It’s not just wisdom that comes with age

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.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

16 thoughts on “It’s not just wisdom that comes with age”

  1. “I said he was pretty. I said he had eyelashes that would make Mae West weep with jealousy.”
    So, basically, you called him a fag.

    1. No, dear. I commented on certain characteristics that women find attractive in a man. You inferred that men who have these classical good looks must be gay.

      1. Deliberately provocative poster is deliberately provocative. Nevertheless it’s worth saying that “I meant it as a compliment!” is, of course, the preferred defense of the aggressor, particularly one with privilege to spare. It’s usually paired with “what, harmless little old me?”

        Incidentally, the sexual harassment laws I’m aware of take cognizance of sexually belittling comments made behind subordinate employees’ backs, too. I think it’s probably pretty unlikely that so accomplished and seasoned a lawyer as Ms. Huessler makes herself out to be wouldn’t know that, so let’s hope that she doesn’t work with this particular “state employee.”

      2. “Pretty” is not a word generally associated with classical male good looks. Comparisons with Mae West are not generally the stuff of male classical good looks. You called him a fag and now you’re backing away.

  2. Can’t help but hear this in my head in Kathy Bate’s voice, in her best line of all in “Fried Green Tomatoes”:…”I’m older and have more insurance!”

  3. I think I know the feeling Lowry is having, as I’m hitting the precise age where I can order off the Denny’s senior menu–and feel that is at least one good thing to say about deep middle age.

    I also know how hard the litigation game is for folks our age who actually have thoughts about matters beyond the litigation we are dealing with. But Lowry, there is really no need to go into attacking a young lawyer’s looks. He can’t help it, and if he’s arrogant, all you did was give him martyrdom that he’ll use to strengthen his arrogance–Think Peter O’Toole in “Lord Jim” (1965), which was on television today, by the way. I often say litigation is a young person’s game, and if we’re our age doing it and enjoying it in our mid-50s, then we’re psychopaths. I’d say rather than vent your rage at lost youth, maybe you’ll get more satisfaction in being a mentor. That’s how I often interact with our firm’s younger associates, even the beautiful younger female ones. One says I’m like her second–and better–Dad. You know, that’s really quite a compliment.

    Still, I’m not sure you’d see the value in my advice, considering that, as a young woman, you did not recognize the validity of a lawsuit based upon sexual harassment. That denotes an inability to stand in another’s shoes. Perhaps that is why you suddenly have rage that maybe you’re not as beautiful in that youthful way any longer….Me? I’m just your rather typical bald, Jewish guy with glasses, so I never had the chance to be an Adonis. And for the record, most of my career has been representing corporations and people sued in civil litigation, not the plaintiff’s side. And I’m still at it after all these years…I think we’d both be happier with Mark’s or Keith’s jobs. I know I would…

    1. I wasn’t addressing him. As I wrote quite clearly, I did not say any of this to his face. I was venting, in the safe confines of a colleague’s office. As for “seeing the value in a sexual harassment lawsuit,” what on earth are you talking about? Were you suggesting that I should have sued court clerks and opposing counsel over snarky comments? Good grief. Even if stray remarks were actionable, I wouldn’t have wasted my time.

  4. “All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”–Blaise Pascal

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