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, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).
It’s time to go back to 1972 or so and start the Women’s Liberation movement up all over again. We need it.
A client, who was sexually harassed at her old firm, tells me a new fear haunts her — that her “reputation” will be transported via gossip to wherever she goes next. I asked what that “reputation” would be — I mean, how do you get a reputation for being harassed by some clown at a law firm?
“Well, they might think I’m difficult, or unstable, or a trouble-maker,” she explained.
That makes me want to scream — particularly because she might be right: Some sort of reputation along those lines might stick to her, and it might get around at her new firm. When you’re a woman at a law firm — or a woman, period — there are times when it seems you just can’t win…
Another client — a young partner at a Biglaw firm — told me she’d been harassed, but stated flatly, “You can’t report it — they’ll just push you out.” I asked her what she did instead. “Oh, you’re supposed to be able to handle it. Tell him to f**k off, or whatever.”
That was upsetting to hear. She delivered it with gusto — and I wanted to believe she really meant it, had the fortitude to say “f**k off” to the guy slipping his hand up her thigh, then briskly smooth her skirt, and move on. But is it really that easy?
Therapists love empathy exercises — it’s kind of our business, in a nutshell. So let’s go ahead and imagine the reality of sexual harassment — having someone you have no interest in sexually or otherwise, someone you work with or work for, pawing over your body at a firm function. My guess is it would unsettle me more than I’d like to admit. And how about going into the office the next day and trying to work with the guy — especially if he’s senior? Could you just “handle it”? Or would the whole unpleasant business get under your skin, leave you seething, angry, and humiliated, and wanting someone to listen to what happened to you and do something about it? And what would you do with the thought that he’s probably doing this to other people, and getting away with that, too?