The Eerie Silence of “#MeToo-in-the-law” The Gender Bias Impact

The Eerie Silence of “#MeToo-in-the-law” The Gender Bias Impact

“Me Too” or “#metoo” spread virally in October 2017 on social media demonstrating the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace, which followed soon after public revelations of egregious sexual misconduct allegations against powerful movie producer Harvey Weinstein. On January 17, 2018, the Contra Costa County Bar Association invited members of the Bar to participate in a “#metoo-in-the-law.” However, only a small handful of people responded. Though anonymity was offered, a good many female attorneys noted concern of retaliation should they contribute. Female attorneys from the entry level associate to senior partner confirm a concern of retaliation hence reasonably believe the legal industry will not likely experience a similar “Weinstein” triggered “me too” moment.

What causes this eerie silence in the law?

There are many complicated factors which require far more analysis than can be accomplished here, though a powerful motivating element is gender bias which seeps into nearly all elements of a legal workplace.
Gender bias is an “inclination towards or prejudice against one’s gender.” Further, a subconscious gender bias is “an implicit association or attitude about … gender that operates beyond our control and awareness, informs our perception of a person or social group, and can influence our decision-making and behavior toward the target of the bias.”

Female attorneys must overcome significant gender bias to be seen as equals to their male counterparts within the legal community. We all know girls are made of “sugar and spice, and everything nice” while boys are made of “snips and sails, and puppy-dogs’ tails.” This popular nursery rhyme is one of the many foundations of gender bias taught at a young age. As we mature into young professionals, these apparently innocent stereotypes develop into social and professional expectations which do not support women in positions of authority or leadership. Who wants to engage a “nice” attorney? In contrast, a female is often attacked for failing to be “nice.” Female attorneys anticipate gender bias, however do not find bias acceptable, facing this challenge through minor to major battles on a daily basis.

Strong, smart, committed, and articulate. These are just a few of the attributes which describe a female attorney. Now envision the same female attorney as a victim of sexual harassment or gender discrimination. Does she still appear the same? Is she now weak, daft, emotional and challenging? A disturbing notion impacted by gender bias is gripping the legal profession; that when one is smart and strong they will be insulated from sexual harassment or gender discrimination, thus shifting the blame onto professional women for not being good enough to rise above or allowing herself to be victimized. In other words, making a complaint is an admission by the female of failure. Though the truth of the matter is simple when gender bias is absent, being an attorney does not insulate one from sexual harassment or discrimination nor does one’s abilities preclude them from abuse of any kind.

Contrary to any belief otherwise, it takes immeasurable strength to make a complaint of harassment and discrimination in any setting, compounded by the legal setting itself.

Thus a female attorney who brings a complaint is by no means less than, far from it, she is a super-hero. Though it is understandably hard for anyone to appreciate their hero status when facing harassment and discrimination, a complaint and concerns of retaliation.

One of the most difficult elements of gender bias is that a great many people are unaware they are engaging in bias, it is subconscious. The legal community is not rife with evil monsters intentionally engaging in harassing, discrimination, retaliation and failure to properly respond to complaints, the large majority of attorneys are not consciously trying to harm their peers. Nevertheless, sadly, gender bias has a significant grip on our legal community which may be just one explanation as to why there has not been a significant national “#metoo-in-the-law” movement as of yet. Even so, there are steps taken every day by courageous males and females throughout the legal industry to right these wrongs. One way we can all participate regardless of our gender is to take time to understand gender bias, learn to recognize and address it in ourselves and others. Ultimately, as the enforcers of the law, the goal would be that we would not have a need for a “metoo-in-the-law.”

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  • CC Lawyer December 6, 2018, 7:43 pm

    This article continues to play an important role in this pressing issue within our legal community.

  • Carole Lucido March 23, 2018, 5:23 pm

    CCCBA Member and guest editor, Beth Mora of Mora Employment Law, was interviewed and quoted for an article that appeared March 19 in Law360, a national subscription-based, legal news service operated by a subsidiary of LexisNexis. Interested in the how the #MeToo movement was affecting the legal industry, reporter Natalie Rodriquez wrote Beyond #MeToo: How Female Lawyers are Mobilizing Online [subscription required]( for Law360. In this article, Rodriquez introduces the readers to the article on this site which reported Mora’s expectation to receive many stories when the CCCBA sent a request for #MeToo stories to its members in late January. Instead of the 50 she expected, Mora received only five responses. “I got several phone calls and emails from people telling me: ‘There’s no way I can even say “me too,” because I have a boss who will just say … “Is that her?”’” Mora said. “They were just so afraid of retaliation.” The story went on to point out amongst other elements, that even in the legal profession, fear is a major sticking point for female attorneys in sharing their stories of harassment, gender bias and sexism. Rodriquez further introduces the readers to Girl Attorney (#LadyLawyersDiaries), a networking that has become a widely engaged private forum for a range of issues from gender pay gaps to advice for managing staff to requirements to wear a skirt and heels to court. Stay tuned for future articles in the series.