Today I am in court. My hair is a bun. I am wearing a conservative suit. I am carrying a briefcase. I have a court file in my hand. I am over the age of 30. I go to the clerk’s office to ask that the file for my walk-in hearing be pulled. A 50ish female clerk tells me she will help me. Opposing counsel (a young male wearing a bow tie) saddles up next to me at the counter to discuss a point of contention. The female clerk who was retrieving the file (at my request) smiles as she walks up and announces that she has pulled what she needs. I reach to take the file and she says “Oh no, honey, this is for the attorney” as she smiles, charmingly, at opposing counsel and hands the file to him.
I try to do my best to maintain a Buddhist’s calm and not to let my ego interfere with my emotions. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be seriously pissed by this. And when I think about it, I’m not actually mad at the lady who said it. I’m mad at the society in which this type of automatic presumption STILL exits. Much like when, not too long ago, I was in open court, at the bench, appearing with my client, and the judge announced that my client was present in open court appearing with his attorney’s secretary (me. not a secretary.) Ahhhhh!! The judge turned bright red and called a recess to take me into chambers and apologize. And I know he was genuinely sorry. But, that isn’t the point. The point is that it is truly insane that this is the automatic conclusion he reached when he glanced down at me.
Or the fact that all women take men’s names. Or that we give children men’s last names despite the fact that we are the ones that carry the babies around in our bellies for nine months. Or that often when I get together with groups of couples the men take over and dominate the conversation. Or that the first firm I worked at had a policy of taking male summer associates to strip clubs. The subtle ways in which we continue to cultivate gender bias really drive me crazy.
I highly recommend that anyone (corporate employee or not, man or woman, young or old) interested in a thought provoking piece of literature read Lean In. To me, Sandberg isn’t pushing any agenda. She’s simply putting difficult issues out there and suggesting we address them in effective, proactive ways.