Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
Associates at big law firms don’t normally burn out right away. They arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, raring to go. This is their moment! Grasp the golden ring!
If you look closely, though, you’ll notice a few poor souls who burn out immediately – sometimes within a few weeks. These folks look awful almost from Day One, dread coming to work, don’t talk to the others, can’t sleep and wonder how to get out – like, immediately.
That’s because they’ve been sexually harassed.
I know. Sexual harassment is a drag of a topic, the stuff of tedious lectures by gender theorists and “Human Resource professionals.” Nothing new to say, just standard material: wince-inducing scenarios, tired platitudes about respect and crossing the line and what’s appropriate in a workplace blah blah blah…boring, scary, boring.
I hear about sexual harassment all the time from my clients, so it’s a little less boring for me, and a lot more real. There is stuff worth talking about. But I’ll keep it quick.
First, to be clear, I’m not talking about law firm sex in general. I’m as sex-positive as the next guy, and this isn’t about sex. And I’m not naïve. I’ve heard all about the “hanky-panky” – ill-advised and otherwise – that goes on at firms. Associates get it on in their offices. Partners seduce young summers. Some of those partners are married. So are some of the summers. And it’s not just a straight thing – gay associates and partners get caught up in this stuff, too.
When you’re working together around the clock at a big law firm, there’s a lot of pent-up sexual energy, so there’s oodles of sleaze. Stuff happens. That stuff might be fun, or un-fun, no big deal or something you’ll regret for a while. That’s not our topic.
Harassment is never fun or okay. It’s unwanted, unasked-for, undesired, unexciting, unpleasant, unsexy, unattractive, uncool sexual attention.
I have a theory that everything is more interesting if you stick the word “extreme” in front of it. Barbecue is okay. Extreme barbecue is way better. The same thing goes with sex. It intensifies things. Cool becomes super-cool if you add sex. Likewise, bummer turns into super-bummer if it’s sexual. Harassment is a bummer, and sexual harassment is a super-bummer.
Here’s what sexual harassment looks like….