Here’s a question I haven’t had reason to ask until now: what do I do with clients who hit on me? (I had a [male] client call me a “cutie” today. Said client had also asked me if I was single in a previous conversation, and if I’d like to get a cup of coffee with him. Color me flabbergasted.)
In my non-work life, the way I dress, combined with my haircut and my must-be-obvious disinterest in any of the men around me, serve to deter guys from hitting on me. I am read, except by the drunkest of men, as a fairly androgynous lesbian. But something about the way I dress for work (and maybe especially my semi-femme suits?) throws people off. Which definitely throws me off, because I am not used to being hit on by men. I don’t even know how to react. Case in point.
My client, I noticed, flirted with everyone, not just me. It seemed to be the way he related to people – you know the type, the guy who thinks he can get by on his charm and his boyish good looks, usually because he always has. As I was completely caught off guard, my reaction was to laugh halfheartedly and kind of roll my eyes and shake my head. Should I have given him shit for it? I don’t know. I mean, to have just put several days of hard work into preparing his case and then have him respond by telling me I was cute was certainly insulting. Part of me wanted to respond, “I’m not a cutie, I’m your ATTORNEY. I’m working my ass off to save yours, so let’s keep our sexism in our pocket, shall we?” The other part of me was concerned with preserving the attorney-client relationship, trying to be understanding that he was incredibly nervous, and that he was probably just doing what he always does to ingratiate himself with people. He was genuinely grateful for my help, and made that very clear (in ways that were much less sexist). What’s more, all the other women in the room laughed and blushed and acted flattered when he flirted with them – did I really want to be the crazybitch attorney who made him feel bad about himself 5 minutes before we walked into his hearing?
Or did I let him get away with it? Despite the fact that I knew his intention wasn’t to make me uncomfortable, being called a “cutie” in that context essentially rewarded me for my professional work with a wink and a pat on the head. And I couldn’t help but think to myself, he never would have said that to a male attorney. That’s what it really comes down to. I don’t work my ass off for clients so that they’ll think of me as that sweet, helpful little girl. I do it because I believe in their essential dignity – I believe they are people worthy of respect, even in a society which would rather pretend they don’t exist. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they return the favor.