "real" working world in an internship at the NYSE and later in a large law firm. I know just from my experiences before graduating this May that I'm going to have a tough time with some of the older gentlemen in our illustrious field -- law. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Blogger JudesMommy said...

OH MY GODDESS of all that is holy on this PLANET!!! My jaw hit the keyboard when I read your post. Unbelivable.

In the words of the brilliant philosopher Bugs Bunny, "What a Maroooon!"

Oh yeah, and also having been raised by parents believing that gender was not a indicator of brain power, I might have had to show him where he could teleconference his ass. Or I might have suggested soon he'll be needing someone like that to help him change his
Depends and remind him what a telephone is, let alone a teleconference.

Rock on Lawyer Mama, rock on.

Blogger Pendullum said...

I know of which you speak as my FIL is one of those types of guys...maybe he was at this convention...
He thinks that there are two types of pretty women are either Pretty and stupid.
or Pretty and coniving...
and the ugly ones? what would you waste your time on them???
He has two daughters...
And I do not know how my husband turned out as liberal and wondeful as he is...
Nature vs Nurture...
I am so sorry you were subjected to it... and you can probably understand the bane of my existence...

Blogger PDX Mama said...

I could have written that entire first paragraph, except for parents having degrees. I never thought my gender was an issue.

Sorry about the icky experience and I understand your need to vent. The paralegal (female) in my office is 60-something and has often said things that show she had a very different view of gender (i.e., "women have to work so much harder than a man as an attorney"), not to mention her snide comments about working moms. But anyway...when dealing with older folk who don't quite get it, I generally let things go in one ear and out the other and be thankful as heck we're not living in the world they lived in 30+ years ago.

Blogger ExPatSW said...

What an ass! It's worse over here, though. I was in court last week with my barrister, an attractive mid-thirties blonde WHO IS HEAD OF OUR LEGAL DEPARTMENT. One of the opposing barristers (there are six on this nightmarish case! all of them thirty-something women except him) is the stereotypical British barrister...almost cartoonish he is so pompous. During negotiations (where the lawyers and I sit around and fight about crap which can then be presented to the court who will turn around and discount everything we agree upon and issue the directions they wanted in the first place!, he was being especially condescending towards me and my barrister. She played it cool...appeared to be a little cowed by him and verrrry, verrry impressed by his experience. Until we walked into the courtroom where she proceeded to blister his butt in the politest, most razor-like terms you've ever heard! I thought I was going to get charged with contempt because I had tears streaming down my face in agony from trying not to laugh out loud. The other barristers were having the same difficulty I was. Absolutely wonderful!

Blogger PunditMom said...

I'm so sorry that happened. Been there on a number of occasions in the past, and I'm surprised that I've lived to tell the story and haven't been prosecuted for inserting said electronic device in said anatomical feature.

I just wonder when the hell we're going to get past this?

Blogger Pecos Blue said...

Assumptions really are the things we all need to look out and beaware of....

Blogger ECR said...

Hey, there--I saw your comment on my interview post and would love to send 5 questions your way. Would you email me or give me your email addie so I know where to direct the questions? Hope to hear from you soon!

Blogger Alpha DogMa said...

On the other hand it could've been worse:
I could use someone like you to smooth out my briefs, sweetie.

Sounds like you handled it well - as did the partner.

Yes, (no offense to secretary types) but I was once taken out to lunch by a boss for Secretary's Day - and it was insulting. I was a clerk, not a secretary - I made less money than a secretary. But in the end my frugality overpowered my ego.

Blogger Justice Jones said...

Oh this one was good. I can totally relate. Add to the fact that I am a woman of color, and I look young. I was always the paralegal or law clerk. Lovely!! And not only did other lawyers, especially the men, make stupid assumptions or comments, I loved it when I met a client for the first time, especially after I successfully handled their matter for them. The look of shock. Priceless.

So glad I found your post. It led me to many great posts out there by other law mamas! I'll be back soon!

PS- My word verification was "nakad." How funny ;)

Blogger Half Eagle said...

I agree, the old geezer deserved a lot more than a polite explanation. No excuse for him, really. Sounds like someone is deep in denial.

From a legal secretary with no aspirations toward lawyerdom, no offense taken. :)

By the way, can I use that cute graphic from this post? Such an idyllic little vignette.

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