Sexist firm claims it can’t be sexist.

Yesterday, Soraya Chemaly, one of the feminist writers I read regularly (Rule #3 – It’s about them), tweeted about a memo from a huge international law-firm to its female employees.

It’s sexist in entirely predictable ways, demanding women de-gender and de-sexualize themselves so that they can be taken seriously. I genuinely believe that the author of the memo thought it was helpful. And that’s the problem. More on that below, after some basic information.

Here’s a report from Today:

Prestigious global law firm Clifford Chance, which has 35 offices in 25 countries, is coming under fire for the five-page guide, sent to all the female employees in its two U.S. offices in New York and Washington, D.C. The tips, including “don’t giggle,” “don’t take your purse up to the podium,” and “no one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage” was sent last week and leaked online shortly after.

Don’t giggle. Don’t take your purse. Don’t show your breasts. Above the Law, which leaked the memo, mocks the memo (their emphases):

We’ve listed some of the most ridiculous “tips for women” here, along with our commentary:

“Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You Know,” “OK,” and “Like.”– Um, Clifford Chance, do you think that women associates are like, uh, valley girls?
Use a relaxed, open throat, breathe from the abdomen & keep your mouth open.– Ladies, please remember to thank your firm for these excellent blow-job tips.
Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.– Because the goal in Biglaw is to sound like an older woman dripping with sex, not a younger one.
Don’t giggle; Don’t squirm; Don’t tilt your head.– Don’t act like a teenager. Don’t act like a four-year-old. Don’t act like a confused dog. Got it.
Practice hard words.– Wrap your tiny female brains around this one (or consult with George W. Bush if you’re having difficulties).
Watch out for the urinal position.– We thought these were tips for women, but it’s best to avoid looking like you’re pissing on your audience.
Wear a suit, not your party outfit.– In case you’ve forgotten, there’s no such thing as work/life balance. Their suits are their party outfits.
No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.– Similarly, no one heard Bill the day he waved his dick around.

All of this is pretty standard sexism. Women have to be told how to behave because they are women, and men cannot think of them as professionals if they act like women. Also hard words are, apparently, hard for women (I gave a talk yesterday. I need to practice “inundated.” It’s just so vowel-driven). Men do not have to be told how to behave, because male behavior is the default.

But here’s the point on which I fixated:

A spokeswoman from Clifford Chance dismisses the allegations that the firm is sexist, saying that the memo was actually written by a woman. “It was put together by a female partner from her personal perspective after years of public speaking,” the rep told

This is a manifestation of two things:

One, the fallacy that women can’t be sexist towards women (or men sexist towards men). Anyone can be racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory towards people inside or outside their own groups.

Two, I think it shows the power of pernicious, internalized, sexism. One of the ways that patriarchy sustains itself is convincing women that the only way to defeat patriarchy is to become a patriarch. I can only imagine the complexities with which this partner has wrangled over her career, internalizing and replicating messages about femininity and weakness.

Professionalization is important. I teach people from 18-22 mostly and I hope I help them professionalize. But it’s not a gendered process – young people often need to learn formality, code-switching, appropriate behavior, right along with the skills and knowledges that come from education. A big law firm needs to help its young employees of all genders (not both genders) professionalize.

What they’ve done instead is make sure that women feel weakened, self-conscious, and painfully aware that they are working in a man’s world.

4 Replies to “Sexist firm claims it can’t be sexist.”

    1. Anonymous says:


      Okay, butt cleavage is funny.

      Said @ an interview…
      interviewer older man, applicant middle aged woman dressed in pants, wearing no nail polish, minimal make-up, and the kind of business casual clothing applicant figured would be the "right culture fit" for this particular workplace:
      Interviewer: "This office is busy so you won't have time to be polishing your nails."

      Yes, that's recent.

      And then there is this:
      It's a tough bizarre spot ladies are handed.

      One can easily imagine that this woman at the law firm, who wrote this memo, simply just thought it was appropriate to say what she might say to a friend or family member, to help them succeed, and make it a company policy.
      But don't be mistaken that women are not actually USUALLY schooled in this shit. ALL THE TIME.
      Well, that's if they come from a certain background of course. (See link above.)

      It's really surprising there was any "need" for a memo. I would've guessed all that crap would've been covered somehow, somewhere, by someone, while they were in law school.

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