It’s Friday, and it’s time for our latest He Said, She Said post. Refresh:
We are telling your stories. We aim to highlight the (mostly) unintentionally biased language that is often used in the workplace towards women. These are real stories from professional women about their everyday working relationships with their male counterparts.
We want to hear the most seemingly mundane sexist comments just as much as we want to hear about the issues that deserve attention from the highest levels of human resources within your organization. We believe that each point along the spectrum provides an opportunity to provide education about what is and is not appropriate in the workplace.
Today, Associate Attorney Julie Keys tells her story.
In addition to practicing criminal defense and family law, Julie is the co-founder of The Coalition of Nasty Women, an organization providing education, organization, and advocacy for men and women alike.
Tell us your story.
At the time of this “event,” I was one year out of law school and starting the get the hang of this lawyering thing. When I graduated, by some stroke of luck (ok, and a lot of hard work…), I landed a highly sought after position at a small criminal defense firm in Columbus, Ohio. My boss is well regarded as one of the leading defense attorneys in Ohio, and probably the country. And I am one of three young associates in the office. It’s a dream job.
While our practice is located in Columbus, Ohio, the job takes us all over the state. On this particular date, I pulled the short straw and was sent to a pretrial conference in… let’s call it East Nowhere, Ohio. This was going to be a very quick court appearance—chat with the prosecutor, update the judge, and put a couple tidbits on the record. One year into practicing, I was more than capable of attending this type of routine hearing.
I arrived at court and walked confidently into the courtroom, touched base with the client, and introduced myself to the prosecutor. The prosecutor—a white, conservative man in his mid-fifties (of course)—didn’t bother to stand when I reached to shake his hand. And he held on for a beat too long. Then he spoke: “I could kick your boss’s ass. He does this all the time. Sends up these pretty little girls to toy with me.” He then proceeded to silently clap and said “good girl… I mean ‘young attorney’,” when I showed my client where to sit.
I guess he was impressed that I knew what I was doing?
What is your relationship to the man who made the comment?
We were supposed to be professional equals. While it is our job to be litigious, I obviously expected a certain degree of professionalism and respect. Plus, we were within the sanctity of the courtroom where it is our duty to show each other the aforementioned. But, his snide remarks (and oh, there were plenty more) were uttered quietly enough for the judge to miss, but not so quietly that my client didn’t notice.
Why did the comment strike you as inappropriate or offensive?
“Pretty little girl.” Where do I even start?
- What does my appearance have to do with anything?!
- Little?! Fu*k you.
- Girl?… How pejorative…
There was literally nothing appropriate or non-offensive about this statement.
How did you respond?
He stared at me blankly.
I am a woman.
He threw his arms up and rolled his eyes, saying, “I have daughters. I get it.”
Do you feel satisfied with your response?
I know that this man was expecting to charm me. He wanted me to giggle and blush with appreciation. He suspected that internally, I was grateful. “Oh, he thinks I’m young and beautiful! I’m so flattered!”
I’m satisfied that I didn’t give him that. I kept a straight face and I boldly corrected him. If he is going to make me uncomfortable, I will make him uncomfortable. It didn’t seem to faze him, though. Instead, I think it fueled him. “What a feisty little lady! I like it,” he must have thought.
My satisfaction came three weeks later when I heard he fell down a flight of stairs and broke both of his legs.
He’s fine! And I hear the bones healed up nicely. But, a good dose of cosmic karma can really make things right again in the world.
Please share any other information that you think would be helpful and inspiring to women that may experience this type of comment in the future.
This interaction was the first and only time I shed a tear in my career thus far. While I deal with subtle sexism on a daily basis, this was the most overt gender shaming I had ever experienced in my professional life. I got through the hearing like a boss, politely said goodbye to He Who Shall Not Be Named, and shared an eye roll with my client over the prosecutor’s lack of discretion. Then I climbed in my car and heaved a couple sobs. Never had someone made me feel so little, and I was straight up sad and angry about it. It felt good to cry. My advice would be to let it out if that’s what you need!
Many times when we talk about sexism, we talk about the subtle versions of it—the one’s where you walk away wondering, “was that…?” But in Julie’s case, there is no room to question, and we commend her for not only recognizing it immediately, but responding in a way that gave the offender pause. Julie, we can’t thank you enough for your passion for equality and your ability to demand the respect you deserve. Keep fighting the good fight.
If you’re struggling to form your own responses to these uncomfortable moments, call us—we want to give you the tools to speak up and drive progress.