JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

the power of sex

the first great moment in my legal career was jumping naked out of a cake at the sixtieth birthday of a well-respected barrister.

well… it could have been… three months into my articles, the opportunity was offered to me at one of the many alcoholic Christmas functions. I laughed loudly along with all the others at the table, and politely declined.

but several questions lingered on long after the event. was this harassment? and if so, to what extent had I been a co-conspirator in inducing or encouraging this kind of conduct?

I had been talking about my amateur acting career – not unusual, as many lawyers like a bit of drama on the side – and in particular I was discussing a show I had done several years earlier which had required full frontal nudity. I was commenting on the sensation of exposing oneself to strangers and friends – potentially provocative words? – but I cannot recall at what point the conversation diverted into a proposed performance at the sexagenarian’s party.

and why be upset? it was, after all, merely words, words, words, the kind of thing one must expect from such old men because they’re from a different generation and they don’t know any better – right? besides which, I would have hated to be labelled as humourless and uptight…

and when it comes down to it, I am as aware as anyone that sexuality can be a powerful weapon for many women – particularly in a male-dominated world like the law.

an example: male members of a client corporation recently confessed that they would willingly make up legal problems just so they could obtain legal advice from one of their other panel law firms, whose assets happened to include a six-foot barbie doll. while I would need considerable stretching and enlargement to provide this kind of added service to my clients, clearly simply being physically (sexually) attractive can be a bonus, and is something that can be used to a woman's advantage much more readily than a man's.

however, my word of warning is that this kind of sexual power is a weapon that is liable to blow up in your face at any time, as it can attract the wrong, as well as the right kind of attention. and neither the law, nor the legal fraternity, are always going to be there to get your back.

sexual harassment always comes down to drawing a line. if my boss tells me I look attractive, is that OK? what if he says this while patting me on the arse? what if the words he uses are “extremely f***able”?

the last is sadly a real world example. the defence raised by the partner to the ensuing claim for sexual harrassment was that the comment (although denied, of course!) had been made in the context of an end of financial year party, and the girl in question had been dressed provocatively in fancy dress (at the request of the partners) and clearly enjoying herself – in fact, photos of her outfit were submitted to the equal opportunity commission of victoria (EOCV), presumably as proof that she was “asking for it”.

I am told that this kind of antiquated view is relatively common in the defence of sexual harassment claims, and I guess it should come as no surprise that it has particular strength in the legal community (or, at least, that lawyers had no qualms in raising it).

but perhaps what was most disturbing is that the EOCV dismissed our young comrade’s sexual harassment claim without reason – clearly having taken the view either that (a) she had been untruthful about the comment, or (b) she had indeed been "asking for it" and therefore the conduct was not unwelcome sexual conduct. when requested to comment on the decision, the relevant persons in the commission were consistently “unavailable”.

I was recently offered another role involving full frontal nudity - but this time I turned it down. after all, you just never know who might be watching…and what kind of judgments might be made about you further down the track.


Blogger Legal Eagle said...

You're a braver woman than I. Mind you, I think the sight of my naked body would send audiences running...

Seriously, though, the power of sex is a double edged sword. It's great for those occasions when you need help with a tyre change, but terrible if people keep hitting on you at work. It's unfortunate that your friend got into a workplace like that: sadly more firms are like that than I ever would have thought possible.

22 September, 2006 11:08  
Blogger I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

Personally, I 'd have punched the fat F*&^ in the face but that's just me..then I'd have sued the pants of him and the firm.

25 September, 2006 15:43  
Blogger the angry bee said...

i believe she did take legal action - and the complete failure of the legal system to support her in any way whatsoever, or provide satisfactory or adequate compensation...well, that's another story entirely, which may have to be reserved for another post...

27 September, 2006 15:32  

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