November 26, 2006

Talking About My Generation

by PG

I seem to be a rare fan of Dahlia Lithwick among blawggers, and I agree with her that there's no reason to be particularly upset by a sex-sells advertisement in a legal publication. I would further point out that although the woman in the ad would be a better role model for our daughters were she wearing a judicial robe and carrying a gavel, she's still exhibiting initiative and aggression -- two qualities that working women often are faulted if they don't have, and then again are faulted if they have in excess. You go, half-nekkid woman jumping man in suit!

However, I'm a little puzzled by a sentence in Lithwick's concluding paragraph: "This reflexive opposition to using anything intimate or even overtly sexual in a legal magazine may be upsetting because women lawyers can't see themselves in that ad; this is the same overreaction that leads some women at law school to believe that sex is for drunk people and that male lawyers only have sex with other women."

Like Lithwick, "I consider myself a feminist and I am always one to fetch a pail of water in the service of gender equity," but she and I may part ways on our estimates of our female classmates. Or maybe it's a generational thing, or East Coast versus West Coast? Hurrah, New Yorkers finally get to be more sexually liberated than Bay Area types! Whatever the source of our differences, I've never gotten the impression from any of my female classmates that they look down on sex in general, or that the unmarried feel like they couldn't get laid among their male colleagues if they wanted to. But with so many debt-free i-bankers about, why would one want to?

Maybe I'm just riding the third wave, but the stereotype of the feminist who thinks sex is bad is pretty much dead at the law schools nowadays. I feel safe in saying this considering I've been a member of a self-described feminist law journal for three years, and am almost embarrassed by what a lipsticky, man-welcoming group we are, publishing more articles about sex toys and education than about the notion that hetero sex is inherently coercive. Andrea Dworkin may be rolling in her grave.

Lithwick does young feminists no favors by assuming that the president of the Women's Bar Association is somehow representative of female law students. What the president, a grandmother of five, is far more likely representing is an understandably kneejerk reaction among a generation of women whose male colleagues did not get sexual harassment training -- to say the least -- and who therefore have an immediate, negative reaction to interjecting sex into their workplace that they do not have to sex in venues like Cosmo. (Does anyone still read Cosmo other than guys who are wondering what is that spot that is supposed to drive them wild?)

I consider that an overreaction, but that's from my, and to some degree Lithwick's, post-Anita Hill vantage*. It's a lot easier to bare your legs in the Law Revue show when you know that your male classmates respect your intellectual abilities; sexy ads in a professional publication are more acceptable when it's so understood in your office that any gender reversal of the action in the advertisement -- i.e., a man's grabbing a woman by her necklace and pulling her toward him -- will be punished that you don't even think about it on a daily basis.

In short, there may be some women whose experience of sex and suits tended to be of the unwelcome variety, and for whom therefore the advertisement appears to be gender discrimination because it may depict a sexual interaction in the workplace. However, for the most part these are women who graduated law school some time ago and who bore the brunt of bringing gender equity to the profession; not merely carrying the occasional pail of water, but going through the daily drip-drop wearing down of having their presence in the office and courts questioned. Those of us enjoying the fruit of their efforts should understand where they're coming from, without feeling obliged to carry the same sentiments past their expiration date, nor having those sentiments falsely ascribed to us.

* Having been thoroughly saturated in political correctness, I managed to be slightly offended by the depiction of African Americans and Latinos in my anti-harassment training video, while also never experiencing any sexual harassment from teachers, colleagues nor bosses in two years of work and several more of higher education. I may be unusual in finding PC simply a modern form of etiquette that accepts the heterogeneity of contemporary America and recognizing that people might be sensitive about rude remarks regarding their race, religion, gender, etc. in the same it always was recognized that people might be sensitive about rude remarks regarding their mother and an outhouse.

UPDATE: I also fault Lithwick's column for inspiring a truly stupid post at; that Ryan W. McMaken regards the law as merely a modern convenience on par with HVAC makes him an odd duck even in the paleo-conservative crowd, which tends to have a high regard for law as it existed in 1870 and a distrust of adding anything to it unless doing so will reduce the power of government.

November 26, 2006 12:29 AM | TrackBack
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