When I was a brand new baby lawyer in my twenties, I could not fathom sexual harassment. I got the point that a law school diploma and an admission to the bar were meaningless in the face of my complete lack of knowledge about how the real work of lawyering was done. I understood that the gladiatorial nature of litigation meant I was bound to take some body blows from seasoned lawyers. Nonetheless, I could not for the life of me understand why the hostilities so often had a sexualized overtone. What could be causing these men to remark on my appearance in between barbs and snark while standing in a filthy courthouse corridor arguing about discovery obligations in a surety case? It made no sense. A clerk once called into chambers to tell the judge that I had arrived, and said, “It’s either Ms. Heussler or a young Maureen O’Hara.” What? And who was this Maureen person anyway?
So, okay, I turned 50 last year and I now I get it. Sexual harassment is fun and it’s an entitlement when you’re over fifty. Um, I mean it would be fun if I did it, and of course I don’t do it because it would be wrong. But still. Here we are, my fellow 50ish female lawyers and I. We’re tired. We’ve seen it all and done most of it. We’re not wearing size 8 suits with straight skirts in colors that make our hair and eyes pop. We do not greet the world each morning with happy expectations about wonderful things in store for us. We know we’re permanently benched in this game of youth. As a male friend observed, “You know what men my age use for contraception? Nudity.”
But as I said, here we are. We’re trying to accomplish a perfectly simple task with some punk kid who is way out of his depth, and arrogant to boot, and instead of looking forward to crushing him beneath our heels, we realize (1) this goddamned project is going to take three times as long as it should because we have to wait and watch while Junior reinvents the wheel, (2) we have pantyhose older than Junior, and (3) we’re not even wearing heels with which to crush Junior because heels hurt. It is at this point that we experience the powerful urge to tell Junior what’s what. “Look sweetie pie,” one wants to say. “God knows you’re just as cute as a button, and I’m sure your mommy thinks you hung the moon, but do me a favor and go stand in the corner while the grownups work this out, okay?”
While ranting to a colleague over the sheer incompetence of a certain toddler bit of crumbcake state employee, I must have mentioned his pulchritude in every sentence. I was not being nice. I did not say he was handsome or imposing, or that he cut an impressive figure. I said he was pretty. I said he had eyelashes that would make Mae West weep with jealousy. I said I was pretty sure I’d seen him, shirtless, in an ad for Abercrombie and Whoosis. I suggested that he had a future in porn movies in case his current gig did not work out.
And if there weren’t laws against it, I would have said it to his face. Really. Well, I think I would have. Okay, I would have chickened out, but only because I’m tired and my back hurts and I have a hot date with an ice pack and the new John Sandford novel.